Automating Facility Management Workflow
By Mike Raia Posted March 1, 2016
A building maintenance and facilities team gets tasked with everything from managing building security access to fixing HVAC issues. Handling these myriad requests in a decentralized, inconsistent manner (emails, phone calls, hallway conversations, etc.) is not only inefficient, but it can have a negative impact on the reputation of facilities management.
With workflow management and automation, facility management teams can react more quickly, provide consistent service, keep audit trails and provide better security and safety.
Centralize to Simplify
One of the great strengths of workflow management systems, apart from the automation they provide, is that they centralize information in the form of a Web portal. Requests of all kinds can be made from one place, whether for Facilities, HR, Finance, etc. This helps ensure usage by not expecting staff or vendors to remember multiple Web sites, Intranets, Extranets, etc. With access controls, visitors only see the content that's relevant to them. For instance, an outside vendor might be able to submit license information but not request weekend access to a specific building.
By moving all forms to a centralized system, administrators can ensure process consistency and all users know what to expect. Users can follow their requests and submissions through the same system used by the people approving/reviewing them, which helps avoid confusion and dropped hand-offs.
If complete transparency is desired, the person who submits a request to have a fluorescent light replaced for instance, can see each step of the approval and fulfillment as it's happening. Though some facilities administrators would prefer to keep the process opaque for various reasons, others may appreciate the transparency.
While workflow management systems are not necessarily a replacement for a complete facilities management system, they do provide a centralized front-end for handling work requests and approvals, which can then be pushed into your facilities maintenance system. In situations where work should not be performed without proper authorization, workflow systems can be the "gatekeeper" for requests.
In addition to managing approvals for submitted work requests, reminders and escalations can be triggered based on organizational guidelines. These triggers can be based on priority rules (for instance, a request to replace a broken chair vs. a report of a serious HVAC malfunction) or based on personnel availability.
By integrating work requests into the same system that handles other business processes, employees have one-stop shopping for whatever they need. By using standard forms for data input, facilities teams can be sure they're getting all the information they need to start a project, once approved by the proper authority.
Moving to a centralized, online model also brings greater employee satisfaction since they get what they need faster and with less confusion.
Access and Security
To physically secure entry points in offices and buildings, most facilities issue printed badges or ID cards for current personnel and temporary entry/parking passes for visitors. In addition, some facilities must issue credentials for vendors who do ongoing work for the company and come and go frequently. In all cases, adding workflow automation can ensure security protocols and approvals are followed for each type of access request:
- Current Personnel
As part of the employee onboarding process, workflow should include alerting security personnel to new hires and enforcing proper chain of command approvals for ID card issuance. Even more critically, workflow should be instituted form offboarding personnel.
Provide a centralized portal for staff to request temporary security clearance for visiting guests, whether one-time vendors, customers or friends/family. Automation can also be built around visitor check-in and sign out.
Provide a process for clearing vendors to work onsite (which may include credential reviews) and then issuance of vendor ID/badges. In many cases you'll want to trigger regular re-approvals by authorized personnel, especially for seasonal, ongoing vendors.
The audit tools inherent in most workflow management systems can be a great help in determining A) where bottlenecks may exist in the process and B) identifying what access was approved by whom. This is especially important if there are regulations that need to be followed external to the organization. Any outside auditor can refer to the audit trail and get a complete historical picture.
Depending on the nature of the industry, both serious and minor safety-related incidents can be a daily risk. To help ensure incidents, including accidents and near misses, are properly reported and documented, a system for handling safety incident reporting is an excellent addition to a facility safety program. This is another place workflow management can help ensure compliance and consistency.
When a safety incident occurs, any supervisor can report an incident by completing a short form from a mobile device, computer or kiosk. Based on workflow rules, safety incidents can then be logged and emailed out to relevant managers throughout the company who need to be informed. Reports can be generated to look for incident trends and corrective actions, usually in the form of training, can be taken.
As with most new systems, it takes more than technology to ensure success. With any new system or workflow, it takes thoughtful, purposeful rollout and training plan to make sure that everyone who should be using the system A) is aware of it, B) knows how to use it and C) continues to use it. Be prepared to train and train again.
Some tips for keeping staff using the system:
- When a system is being designed, involve actual users to make sure their needs are met.
- Enlist "champions" in each department to set a good example.
- Share statistics showing the benefits of the new system ("requests are processed twice as fast now").
- When requests are made outside of the system, have facilities staff offer to help them submit a request.
Where to Start?
A needs analysis will reveal which processes are taking up the bulk of facilities management time. Start with the processes that cause the most strain on facilities resources. Document how things are done currently and then put that documentation to the side for reference if needed. Focus on how you WANT things to be done. What should users experience and how can you best accommodate this vision?
Be realistic about how much the project team should take on and get a quick win. Having early success you can build on will give the project team momentum and show the organization the value of workflow automation. It will also spawn ideas that can be implemented later as both users and facilities staff begin to see the benefits.
If you're looking for more information on workflow management and automation, please download our free "Workflow Automation Guide." If you'd like to see how Integrify's workflow automation solution can help, we'd be happy to give you a demonstration.