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The FM Toolkit: What You Have and What You Need

June 1, 2008
What does it take to do your job well? Learn about the hardware, software, resources, and skills essential to facilities management

Stop what you're doing and perform a quick inventory: What's in your hand? Where are you sitting? How many gadgets are clipped to your belt or within arm's reach? How many times have you been on the phone today? If you had to make a list of the tools most essential to your everyday performance as a facilities professional, you might be surprised at how few items actually make the list.

Buildings readers helped us determine the contents of the ideal FM toolkit—what you use every day, what you still need, and what you would love to get your hands on. Read on to discover the hardware, software, resources, and skills your peers have deemed crucial that can help you get connected, plan for the future, and stay on top of industry trends and technology.


As a facilities professional, chances are good that you cannot escape your cell phone. If you face a constant barrage of calls (and, generally, those calls mean something is wrong), you may loathe the slick little gadget that doesn't seem to stop ringing or vibrating. But, the power of connection is really the ultimate tool you can carry.

"It's probably the most valuable tool I have," says Laura Huttner, assistant facilities manager for the Dane County Department of Administration in Madison, WI. "As facility managers, we're on the go all the time," she says. Huttner oversees nine buildings, 29 offices, and a fleet of vehicles; communicating with her staff from different locations is vital. "My cell phone seems to be the one thing that I utilize all the time," she says, adding that she carries a pager and PDA in addition to her cell. Budget constraints prevent her from upgrading to a more integrated communications device at the moment, but others have become dependent on their cell phone/wireless devices.

If you need to upgrade, look for these features: wireless e-mail/Internet, two-way radio, speakerphone, paging and text messaging, and a camera (for documenting problems and instantly sending the pictures to your staff).


An accelerating software trend is redefining how professionals manage their buildings: Computer-aided facilities management (CAFM) and integrated workplace management systems (IWMSs) are revolutionizing facilities management.

Think about all the different people and departments involved in planning spaces, moving employees and assets, updating human resources information, handling leases, and processing maintenance requests. Now, envision all of these things at your fingertips in a Web-based interface. From assigning someone to fix a light fixture to producing a sophisticated financial report for upper management, CAFM software is one of the most important tools in a facilities professional's toolkit.

"It all starts with drawings of your spaces," says Bob Donahue, facilities planning manager at Natick, MA-based MathWorks Inc. He uses CAD drawings in his organization's IWMS for space planning. "You're able to run your statistics and see, ‘We've got five new hires coming in and five vacancies,' so you're able to match your growth with managing the space that you have," he says. Donahue's group utilizes numerous applications of the software—from leases to planning new buildings according to space needs—and he praises the ability to customize the tool to fit his needs. "The sky's the limit, to some degree," he says. "You've got this great shell, this very powerful tool, and it's all about how you build it and work within it."

Chris Duggan, global occupancy planner manager at Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle, uses his CAFM's reporting capabilities most. "It's been very helpful for senior management decision-making," he says. "In the past, you had to go into a deep dive of each individual building and run some analysis to get the data. Now, we can run a report and get that information in real time."

The ability to manage locations and buildings under one system is also attractive. "We finally have a good control on everything, from a worldwide perspective, all in one system," says Donahue. Having all of your buildings under several different programs no longer makes sense with available technology. Says Donahue, "If you were a worldwide VP with six different systems across the globe, I'm not sure how you could get the right information out of those systems."

The next step in software goes beyond space planning to actually modeling and creating space scenarios. Building information modeling (BIM) is becoming popular among facilities professionals who want to clearly visualize a space before making a move or building out. "It's something I have been using for the last few years," says Al Dean, manager of facilities architecture and facilities information systems at Wayne, PA-based SunGard. "BIM's a phenomenal tool because it allows you to get so much more residual intelligent information from the model compared to regular CAD. It provides you with a smart model that you can continue to develop over time and reuse through the entire building life-cycle." With BIM, everyone who will be involved in a space can visualize the building and voice their needs/concerns, which eliminates the need to go back after construction for costly changes and renovations. Also, the recent advancement in BIM technology to create models in 5D (3D plus time and cost) gives this tool a bright future.


A less obvious (but invaluable) part of the FM toolkit is your range of resources - including the people who work with you and under you. "I can't say enough about having a good staff," says Huttner. "They're in the trenches and know what they're doing; if you have good communication with them, you can depend on their skills and insights." Building strong relationships also applies to vendors and contractors.

Ideally, your resources would include enough funding to ensure that you and your staff could take advantage of professional development and educational opportunities. Membership in industry organizations is a great advantage; you'll have access to industry events, seminars, webinars, education sessions, and local chapters. A few organizations to consider when thinking about professional development:

If the money isn't there for traveling to tradeshows or other industry events, there are still plenty of ways to stay on top of trends and technology. If you're a member of an industry association, your local chapter directory can point you to local peers who may have special knowledge that can help you as problems arise. Having a network of experienced professionals in your area can be extremely valuable, and local chapter meetings might feature speakers or courses that interest you.

With the Internet, professional development is at your fingertips, and you'll never have to leave your desk. Earn education credits online through webinars and online classes.


The personal skills you bring to the job are just as important as any other tool in your box. "Some things I can't do without [are] a sense of humor and the ability to stay calm," says Huttner. "Those are the things you should have in a ‘toolkit' as a facility manager because employees see facility issues as a crisis when it's happening to them, and facility managers need to be able to understand their point of view and communicate with sensitivity and patience," she says. Kevin Cullens, facility services manager at the Phoenix Convention Center & Venues, agrees and says that having excellent and "instinctive" customer and guest service is his top piece of advice for other facilities professionals.

Knowing how to present yourself to upper management is also a key skill. "It's a sales job," says Huttner. "You sell their buildings back to them, saying, ‘This is what we need to keep your building going, and this is what it's going to cost.' " Knowing budgets and having ROI statistics ready to present demonstrate your understanding of finances and show that you're forward thinking.

Although time-management, organizational, and multi-tasking skills were frequently mentioned by Buildings readers as necessary for success in facilities management, the word at the top of everyone's list: flexibility. Fighting daily fires while staying on top of emerging trends and best practices tests anyone's ability to adapt to change. "A facility manager is always pulled in so many different directions," says Huttner, "but we have to bounce back and keep moving forward."

Jenna M. Aker ([email protected]) is new products editor at Buildings magazine.

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