Begin with the End in Mind

Planning and executing the transition of facility information from construction to operations.

Although often overlooked by facility owners, the transfer of facility information—such as plans, warrantees with contact information, and O&M manuals from the design and construction teams to operations staff is a critical juncture in the lifecycle of a facility. It is at this very point that facility owners must make a difficult decision:  what facility information should the design and construction teams turn over, and how will operations staff store and access it?

Beginning facility design with these two questions in mind is the best method for facility owners and operators to leverage the facility information generated during construction and thereby significantly reduce later operational costs.

During the design and construction phases, architects along with contractors and subcontractors create thousands of documents. These teams are focused primarily on creating the physical asset, often giving little thought to the value of their documentation to operations. Additionally, their method of gathering and disseminating facility information is likely at odds with the future needs of facility operations staff. Document organization standards vary from company to company and even from person to person, creating more gaps and inconsistencies in the documentation handed over to operations staff at end of construction.

Facility owners must manage facility information on their terms. Instead of starting to assemble documentation at a project’s end, facility owners need to implement a data plan in the early stages of design. By establishing an agreement with the design and construction teams, facility owners can control how and when they receive facility information for operations purposes. A defined data plan will help facility owners avoid ambiguities and ensure facility information is not lost when construction concludes.

Once a facility owner has established a plan for transferring design and construction documentation, the owner must then decide how they are going to store it. Typically, this means creating a plan room where paper files are placed in binders and cabinets. Plan rooms—however— are not without their flaws. Most plan rooms are cluttered and disorganized. Also, documents housed in a plan room are only accessible on site.

Setting up a system that stores building information electronically is a better solution for facility owners and operators. First, electronic documentation can be backed up on a cloud or secondary server, protecting it from any physical damage. Second, the organization of boxes and cabinets full of paper plans and O&M manuals will inevitably be neglected by a facility operations team, later becoming worthless when operations needs to find a specific file for routine maintenance, repair or for a remodel project. Third, facility information stored electronically is accessible remotely, allowing secure instant access to any staff or outside contractors who need it.

As the design and construction of facilities becomes more sophisticated and complex, so too does the storage system required for facility information. Training manuals are becoming increasingly longer as the maintenance requirements for sophisticated equipment become more critical.  The number and complexity of mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems make it necessary for maintenance teams to have access to as build drawings and equipment details as they navigate buildings and trouble shoot problems.   Finally, the proliferation of LEED certified facilities requires the operations team to track the energy efficiency of equipment and report the results over time.  The necessity to organize facility information electronically has never been more apparent.

By beginning facility planning, design and construction with operations in mind, facility owners can reduce repair and remodel costs, maximizing facility efficiency and saving thousands of dollars annually.  

This article originally appeared in Retail Facility Business magazine.

Written By: John Mulcahey, a licensed professional engineer with over 25 years of experience in facility management.