By Jim GoodfieldImprovisation may have yielded phenomenal results for jazz legend Miles Davis, but when it comes to keeping an organization running smoothly, planning is essential. In an economy marked by rapid growth and consolidation phases, facilities managers can take advantage of automated space planning tools that will help maximize their organization’s current resources and strategically anticipate future needs.Over the years, automation has replaced the time-consuming task of manually tracking space usage and needs. In some organizations, the only way to keep track of space usage was by physically walking through the buildings and recording, with colored pencils, how space was being used. Unfortunately, this laborious method was inefficient at keeping up with churn (including employee or department moves), building renovations, and more.Since inaccurate or outdated data can render even the best plans useless, an effective automated space planning system tracks changes as they occur. For example, changes to CAD drawings are coordinated with their associated facilities data. Planners update records online, or better yet, they instruct individual departments to update their own records in one central database. Organizations that have adopted the latter method have saved thousands of dollars a year in funds that would otherwise go to a heavily-staffed – and overburdened – planning department.Using this data, space planners can anticipate their clients’ needs. Vacancies are quickly identified to accommodate new hires; telecommunication and furniture tracking tools ensure that employees moving into a new area will have all the equipment they need to start being productive right away. A nimble space planning system also helps optimize the efficient use of space. Users can create multiple “what-if” scenarios to compare space usage options and determine the most cost-effective solution. Planners can allocate space based on objective criteria, such as the type of personnel and activities that an area can accommodate and natural work group affinities (i.e., sales and marketing departments should be in close proximity to one another), rather than giving into the person who lobbies hardest for a corner office. Staff can also visualize how space is used according to department, floor, etc., and create concise, yet descriptive reports that summarize these statistics.Strategic space planning is an essential cost-cutting tool, too. Charging departments for the space they use is easy when all the data needed to prepare the bills can be extracted from a database – even if a department uses a room only once a week. And accurate data can turn red ink into black for organizations that rely on government funding or reimbursement. Easy access to accurate square footage and usage data makes it simple to satisfy government reporting requirements. The difference between estimated and actual space usage information can translate into recovery of thousands (or even millions) of dollars.Clearly, predictability is a good thing when it comes to space planning. The right automation tools can complement your planning expertise and boost an organization’s overall performance.Jim Goodfield is vice president of Business Development at Boston-based ARCHIBUS Inc. Leigh Calabrese Eck helped contribute to this article.