Facilities Management: Windy City Shoulders Work Flow

Facilities management isn't something you usually notice unless it's being done poorly. And two years ago, Chicago's Department of General Services was getting plenty of attention.

Responsible for maintaining more than 600 buildings citywide, DGS was struggling to keep up with a morass of work orders with the aid of an archaic DOS-based system. Orders could languish for months, and even when they were finished, the computer system wasn't necessarily updated to reflect the work. Forget about inventory-there wasn't any system to track it. Getting an accurate read on costs was next to impossible.

"In the past, I would walk into trades areas, and the foreman would have a foot-high stack of work orders," said DGS commissioner Carlos Ponce. "It would always make me nervous; what if there was an emergency work order in the middle of all that?"

All that began to change this spring with the installation of a new Computerized Facilities Maintenance Management System (CFMMS). Using an off-the-shelf Microsoft Corp. Windows package with minimal customization and hooked to a back-end Oracle Corp. database, the four bureaus most involved in city facilities management can tap into the same system to enter, assign, fund and track work orders through their completion.

Now orders at DGS are closed out in an average of four days. And a bevy of reporting tools are available that, for example, will allow the department to track operations per square foot for the first time. Although primarily undertaken to improve service, the system also is expected to save more than $1 million a year in operating expenses. "Now, [when] emergency work orders come up to the top of the system, [foremen] are able to make a decision if it's really an emergency and then dispatch their resources to take care of it," Ponce said.

They've come a long way, but DGS still has work to do. The second phase of the project, which began in November, adds a long-needed inventory system and includes installation of Oracle Financials. Internet integration is also on tap, which will allow DGS clients (other city departments) to enter and track their own work orders via a Web browser. DGS is also working on supporting land sales over the Internet, along with several ambitious projects under way for completion next year.

But DGS already is leading the way for 41 other city departments that, in most cases, are not as savvy in using the new technology. But some local agencies, such as the Chicago Transit Authority and Chicago Public Schools, are using the same CFMMS technology and systems integrator as DGS: System Development Integration (SDI). All departments have an eye on a future when they can be linked together to improve facility efficiencies.

"The long-term view of the mayor's office is use of technology to improve city services-especially maintenance and repair," said Wally Hanna, director of strategic asset management systems for Chicago-based SDI.

One goal is to allow citizens to use the same software and database to report conditions and have that information fed into work orders. But the benefits of interconnecting city departments are many.

"There may be a piece of work going on in one department that affects the facilities or conditions of another department, so why not take the opportunity to work in the same area and do it once rather than tear up the street three times?" Hanna said.

Problems with the old work-order process were painfully obvious. Faxes and interoffice mail were the predominant methods of communication. The custom-developed DOS system could not accommodate multiple users, could not keep up with growth in facilities or tradespeople and was too antiquated to access the citywide network.

What's more, the vendor had gone out of business, eliminating the option of an upgrade. So the department set out to find an off-the-shelf package that would empower four key bureaus: customer service, which takes the orders; construction and operations, which performs the work; finance and administration, which approves funding and handles payment; and facilities management.

"We felt that there was a need to let [the bureaus] prioritize their own work instead of having it prioritized by a customer service bureau that really didn't know the interworkings of the bureaus themselves," said Chris Grant, the chief information officer for DGS. "So we wanted to distribute this responsibility back down to the bureau level."

A team was put together that included division heads and end users within the affected bureaus. After two weeks, they had identified everyone's needs and established priorities. They then set off to write a request for proposals. After receiving eight bids, the committee pared their selections to two. SDI won with a soup-to-nuts proposal, including conducting an inventory and business process re-engineering as well as training and ongoing maintenance.

SDI's price was $600,000, almost half of the other vendor's bid. It also proposed a phased approach, which was a very attractive option because DGS could easily be overwhelmed by a new system.

Process re-engineering was crucial, and it took about four months-the longest of any phase in the project. Because DGS had no documentation of its processes, SDI and DGS information technology staff had to interview 72 employees across four bureaus about what they did and then had to look over their shoulder to make sure that that was how it was really done.

The staff uncovered redundancies and unnecessary steps. For example, it was taking 10 to 20 days just to get through the signature approval process. In the end, they eliminated more than 100 steps. Then came the challenge of translating those that remained into software.

The New System

DGS enlisted SDI to handle that translating task using Datastream Systems Inc.'s MP2 facilities management package (see sidebar: Tools of the Trade).

"I think we had a better understanding of the steps necessary to identify the needs and operational requirements of DGS and [then] overlay those onto the software capabilities," Hanna said. "So we were able to very quickly move through the design phase, data-conversion phase and start-up phase."

The system was switched on April 15. Now, when a customer service representative enters a work order into the system, any other remote site can see it in real time on their desktops. A filter parses the work order to the appropriate general foreman, who can set a priority for it, check the available work force and assign the task.

Once a worker completes the task, the foreman signs off on it and enters the requisition on his system so the finance and administration department can fund it, if necessary, with all approvals being handled electronically. "Our foreman and general foreman have the same access as we do downtown, so they can do their own statistical analysis of their own data," Grant added.

