Facilities Information Infrastructure (FII) Revisited

In 2009 the world economy and stock markets were in chaos, Mad Men and Breaking Bad were winning all the Emmy’s and... I was blogging about Facilities Information.  In one post I coined a term, with my good friend Mark Sorenson, called Facilities Information Infrastructure (FII).  If you were distracted I understand - so here is the link 

I read that post again the other day and it inspired me to write about it again…over a half decade later…..because I think it is still a really important concept.

Our experience of the last six years supporting clients in the effective management and protection of their facilities has made clear to me that FII gets at a core challenge that virtually every one of our clients faces - managing and relating a variety of information about their facilities.   Data management is not new, shiny, or sexy.  But no matter what industry or what problem we try to address, the issue is essentially the same - ”you can’t manage what you can’t measure or see”.  And measurement and management are all critically dependent on sound data management.

Some of those basic questions related to any information architecture are:

  • Where are all my authoritative data sources?
  • Who should have access to the different data elements and under what conditions?
  • How do we analyze, document, and improve data quality across the system?
  • How do we enable information movement across system boundaries?
  • How do we pull information from disparate systems together to support a more holistic decision making process?

The business problems we are trying to address are as diverse and important as the clients we support. Facilities ARE mission critical (white paper here) but their management and protection involve many different disciplines including: Master planning, space management, move management, asset inventory & assessment, regulatory compliance,  work order management, indirect cost recovery, utilities management, environmental health & safety, parking, room assignment/scheduling,  CCTV cameras, automated access control, emergency action plans, way finding, event management, and many others. 

Information to support the many professionals involved in facilities management disciplines may be managed in a variety of systems and formats including Financial, CAD, BIM, GIS,  IWMS, CMMS, CAFM, EAP, BMS, SCADA, ECM, HRIS... this list and acromyms go on…and on...    It is no wonder that there is such a wide proliferation of  systems  and data to support these various disciplines or “silos.”  I don’t use the term silo in a pejorative sense but really as an expression of people trying to do the best job they can with tools that were designed for their particular discipline.  For that they are to be praised not criticized. Nevertheless, holistic facilities management is truly multi-disciplinary and requires an integration of inter-related data.  Without integration and interoperability, data and work flow silos result in suboptimal performance and a general lack of transparency and efficiency.

We have often seen the tendency to address this challenge with the “uber system” or worse still a “rip and replace” effort that is costly, risky, protracted and with an indeterminate outcome and return on investment. I think the motives are obvious and commendable but I believe a more thoughtful and incremental approach leverages an FII.

Location, Location, Location

While it may seem intuitively obvious that the business problems and disciplines described above are all inter-related, the "silo effect" often makes it difficult to combine information across system boundaries.  Luckily, there is one element that all of this information has in common - LOCATION.  Whether you are talking about offices, manufacturing equipment, HVAC pumps, fire extinguishers, CCTV cameras, or HAZMAT closets, everything you might care about across your facilities portfolio has the common property of location.  When we use this common property of location to bring information from different disciplines together amazing synergies are possible.  Some of these synergies are simple like understanding how your underground utilities may constrain your planning for an upcoming outdoor event.  Others might be more complex like understanding how building occupancy rates might impact utility system loads.  The value to the public safety community can be particularly compelling as they can better understand CCTV camera view sheds, predicted populations of buildings, real-time locations of officers, and the locations of hazardous materials all in a single view.

At the risk of Hyperbole, there is essentially only  one thing all these silos, business problems and data sources share in common and that is location.  All of the  “people, place and things” we care about have location as the lingua franca that everyone understands. This is what FII is all about and something our company and products have been obsessed about for all these years. FII is not about displacing systems, data source or silos but embracing that data and improving the work flows to support them. It is the opposite of Rip and Replace by definition so it is not something to be feared but should be deeply explored.

So what is an FII and why does it matter? I don’t want to restate what I said 5 years ago as the principles remain the same and you are welcome to read my previous posts but I will write more in the coming weeks about these principles and how we are striving to implement them.

The professionals that manage and protect our facilities are  frankly underappreciated and under-served by many -  including the technology community. They deserve better tools and better solutions to do their job and FII is at the very core of our commitment to support them - in 2009, today and tomorrow.