Jan 23, 2020


by David Stephenson

Recapturing the Value of IWMS

Do you remember when you saw your first Integrated Workplace Management System (IWMS) demonstration? Remember how fantastic all the tools were, how much time it was going to save you, how great the reports were going to be? You imagined being able to manage space, moves, facilities needs, conferencing, leases, construction projects and all your documents in one place. Jump forward 2 years, 5 years. How you do you feel now?

All too often, software demonstrations fall short of actual results, and it’s not the fault of any one person. Software vendors have flashy demos that showcase the best of what they can deliver to stand apart from the crowd. Once it comes down to pricing, however, value engineering comes into play and “Wants” get separated from “Needs”. Staffing and resources promised during the planning and selection of the software never materialize. Implementations are split into modules to spread the cost over a longer period, extending the ROI period from months to years. Any one of these causes can disintegrate the original value placed on implementing an IWMS. If this has happened to you, keep reading for some tips and reminders about how to regain the value of your IWMS.

 Value is Relative…Kinda.

A quick word about the value of IWMS. I’ve read many articles over the years expounding the benefits and cost savings of IWMS and have seen that value materialize.  But not without significant investment. If applied properly, that significant investment results in an invaluable tool that will help you better manage your first and second most valuable assets – your employees and the real estate that houses them. Significant investment is relative to the size of the company. There is an IWMS for everyone, with the more robust solutions being used by larger companies and requiring more investment. Saving 5% of total rent and occupancy cost, however, is a savings regardless of company size and will outweigh the cost of the software and implementation. Moving on.

 Staff it Right

The most common issue I have faced in my 20 years of implementing IWMS is a lack of appropriate staffing. The management of the system is not correctly aligned with the skills and interests of the staff assigned to manage it. For example, the responsibility may be designated to the space planner only because the space planner has AutoCAD and can update drawings. However, the space planner may not have the skills or desire to grow as a data analyst, which is a more important trait to have when managing an IWMS.

To be fair to most companies, finding a data analyst with CAD skills is like trying to find Waldo. Nearly impossible. The CAD component of most IWMS systems is very basic, so first find the data analyst skills and then teach the CAD skills. You don’t need a team of people in the Space Planning or Real Estate team to manage an IWMS. One well trained administrator should be able to maintain up to a three million square-foot portfolio, including data integrity, CAD dwg updates, fielding requests and generating reports. You may have two to four space planners for that same portfolio, but you only need one IWMS administrator.

 Don’t Forget the Rules

The second most common issue we find is the abandonment of the original processes and data standards developed during implementation. The main culprit goes back to staffing and skill sets. Management of the IWMS gets passed around sometimes, resulting in processes and standards not always being clearly communicated. When the system is not managed with a data mindset, shortcuts become commonplace with unintended results. I’ll explain one real life example from a past client.

 A CRE administrative assistant inherited the keys to the IWMS castle. Their job was to update CAD drawings (remember CAD skills are basic), run reports and update data. Over the course of two years, this person artificially inflated the occupancy and vacancy of this four million square-foot portfolio by 7%, which is equivalent to four floors of leased office space. They did this by taking shortcuts and not having the benefit of the IWMS data standards explained to them. After a few months of working with the client to reset standards and better communicate processes, the value of the IWMS returned and the CRE team began trusting the data again.

 Re-Ignite Past Relationships

For most organizations, implementing an IWMS means getting a nightly import from HR and Finance to populate employee and department records. This is great for tracking vacancy and performing chargebacks, but there is more out there. Historically, HR has been reluctant to share data for fear of the wrong data getting shared or someone seeing something they shouldn’t. You could get employee IDs and names, departments, title, email, phone and a few other basics. However, HR and Finance systems have become more robust over the years just like CRE and FM systems, so its time to check back in with your counterparts and see what’s changed.

HR has tools that allow them to better understand the employee population, which is of great benefit to CRE and FM. HR may now be able to provide management hierarchy in their data import, allowing space planners to view occupancy by Director or Senior VP levels on reports and floor plans instead of just the individual occupant level. This should not be confused with organizational hierarchy, which provides the departmental rollup and is typically not ideal for strategic space planning.

Finance on the other hand has all the rent and occupancy (R&O) cost data. If you’re not already integrating R&O expenses on a monthly basis, that should be your first conversation. Understanding cost per person, SF, seat and other metrics is important when discussing future space plans and determining the effectiveness of alternative workplace projects. In addition to capturing R&O, Finance may be collecting quarterly headcount forecasts for their own planning purposes. These forecasts are typically done at the cost center or department level and include information such as location, title or job type, and date or quarter for the additional staff. This is invaluable information for the CRE strategic planning process. Integrating a corporate wide headcount forecast on an automated quarterly basis is much simpler than interviewing each department about their planned headcount each year.

 Share it Like it’s Hot

Wouldn’t it be great if IWMS systems had ‘Like’ buttons? Someone could ‘Like’ the fact that their department’s cost/seat was the lowest in the company, or the move to their new floor was finally complete. Unfortunately, IWMS has not quite captured the heart of the general office population like Facebook or Instagram, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it to them anyway. An often-overlooked source of data integrity is the many department liaisons and general users that might access the IWMS each day. Department liaisons have a vested interest in data integrity because it is tied directly to their R&O allocation, as well as the smooth execution of their moves and service requests. Liaisons also help distribute the workload which lowers the staffing requirements for the CRE or FM team.

Casual uses can provide benefit as well. I remember accompanying an end user on a walk-through a few years ago when they were performing a yearly audit. We were talking with the occupants of a workstation bullpen trying to determine the location of an employee. One of the occupants stopped us mid-sentence and said “Wait, you should check this website and look at the floor plans. I’ll pull up the plan of where John sits now.” This banking employee proceeded to pull up the IWMS and give us a quick tour. We couldn’t have been prouder to see first-hand how the software was being adopted throughout the organization.

 And don’t forget your IT department. Work with them to connect your IWMS to the corporate intranet to enhance your employee’s interaction with your services and data. You may be hesitant at first, but if you have taken the steps I’ve outlined, your data should be in great shape. Share it with the whole company and remember to provide a link to “Like” us. Or, on the off chance someone finds incorrect data, they know how to contact you to fix the error and maintain data integrity.

By reviewing or initiating some of these recommendations, you can begin to reclaim the value of your IWMS. It takes investment, the right mind and skill sets, adherence to data standards, a thirst for uncovering valuable new sources of enterprise data and the faith to share it with everyone. You’ll be there before you know it!


David Stephenson

As the Director of the Smart Building Studio of Little, David strives to ensure clients are leveraging their data to its fullest potential. He is motivated by the premise that smart buildings not only optimize the user experience, they help drive down the cost of occupancy and improve resource utilization. With over 25 years of experience in real estate and workplace management technologies, David brings deep expertise in data management and analysis as well as technology integration to each and every project.

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