You don’t need ‘Big Data’ – You just need Information by Michel Theriault

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

Big Data or Little Data in Facility Management

You’ve probably heard about Big Data. That’s what your credit card company collects, Google has and even your grocery store uses.

For Facilities Management, it’s best to start smaller.

Many FM’s don’t even have the basic information they need to manage and make good decisions, mostly because they either don’t have an FM system or they don’t use it fully.

Without data, you are managing blind. Data is something you turn into information for decision making, performance management, benchmarking and even evidence for business cases and justifying initiatives.

So how do you start?

If you are a smaller organization, maybe even a Facility Manager with a single building, start with a spreadsheet. But be meticulous in populating, updating and then using it. You can track space, maintenance jobs, time spent on activities and even track occupant calls. Then you can upgrade to a purpose-designed software package once you’ve proven the value of collecting data and analyzing it. This small step also gives you a better idea of what you need, so you can procure a system with confidence whether you have big data or not.

Even financial data can be useful as long as it is organized and tracked the way you need it. Ask your finance department for a download into Excel and then use Excel features such as Pivot Tables to do some analysis. If the financial data isn’t organized the way you need it, ask finance to add some sub-accounts or see if it has some fields you can use for tracking better.

When it comes to basic facilities related activity, you can track many things in Facility Management. For service calls, for instance, you can sort by department, floor, issue, how long it took to respond or fix the issue and even trend these things over time. All easy to do with Excel and pivot tables or charts. If you’ve never used a pivot table, now is the time to learn. They are very easy to do, with drag and drop – no coding or formulas involved.

So how do you do it? If you have staff, get them to use spreadsheets for tracking these things. Have a service provider? They may have data already and you just need to ask (or include the requirement in your next contract or specification). Or they can enter it for you.

You can design a spreadsheet to be easy to enter, with protected fields, drop down selections to ensure consistency and even data validation to make sure they entered a number, for instance, not letters, in a field. All easily done. If you don’t’ know how to create and use this type of spreadsheet, ask your office excel expert or do a Google search. You may even find a template on-line you can use as-is or with minor modifications.

However, before you start, think about things you want to track, what you plan on using it for and how you plan on analyzing it.

Then, you’ll have more data than you have now and you will see the benefits as you review and analyze the data, identify patterns and issues, and develop evidence for performance and initiatives.

If you are not sure where to start, ask your Facilities Management colleagues about what they track and how they use it. If they don’t, then ask someone else.

With data, even if it’s ‘little data’, which you can turn into information and knowledge to make decisions with, you will be further ahead than you are now and you will be able to position your department for improvement.


Michel Theriault, FMP, RPA, LEED AP Principal, Strategic Advisor

Michel is Principal of Strategic Advisor, an FM consulting firm helping facilities departments develop strategies, solve problems, improve services and implement best practices.

With 25 years in Facility Management delivering facility services in-house and with an FM outsourcing provider, Michel has deep practical experience managing facilities from high-profile office towers to critical facilities. He has earned awards for the buildings he managed, including several BOMA Certificate of Excellence awards and the Pinnacle Award for customer service.

He is also activity involved in the industry, with 22 years as an IFMA member, participation in FM associations and currently as the Academic Coordinator for Ryerson University’s Facility Management Certificate Program in Toronto, Canada.

Michel has been recognized for his contribution to FM with a Distinguished Author award from IFMA for his book “Managing Facilities & Real Estate”. He contributes FM articles to leading magazines around the world, delivered seminars at national and international FM Conferences and delivered Facilities training in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Jeddah, Singapore, Abuja (Nigeria), Kuala Lumpur, Muscat, Bermuda and Toronto.

Michel’s experience, knowledge and approach to FM comes across in his consulting and training, with practical, real-world solutions that help Facility Managers develop and implement strategic initiatives.

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