Tracking Assets to Avoid Unnecessary Expenses

Feb. 1, 2009
Having an up-to-date inventory leads to better decision-making

Today's asset-management systems offer more value than you might first realize. Yes, they can track fixed equipment (windows, doors, HVAC systems), portable equipment (copiers, furniture), and mobile equipment linked to commercial and institutional buildings. But, did you know that the information you glean from tracking this equipment can help you keep operating costs in check, and keep you from spending money on unnecessary expenses?

"Asset-management software tracks the history of assets, including costs, work performed, failures, and any issues. This history allows [facility] managers to better anticipate needed repairs and replacements, as well as needed maintenance activities," says Pat Conroy, president at Austin, TX-based MicroMain Corp. Being able to foresee necessary maintenance and repair needs will help you keep operating expenses low, and will help you realize if you're spending too much on maintenance/repair for a certain system. You'll also save money on emergency repairs by keeping track of regular preventive maintenance. "[Facility] managers will increase asset life, minimize equipment downtime, and reduce capital expenditures through improved asset management. And, maybe most important, with this software, managers are able to easily track costs so they can accurately measure spending and find ways to save even more money," says Conroy.

Another way you can save? Asset-management software allows you to spend less time physically managing assets and more time doing the other important parts of your job. "This can add up to substantial savings when time is spent on finding ways to improve efficiencies instead," says Conroy.

What you track with asset-management software is largely up to you - there aren't any rules in terms of right or wrong. Use the software to track whatever makes sense for your organization in terms of ROI and cost. Just remember this: Having an up-to-date inventory that details the amount, quality, and exact location of equipment allows for better and faster planning, forecasting, and execution of business processes, which leads to better decision-making, according to Ralph Schopen, product manager at Exton, PA-based Bentley Systems.

As you're thinking about how to make the best use of asset-management software in your facilities, ask yourself: Why should your organization track certain pieces of equipment? Who will keep the data current? How much effort will tracking these pieces of equipment take? Don't be a facilities manager in the dark - one who doesn't know how many movable assets he has, or where they are. Quick, answer this question: How many unused office chairs do you have sitting around? If you don't have an accurate way to verify that number in a matter of seconds, do you see how tempting it would be to just buy five more chairs when they're needed instead of tracking down five unused chairs, making sure they're in good condition, etc.? An up-to-date asset-management system pays off in situations like these. "Having a clear picture of where things are can significantly lower the cost of reconfiguring office space," says Schopen.

If you're in the market for a new (or your first) asset-management system, Schopen offers this advice: "Software that can analyze, interrogate, and use graphical information, such as engineering drawings, in the context of asset management is important." He says that ignoring this component can lead to trouble later. "[The software] can answer questions about quantity and maintenance schedules, but it can't point to the exact physical location, nor can it bring up relevant technical drawings to help work crews. It can't report on what's adjacent to a particular item or space; nor can it present information in a graphical way, such as showing a plan noting occupied or unoccupied space, or a plan with all spaces that have equipment of a certain type."

Conroy offers a list of a few features to look for:

  • Ease of use.
  • A common-sense approach to asset organization.
  • Easy report generation.
  • Functionality related to asset-/building-management objectives, such as facility management and capital planning.
  • Flexibility for users to turn certain features on/off.
  • Customization options.
  • Software with source code included so that you can make changes on your own.

No matter which asset-management system you purchase, Schopen points out that the software is only as good as what you make it. "In other words, if nobody's assigned to keep information up to date, the system quickly loses its value."

Leah B. Garris ([email protected]) is managing editor at Buildings magazine.

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