As a whole, the facilities management industry has lagged behind other business segments in leveraging the Internet. But this picture is changing. At the very least, we’re now accelerating down the on ramp to the Information Superhighway.

We have no choice. At a time when resources are increasingly tight, the business pace is quickening, and competition is increasingly fierce, Internet-based tools can tangibly improve productivity, streamline work processes, and cut costs.

E-commerce, one of the earliest business-to-business applications, barely begins to scratch the Web’s potential. From remote online equipment monitoring to automated service dispatching, the industry is seeing an explosion in Web-based resources for service providers and facility managers.

Because these applications are delivered through the Internet, you don’t need to be in a specific location — you can access them anywhere there is a PC and Internet browser.

Equally important, these resources are increasingly affordable. Brick-and-mortar companies that historically have sold very expensive software applications now are becoming “application service providers,” or ASPs, allowing you to access their software over the Internet for a monthly subscription fee. Essentially, you “rent” the application, eliminating the need for an IS department to install, maintain, and update the application.

Such applications can significantly reduce facility management costs, while enhancing the way you and your employees work.

Types of Online Services

Obviously, deciding which Internet resources will be most useful to you depends on the nature of your business and operational challenges. At the same time, here are some broad types of services that have significant potential to transform your business and how you do your job:

  • Automated service dispatching. ASPs now offer secure, easy-to-use applications that automate much of the administration of service request dispatching and management. Such applications enable you to receive customer requests electronically, check crew schedules online, and dispatch your staff using a PC to send a message to their pagers or personal digital assistants. In turn, crews can send job completion reports back to the dispatcher electronically. Among other benefits, such applications help improve productivity, while providing you with a “data warehouse” on both technician response and equipment performance.
  • Web-based facility monitoring. Leading organizations such as Honeywell already provide remote facility monitoring services. Now, such applications are being simplified and adapted so that contractors and facility managers will be able to receive alarms, view real-time data (e.g., temperatures, flows, equipment status), manually control and override systems, track equipment performance, and generate reports online. To achieve this, devices are installed in the facility that collect and transmit data to the ASP’s password-protected database. The user gets real-time visibility into building operations, plus a wealth of data that can be used to benchmark facility performance and identify ways to cut costs.
  • Online project management. From small assignments to multimillion-dollar construction projects, a growing number of applications are available to help plan, track, and manage projects more effectively. Such programs give you and your project team members (or your facility manager customer) a single place to view and communicate project objectives, tasks, timelines, and status.

    Document management features allow project managers to route drawings to key team members online and allow them to redline and return them. Collaboration features ensure that all parties are communicating and that time-stamped records of key communications are kept. The result is greatly improved communication, with time saved previously spent tracking people down via telephone, sending and receiving faxes, and unsnarling miscommunications.

  • E-marketplaces. Comprehen-sive multivendor e-marketplaces are replacing company-specific purchasing sites, providing users with a value-added virtual mall where they can quickly conduct searches, request bids, and compare product prices across suppliers. According to Forrester Research, e-marketplaces will grow to capture 53% of all online business purchases in the next five years.
  • Some of these e-marketplaces feature local and regional vendor directories, giving contractors an additional, low-cost way to market their services to a much broader potential customer base online. On the flip side of this equation, some companies are beginning to offer group buying services, giving contractors the opportunity to participate in a purchasing consortium, where they can benefit from volume pricing discounts based on total group spending.

    The future is clear. Customers increasingly will demand Internet-savvy suppliers; hungry competitors will use new application tools to sharpen their businesses. If you’re not beginning to leverage the Internet, do so now — or get run over by the firms that do.

    Miller is co-founder and executive vice president of, a Honeywell e-Hub.

    Publication date: 01/22/2001