Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Tools of the Trade: Real Estate Managers Take Notice of High-Tech Maintenance Tools, but Don't Necessarily Invest

Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Tools of the Trade: Real Estate Managers Take Notice of High-Tech Maintenance Tools, but Don't Necessarily Invest

Article excerpt

Richard Forsyth, CPM, and president at Westerra Realty and Management, still relies on a mostly manual system to address his commercial properties' maintenance issues.

Pictures and diagrams drawn to represent his properties' major operating systems, and paper files with lists of maintenance items needing to be checked on or completed within the year are a couple ways he keeps maintenance in order.

He also relies on his company's basic software--Excel and Word--to organize items needing to be addressed month by month, so nothing is overlooked.

"I keep a record of what's going on, on the property, but it's not sophisticated," he said.

Many property managers find themselves in the same position as Forsyth; relying on manual systems or basic computer programs to keep up with their vast and far-reaching maintenance issues, despite advances in technology like computerized maintenance management software.

HISTORY IN THE MAKING

Computerized maintenance management software--a tool for managing and tracking preventative maintenance so facility managers can prevent rather than react to maintenance issues--has yet to fully penetrate the real estate management industry.

Even though about 300 computerized maintenance management solutions are available on the market, larger firms, for the most part, are the real estate management companies using such technology. Because property managers don't always directly oversee the facility managers at larger firms, they aren't always involved with facility management decisions--like investing in software.

And while computerized maintenance management software might undoubtedly make sense for facility managers, property managers often want something more integrative, meeting more than just maintenance needs.

With management functions for work orders, preventative maintenance, materials and inventory tracking, as well as project and utilities tracking, facility management seems ideal for the real estate management industry.

Work order management is the cornerstone of most maintenance management software, said Dustin Taylor, chief operating officer for TMA Systems. TMA develops software solutions for organizations wanting to effectively manage their physical assets and facility maintenance operations. It involves workflow, scheduling, work assignments and closing work orders.

The technology gives users a historical reference, detailing and tracking all the past maintenance issues on a property, and helps users foresee or plan for maintenance problems in the future, said Devin Ellis, client solutions director for CyberMetrics, a developer and supplier of maintenance management software and products.

"Technology has really made things more visible," Ellis said. "It has helped property managers get a broader picture and possibly see more [about their properties] than they have ever been able to. You lose the overall glance of a facility's history [without technology]. It's high dollar, but it's technology."

IF IT'S NOT BROKEN, FIX IT

At a time when an industry culture shift is occurring and preventative maintenance is preferred over reactive maintenance, that historical glance at a property can be important.

Reactive maintenance, in which real estate managers put out fires, so to speak, has been the traditional facility management operational mode. While it has lower initial costs, it often increases costs overall for reasons like unplanned downtime of equipment, excessive labor costs and overhaul--rather than upkeep--of equipment. …

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