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CAFM and IWMS - The beginning of the journey towards smart building technology

This is the first blog in a three-part series about the evolution of systems that today are known as Integrated Workplace Management Systems (IWMS). Where did these systems originate, and what led to their development? How have they transformed into the comprehensive, intelligent solutions that are implemented today and what further developments do we expect to see in the future? Today, smart buildings and smart business are the terms on everyone’s mind, but what role can an IWMS play?

In this first blog, I will take look back at the early days of Computer Aided Facility Management (CAFM) and Integrated Workplace Management Systems (IWMS) and my first personal experience with these technologies. It seemed so “smart” at the time; having data stored in a central database and the ability to create simple reports. This first generation of integrated facility management (FM) solutions was a big step forward.

Integrated Facility Management solutions, the early days

Looking back at the 1990s, my knowledge was limited, I was a young facility manager looking for guidance. Running building operations on paper tickets and through Lotus 1-2-3 (yes, really) was a challenge, not to mention managing buildings and people without significant data. I needed structured information, which I didn’t have, and my experience was typical of that of other facility managers and colleagues in the field.

25 years ago, I didn’t have a clue about smart buildings. As far as I was concerned getting the processes and data into a system and generating some reports was already smart!

We invested in what was then called a UniFMIS, one of the first integrated Facility Management Information Systems (FMIS), running on Windows 3.x. Integrated in those days meant one central database and a modular-based solution where all modules made use of the same central database. Standard integration of processes, with other systems or even buildings, was way beyond anyone’s imagination.

The first-generation facility management systems were known as Computer-Aided Facility Management (CAFM). Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS), or Facility Management Information System (FMIS) were also commonly used terms. Although they were considered integrated, most of these systems focused on specific areas of facility management, mostly maintenance management and space management. Some of the first-generation systems with space management even provided integration with AutoCad on a basic level.

Despite all the developments and innovations, today many organizations still face challenges getting their basics in place regarding space and maintenance management. But regardless of their maturity level in relation to implementing an IWMS, almost every organization is exploring smart building technology in some way.

The origin of IWMS

Of course, there were benefits from early generation CAFM systems. Structured and centralized data and processes led to cost reduction and improved customer satisfaction - but integrated facility management solutions were still in their infancy. The professionalization of facility management and corporate real estate management along with rapid innovation in technology helped to accelerate the growth of these systems. In the late nineties and early 2000s, most solutions were based on relational databases, and solutions became more customer-oriented and functionality was extended, for example, with service management. Furthermore, standard integration with other systems, such as HR or financial systems, became an important priority and a key customer requirement.

During that period, the first integrations with buildings were achieved by interfacing with building management systems. Automated notifications were sent by the building to the CAFM solution and a ticket was generated. This was one of the first steps towards a “smart building,” but further development was on the horizon. Gartner introduced the concept of IWMS in the early 2000s and published its first IWMS market guide in 2004, and this development determined where we are today.

Initially, Integrated Workplace Management Systems were defined as a software solution that helps organizations optimize the use of workplace resources, including the management of a company’s real estate portfolio, infrastructure, and facilities assets. Today, IWMS has evolved to be so much more and is considered an integral part of smart building technology, connecting with tools such as Building Management Systems (BMS), Energy Management Software (EMS), workplace management tools, sensors, and Building Information Models (BIM).

In the second blog of this series, I will talk more about the rise of IWMS, the implications for the market, and benefits for users. I will also discuss how rapid advances in technology and other factors such as economic and demographic shifts have influenced the evolution of IWMS and the birth of smart building technology.

Portrait of Geert van Offeren, Planon business consultant.

Geert van Offeren

Former Strategic Business Consultant at Planon

Geert van Offeren is a seasoned professional with expertise in strategic business consulting, program management, and global product marketing, and was part of the Planon team from 2006 to 2020. With a background in facilities management and information systems, Geert has a wealth of experience implementing software solutions and optimizing processes for various organizations, particularly in the governmental sector.

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