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Tackling the space race

(written for Facilities Management Journal)

Effective space management can be critical for organisations that wish to optimise their space usage as they undergo change. Steve Dingley of Integrated fm suggests that space planning software can make a greater contribution than many people realise.

There can be little doubt that the changes in workspace usage that we’ve been seeing over the last few years will be exacerbated by the current economic conditions. Not only are many organisations downsizing their staff complement, they are also trying to make better use of their building portfolios through more efficient space utilisation.

In parallel, the flexible working practices that have become more common are often seen as a way of increasing staff efficiency, another key consideration for helping staff to work smarter and more productively.

This dynamic scenario means that FMs have to be even more on the ball in terms of managing the space within the portfolio and, in doing so, can make a positive contribution to the overall health of the organisation. At the same time, it has to be recognised that they may be expected to achieve this higher performance with fewer resources.

Clearly, space planning software has an important role to play as it can cut through much of the donkey work and make vital information more easily accessible. Beyond this, however, it can also streamline many of the tasks, such as staff moves, that will result from this evolving situation.

The first consideration, of course, is to have a good understanding of the nature of the space that is being managed. So it’s important that the software provides an easy-to-understand graphical representation of the ‘big picture’, indicating key spatial information such as gross space, net space and usable/chargeable space. In this way, there is a clear overview of how space is currently being used and whether there is scope for improvement.

Just as importantly, this information needs to be easily shared with colleagues, with sensible control of how that information can be used by each person. The ability to generate spatial data in different formats can determine who can change information, who can comment on it without changing it and who can just view it.

It also makes sense for this information to be available on the intranet or internet to ease of access from anywhere within the organisation. So, for example, someone at a remote location who is planning a meeting at head office can view floor plans and understand the layout of rooms and their proximity to other facilities without needing to visit the building.

Similarly, this same spatial information can form part of an invitation to tender to sub-contractors, where they need to understand the layout and extent of the building(s).

Of course, there are also benefits to sharing space information with other FM software packages. Sometimes these links exist already and in other cases it’s a matter of identifying the need and finding a way of sharing the necessary information. This is where the expertise and flexibility of the software provider proves invaluable.

For example, the growth of hot desking and touch down areas has created a new resource for FMs to manage. According to the FM Index KPI survey, which we collate in conjunction with FMJ, many organisations are now making hot desks a bookable resource, rather than operating on a ‘first come, first served’ basis.

In these instances, it makes sense to offer hot desk bookers as much choice as possible, such as proximity of their desk to colleagues and resources. This is an area where the resource booking software can be linked to CAD system to provide views of floor plans as part of the booking process. An additional benefit is that this will reduce the number of questions asked of help desk staff.

On the subject of help desk, there are also benefits to linking spatial information to certain help desk tasks, making it easier for technicians to find what they need. For instance, an in-house technician or sub-contractor checking fire extinguishers can be given a map showing the location of each.

In fact, any assets can be included on floor plans, making it easier to keep track of them during office moves. And while the FM KPI Index showed a slight reduction in moves during 2008 – in line with an increase in flexible working – it’s reasonable to assume this situation could change through 2009. The result is that hard-pressed FMs may experience even more demands on their resources.

Here, the detail of the move that has been built up in space planning software can also be linked to the help desk so that the move is broken down into individual, trackable tasks for both in-house staff and any specialist contractors, such as electricians.

Of course, the space planning software should also include features to assist with move management, such as the ability to link people to items of equipment that will move with them, and to ‘drag and drop’ this information from one location to another.

These are just a few of the ways in which space planning software can be put to wider use than many people realise. The key to getting the most from these packages is to think about what you want to do, then find out from your supplier if your package can do it – or if it can be modified to deliver what you need.



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