But don't underestimate the amount of training it takes to get there. "There're only a few of these people that are actually doing anything with the program," said Richard Dioguardi, director of services for the Construction and Operations Bureau. "They are reverting to their old system-before anybody knew what a computer was. Nine out of 10 times they've already got the job done before they see a piece of paper, if they see it at all."

Which isn't to say he doesn't see an upside to the new system. "It's a more efficient way of getting it done, knowing what you have and what you don't need," Dioguardi said. "It keeps better records, as opposed to a note in someone's coveralls pocket, and he's the only one who knows it's there. Now, everybody knows it's there."

Just the Beginning

Phase Two is under way, which will automate inventory and expand the financial aspects of the system. DGS also is working on client access to the work-order system, either through its Novell Inc. Groupwise e-mail or a World Wide Web browser. SDI also is part of a team that is putting together a Web-based property and asset management system for leasing, buying and selling city property. DGS also plans to use the system to track square footage in each property to gain a better long-term understanding of space needs, Hanna said.

DGS also is part of an intergovernmental committee to share their tools and what they've learned. "Hopefully what will happen is we'll have one huge system that connects agency to agency so that our mayor can sit [in] his office and see what work orders have been generated on these facilities, not only from city agencies but from the Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago Public Schools and others," Grant said.

The technology itself may be standard stuff in the private sector, but it's only one of about four client/server systems within Chicago government. It's a big step forward in an environment where Chicago CIO Beth Boatman bets that only a few of the 43 commissioners read their own e-mail.

"We have a way to go in terms of culture, but we are getting there," Boatman said. "I think we'll see a big change next year; 1999 is a big implementation year for us."

-- Jane Morrissey is a free-lance writer based in Denver. She can be reached at jemorrissey@msn.com.


Tools of the Trade

The cornerstone of Chicago's new Computerized Facilities Maintenance Management System (CFMMS) is Datastream Systems Inc.'s MP2 package. Systems integrator System Development Integration (SDI) chose the Windows-based software for its ease of use, packed feature set and relatively low cost (about $53,000 plus support). In addition to generating work orders, MP2 provides inventory tracking and organization, equipment cost management, preventive maintenance scheduling and many other features that the Department of General Services has not even begun to touch.

DGS didn't just take SDI's word for it. Before giving the project the green light, it gave MP2 to its tradespeople and engineers-many of whom were not computer-literate-and they were comfortable with the choice. (DGS is currently running MP2 on Windows 95 workstations but will soon upgrade to Windows 98, in part to exploit its browser-like front end.) DGS also plans to upgrade to MP2 Version 6.0, which will allow better customization of screens, not just fields.

Oracle Corp.'s Oracle7 was a natural choice for the back-end database, given a close link with MP2 and the fact that Oracle is already being used by several other agencies, which makes future links easier. As part of Phase Two, which began in November, DGS is adding Oracle Financials to the mix, which will help the finance and administration bureau with general ledger, accounts payable and other tasks, including connections to legacy databases throughout the city.

"So far, the only problem with conversion has been inaccurate data that was originally supplied to us," said Wally Hanna, SDI's director of strategic asset management systems. "DGS is taking steps to make sure that before Oracle Financials are installed, the legacy cost history is as complete as it can be."

Oracle Financials will run on the main CFMMS server a Compaq Computer Corp. 7000, which was chosen for its dual-processor/redundancy capability. The Windows NT box posed a bit of a challenge at the beginning. "DGS had been an island; it wasn't supported by this department and wasn't connected to the rest of the enterprise," said Beth Boatman, Chicago's CIO. "So we had to get them connected and up and running, which was our first NT installation. In retrospect, had we been involved earlier, we probably would have done that way ahead of time."

A Novell Inc. NetWare 4.1 network links the server to MP2 users within the main building. Links to remote sites are mostly Integrated Services Digital Network, except for one construction and operations office with so many users that a faster T-1 connection is necessary. In parallel, the department continues to upgrade its PCs, which are now Gateway Inc. 350s. The hardware upgrade was initially under budgeted, and some new PCs will have to wait until 1999. And some workers are still waiting for their aspect of the system to come online.

"Probably the biggest bump in the road is making sure we've got all the requisite units functioning up on the system," said Carlos Ponce, DGS' commissioner. "We started out with the trades areas, and just because of attention span we weren't able to bring our custodial work force on board as quickly as we wanted to."

Jane Morrissey


  • Congress
    U.S. Capitol (Photo by M DOGAN / Shutterstock)

    Funding bill clears Congress, heads for president's desk

    The $1.3 trillion spending package passed the House of Representatives on March 22 and the Senate in the early hours of March 23. President Trump is expected to sign the bill, securing government funding for the remainder of fiscal year 2018.

  • 2018 Fed 100

    The 2018 Federal 100

    This year's Fed 100 winners show just how much committed and talented individuals can accomplish in federal IT. Read their profiles to learn more!

  • Census
    How tech can save money for 2020 census

    Trump campaign taps census question as a fund-raising tool

    A fundraising email for the Trump-Pence reelection campaign is trying to get supporters behind a controversial change to the census -- asking respondents whether or not they are U.S. citizens.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.