When it comes to technology choices for Commercial Real Estate (CRE) property management, knowing which system (or combination of systems) you need to run your business can get confusing. Here at Building Engines, we’re often asked what the differences are between the various types of building operations software or maintenance systems and which are the right choices for specific situations. To help answer those questions, we break them down for you below based on functionality and applicability.

Which property management operations software system is right for me?
Photo via Flickr/Vic

Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS): This is where it all started and the classification that most building engineers are familiar with. CMMS software creates a database of information about a building’s equipment records, maintenance operations and integrates scheduled (preventive maintenance) and reactive work order tasks against those records. Advanced CMMS systems may even tie-in directly to the equipment panels and generate tasks based on run-time, cycles, and meter readings. This information is intended to help maintenance workers do their jobs more effectively and keep equipment running optimally. – For example, determining which machines require maintenance and which storerooms contain the spare parts they need. The reports and information are very much focused on the engineering user. Historically, CMMS systems were installed locally on computers at the facility, and mobility was restricted to bulky and expensive purpose-built mobile devices. They have since begun to migrate toward cloud-based offerings and integrate smartphone app capabilities.  They are generally licensed on a per-user basis and include initial setup charges for more advanced systems.

CMMS software is typically a good fit for facilities like manufacturing and others where the focus is primarily on maintaining equipment, and use is restricted to a select group of engineering users.

Some well-known providers of CMMS Systems include: Micromain, BigFoot CMMS, Maintenance Connection, Emaint, Netfacilities, and Maximo (IBM).

Facilities Management (FM) System: FM Systems are the next evolution of CMMS software. In addition to the equipment maintenance capabilities of CMMS, they will typically incorporate the ability to track other asset classes like furniture, fixtures, and equipment (FF&E,) and offer enhanced functionality including the integration of dynamic CAD/CAM diagrams. These systems are typically cloud-based today and often offer mobile-web capabilities, although some FM mobile apps are starting to appear. Again, typical users are from maintenance/engineering/facilities departments.

The usual clients for FM systems include single tenant corporate real estate properties, hospitals, universities, etc. They are a good fit when there is a high priority and focus placed on tracking “things”  and all of the work associated with them. Deployment and implementation of FM Systems are typically longer and more complicated than with CMMS due to the advanced capabilities and information gathering requirements. They are also most often licensed on a per-user and per-module basis. Additional terms and classes of FM Systems include EAM (enterprise asset management).

Providers of FM Systems include: 360 Facility, Aware Manager, FM Systems, Facility Dude, Facility Wizards, MPulse, Infor, Datastream MP2, and TMA Systems.

Integrated Workplace Management System (IWMS). IWMS is an enterprise software platform (and the next step up from FM systems) that integrates five key components of functionality: real estate management, project management, facilities and space management, maintenance management and environmental sustainability. IWMS is operated from a single technology platform and database repository and accessible either via client-server, local hosting or cloud-based offerings with mobile-web or mobile app capabilities. IWMS is a true workplace solution; its strengths lie in an integrated global view of a company’s real estate operations and not in day-to-day building operations.

Appropriately, IWMS is generally a good fit for very large corporate real estate owner-occupiers with dedicated internal facilities management teams. As an enterprise-class platform, deployments are typically very long, complex and expensive, and require the participation of many internal resources. The system is licensed on a per-user and per-module basis with significant associated professional service fees.

IWMS Providers include: Archibus, Tririga (IBM,) Planon Systems, Manhattan Software, BRG and BIG Center.

Work Order (WO) Systems: This is the classification most familiar to people in the commercial property management space. WO Systems today are typically web and mobile based. The mobile applications may either be mobile-web (accessing the system through a browser and Internet connection, or purpose-built mobile apps for specific device operating systems (Apple/iOS, Android, Blackberry, etc.). They focus primarily on the collection and management of tenant service requests either through a branded tenant portal or via direct call-in to management personnel for entry into the system. Additionally, they may include a preventive maintenance module and other associated components depending on how advanced the WO System provider is. There are some very simple systems that may provide enough functionality for a property with minimal requirements.  WO systems may or may not offer mobile capabilities (either mobile-web or mobile apps) again, depending upon the sophistication of the provider. They may be licensed either on a per-user basis or a per-square-foot basis. They also often charge based on modules used.

Simple WO systems are often good fits for an individual, smaller property (under 150,000 sf) or where there is not a need for incorporation of portfolio standards, portfolio (multi-property) visibility, advanced workflow rules, notification capabilities, or integration and sharing of information with other systems.

Work Order System Providers include: Corrigo, Work Order Wonder, and Landport.

Property and Tenant Management System: As property management technology requirements have expanded, an advanced class of work order system providers has emerged to help meet those needs. These “Property & Tenant Management” systems offer a larger set of operational capabilities addressing tenant service, equipment/asset tracking and maintenance, operational risk and liability management, and communications.

Best-in-class providers will offer advanced integration capabilities with other systems (such as accounting, building automation and energy data management) through web services and API’s (application protocol interfaces) as well a high level of configurability.

The foundation of Property and Tenant Management Systems is task-specific data collection, mapping to advanced workflow, notification, and reporting capabilities.  They offer interfaces for multiple user personas in the property environment including tenants, management staff, and vendors. Additionally, they should provide options for configurable visibility into a single property, group of properties, or portfolio based on roles and associated access permissions.

Property and Tenant Management Systems are licensed on a per-square-foot basis based on property type and portfolio size. They may charge by the module, or license the entire platform at a single price. There is generally a one-time setup component and deployment should be significantly shorter and easier in terms of internal resource requirements than any of the other options presented with the exception of a simple work order software. Modern systems should be completely cloud-based and offer mobile applications for each of the major smartphone and tablet platforms – Andriod, iOS, BlackBerry.

Property and Tenant Management Providers include: Building Engines, Angus Anywhere, Electronic Tenant Solutions, and MRI/Workspeed.

Accounting System Maintenance Tools: Several of the accounting system software providers commonly used by commercial real estate organizations offer some lightweight maintenance capabilities as add-on modules to their core system. The value proposition for organizations using the facilities maintenance modules of these providers is that they are supposed to provide seamless integration between operating functions and a single source of core data. The drawbacks are that because maintenance and operating processes are not their core capability, functionality is generally lightweight and less configurable or flexible to accommodate the unique operating requirements of many property management organizations.

These systems often offer either locally installed/hosted or cloud-based options. They are licensed on a per-user basis and each module selected is offered at an additional per-user fee. Larger providers generally offer a mobile (mobile web and mobile app) option although those mobile options may be segmented offerings based on the functional module. Deployment and implementation of software are generally complex and requires significant internal resources.

Accounting System Providers with Facilities Maintenance Tools Include: Yardi Systems, Skyline, Timberline Jenarc, and MRI. 

If you are certain that operations technology can help your organization, then we recommend the following:

  1. Review the descriptions and classifications provided to determine what category you likely fit in.
  2. Research the providers.
  3. Create an initial list of your requirements and time frame…
  4. …And then look for an upcoming post from us on best practices for evaluating systems and providers.

The ‘Shopper’s Guide to Evaluating CRE Technology’ is a great resource for those looking for a new system. You can access the guide here.