Business man in real estate

Borrowing light through a hole in the wall

There is a famous tale from China’s Western Han dynasty (206 BC – 9 AD). Although the Han empire was growing and prospering in a golden age, its strict social hierarchy meant that poor families barely had access to education. A young boy named Kuang Heng was eager to study. Not being able to afford an oil lamp to read at night, the smart boy drilled a hole in the wall of his room to borrow light from his neighbor’s house instead. This famous Chinese folklore has been passed through the ages to highlight the virtues of diligent studying. However, Kuang Heng’s clever use of existing light instead of creating his own, shows an inventive way of thinking that can solve many types of problems. It can even be applied to designing Integrated Workplace Management Systems (IWMS) to create a better user experience.

The analogy for real estate and facility management software

What does a 2000-year-old tale have to do with software for real estate and facilities processes? Well, at Planon we recognize that jobs in real estate and facility management are demanding, so why also invest time and effort in replicating resources or knowledge that already exist next door?

For example, an IWMS integrates many applications relating to real estate and facility management into a single efficient system. Compared to using multiple point solutions, each facet of the IWMS can access the same pool of data instead of replicating everything. But there’s more… An IWMS shines light through the wall too by offering end users the same workflows and usage principles across multiple areas – meaning less redundant learning.

As a designer who focuses on the User Experience (UX) of complex professional applications, I’m particularly interested in how to make workflows simpler and learning curves steeper. Let me explain the science behind this.

The science of making end user jobs easier

Deploying an IWMS like Planon Universe for Corporate Real Estate and Facility Managers means offering a diverse set of functionalities within one single system. This is not only an effective way to ensure everyone is using the same data. It also improves the UX compared to letting end users learn and deal with multiple solutions in parallel.

This is based upon the theory of “cognitive load.” This theory describes the mental effort required to perform a certain task. There are three kinds of cognitive load:

  • Intrinsic load: This is the basic mental effort associated with a certain task. For instance, fixing a flat tire takes some basic skills. Tools can make the job simpler, but they can’t take away the mental effort required to do the right steps in the right order.
  • Extraneous load: Dealing with non-essential activities, irrelevant information and other distractions. Like fixing a flat tire at the side of the road. You’ll have to be careful of passing traffic, even though that has nothing to do with the actual task of fixing your tire.
  • Germane cognitive load: Processing required to facilitate the learning and memorizing of a task. E.g. the mental effort needed for learning and memorizing how to fix your tire so you can repeat the process in the future.

A well-designed integrated system can considerably reduce extraneous and germane cognitive load for end users, when compared to multiple point solutions.

Workflows: working smarter, not harder

Obviously, operating multiple pieces of software involves quite a lot of extra workflow you wouldn’t have with an IWMS. These additional steps (like navigating, selecting, exporting and then converting data from one format to another) can be time-consuming and do not contribute to getting your job done. They also introduce added risk of human error. An IWMS, through its integration, takes a lot of the time- and energy-absorbing extraneous load out of the equation.

Learning curves: learn once, apply everywhere

The biggest UX benefit is gained by reducing learning curves; by taking a major chunk of the germane cognitive load away from the everyday use of complex software. IWMS allows end users to apply previously learned skills across the entire system. Generating reports or performing mutations on multiple records? You only have to learn the basic skills once and then apply them across the entire IWMS. Or, when you’ve learned how to manage maintenance orders, you also know how to manage assets, personnel, contracts or meeting rooms.

Planon’s IWMS is designed around a highly consistent data navigation principle (which we refer to as “drilling down”). Once you’ve learned this principle you have mastered the essential skills for retrieving any type of information and navigating virtually every type of functionality in the Planon system.

Go beyond the tangible

Discussing the merits of software systems is often a rational affair, and it’s easy to overlook intangible aspects like the UX – which are hard to quantify in a spreadsheet. But I hope I’ve convinced you now that optimizing the UX through the use of an integrated system can ultimately lead to shorter roll-out times, greater efficiency, fewer human errors and a happier workforce! Adding such benefits on top of functional and technical advantages builds a compelling case for IWMS.

There are several IWMS vendors that offer similar functionality as an integrated solution with a bundle of specialized point solutions. This might be an alternative, however, one of the important differences that remain is that end users will still have to deal with multiple interfaces.
Are you interested in knowing more about the benefits of a true IWMS compared to using multiple point solutions? Download our white paper – “What is IWMS?” or watch our recorded webinar together with Verdantix: “How to leverage your IT strategy for real estate and facilities management.”

About the author

Bram Bos | Lead User Experience at Planon

Bram Bos has been working in the field of User Experience (UX) for over 20 years. He has worked as an interaction designer in the Lighting, Consumer Electronics and Software industries. Taking the side of people in an increasingly technocratic world, he and the design team keep Planon’s software easy and pleasant to use.

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