VFA finds niche in facilities management
Software company helps GSA manage its vast real estate portfolio
- By David Hubler
- Jun 05, 2006
A small Boston-based provider of facilities management software has helped the General Services Administration, the country’s largest real estate manager, keep track of 340 million square feet of leased or owned facilities and the distribution of limited labor and financial resources.
A word-of-mouth recommendation linked GSA with VFA, which makes facilities software to manage building maintenance schedules at dozens of universities, including Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said Brian Lynch, VFA’s federal market director.
GSA’s needs were similar to the universities’ because many of its properties are large, are more than 50 years old and require costly upkeep, Lynch added. But GSA also had some unique requirements.
For example, traditional methods of collecting building data required GSA to prepare full building engineering reports every five years, a time-consuming process that produced out-of-date data almost as soon as the agency completed the reports.
Given the size and diversity of its real estate portfolio, GSA needed a unified way of compiling, maintaining and evaluating data for current and future facility needs. It needed accurate and impartial data so agency officials would better understand property conditions and be able to pinpoint high-problem areas.
Together, VFA and GSA developed a Web-based self-assessment questionnaire for all 11 GSA regions. The survey requested details about the physical condition of the properties in each region and the estimated costs for repairs and replacements.
Lynch said the survey results “really drained the swamp.” It helped GSA rank the condition of its properties from very good to very poor. “It helped them prioritize where they should point their attention to as well as [where they should provide] funds,” he said.
GSA has been using the VFA.facility software since 2000 to collect general data and create capital plans. “We use this [software] in two ways,” said William Matthews, assistant commissioner for real property asset management at GSA. “There’s a Level 2 summary questionnaire that we use to good effect that gives us a very inexpensive baseline way of getting a macro assessment of the liability for repairs and alterations for buildings.”
When GSA is ready to make a capital investment, the agency prepares a detailed Level 4 building engineering report, using Web-BER, VFA’s Web-based building engineering report program.
Matthews said GSA uses the more inclusive Level 4 data collection to prepare funding proposals for Congress.
He said the VFA.facility software does not require expensive updates, even for the more complex data needed to obtain funding for a project. “And you could blend it in with your normal cycle of annual asset management activities,” he added.
Matthews said the VFA.facility software helped GSA earn a green rating from the Office of Management and Budget this year for asset management, the highest rating for meeting government standards.
In March, GSA purchased a $1.25 million lifetime enterprisewide license for VFA.facility. Lynch said VFA hosts the application and provides all the support and maintenance, including a help desk.
VFA has been able to sell the Web-based self-assessment questionnaire to other federal agencies, including the Army, Navy, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Institutes of Health.
David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.