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Summerell: Deciding between facilities management versus GIS data

For years, facilities management and geographic information system companies have been eyeing each other, proffering solutions that blend the disciplines into a unified whole. While there has been successful integration, the professions remain largely separate.

The FM professions have evolved mostly from architectural and engineering disciplines, combined with operations management. The work is underpinned by inventory controls and supporting improvements in performance measurement. GIS processes (think SAGIS) are more about comparing one set of data against another, gathered from different sources. GIS data sets are most often created and used over some longer period and to vastly different accuracies.

FM data is more transactional. We see something and act on it – assign space, make a move, process a service request, track equipment, etc. These activities are in the present and once complete, archived information exists mostly to protect investments in data should corruption or loss occur. In GIS, practitioners are interested in the temporal, what something looked like (where is it, how large it is or what its characteristics are) today versus yesterday. This focus on change characterization spans time and establishes trends about land-based features and circumstances.

Most of us have seen presentations where a world map zooms in to a campus that zooms in to individual buildings, then looks inside the building to specific rooms where we see who is assigned, what furnishings and equipment are there as well as the status of maintenance or repair requests. Yes, it is impressive; and has probably been used to influence many customers. But, what measurable value was delivered; what benefit accrued to the bottom line of the organization?

Look at it this way, literally. For investments in FM or GIS, ask:

• What would you use it for?

• How would you interrogate it for answers?

• Is it reliable for recurring use over time?

• And if so, at what cost?

A campus map won’t help you process a maintenance request for failing HVAC systems. Space assignment plans won’t help you manage traffic routing around storm sewer repairs and so on. The amalgam of data is too broad.

Said another way, there is not a one size fits all scenario for either FM or GIS. Data in every application will come from different sources and at different thresholds of accuracy and cost. Each must be evaluated considering its return on investment. And if the value proposition can’t be proved, it is probably best to avoid that capability in the first place.

Our best strategy in both FM and GIS suggests we should:

1. Assess needed decisions about land, facilities and the infrastructure, across sites and inside buildings.

2. Determine necessary data to support those decisions, how expensive it is and if it can be maintained at reliable quality levels.

Depending on requirements of the work, analytics and decisions to be made, organizations should implement datasets and select software based on that work. Sometimes, FM tools will be most appropriate and sometimes it will be GIS. Sometimes, it will be a little of both.

Ray Summerell is the managing partner of EIPCI, a nationwide practice in strategic growth, CEO and board advisory services with primary focus in business operations, real property portfolios and decision analytics. See:


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