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Update - Future Space

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PROS: lBeing able to re-use design data is the way forward

CONS: lThe real benefits will be to those who use MicroGDS for design development

PRICE: Varies according to project

A few years ago, while working for Richard Rogers, I remember helping one of the directors put together some visuals for a seminar he was giving on cost reduction in the construction industry - a big issue since the Latham report was published in 1994. The director, Andrew Morris, presented some figures illustrating how much buildings cost to design, construct and operate. It should be no surprise that the lion's share of the finance goes on the maintenance of the building or the management of the facility.

Morris' point was simple; investing time and money on ingenious design solutions will result in a greater increase in value for money across the life cycle of the building.

Naturally there were many other experts on hand who presented ideas for reducing the cost of construction and maintenance through the introduction of partnering and framework agreements. I think it was then that I was first introduced to the concept of facilities management, or FM, applications.

The principle is simple. Fill a computer with the kind of knowledge we have to retain in our already overcrowded minds and, when requested, it will spit out the information quicker than you can say 'What is the extension number for Austin Williams and where does he sit in the building?' Properly configured FM software will reduce the time it takes to perform simple and repetitive queries by eons, thanks to the database, which stores all the relevant information.

The queries do not have to involve people. They could relate to the building itself.

For example, the types of light fitting could be linked to the correct replacement bulb. So when one popped, the maintenance officer would not have to visit the location twice in order to replace it - once to find out what type it was and once to return with the correct bulb. I have heard it said that replacing a bulb in the BBC has been costed at £1,000 a unit, thanks to all the to-ing and fro-ing. I don't believe it but it is a great story.

Some FM systems are smart enough to serve up the information retrieved in the form of text and graphics. This could include building plans, a picture of the required light bulb and any other relevant information. So getting there is as easy as can be. Furthermore, the system can be programmed with associated rules and relationships so that when the maintenance man heads off to find the right light bulb, he also picks up the right set of stepladders in the nearest storeroom to the failed light. All this information can be served up to him simply.

The downside of FM applications of this kind is that, like all IT-related tools, they are only as good as the information they hold, and updating them can be onerous and tedious. Furthermore, getting the system up and running in the first place can be quite an overhead as the shifting topography of the office constantly changes while the information is being entered.

What then would you give for a tool which builds the FM database while you design your building? Quite a bit, I should say, and Future Space has come up with just the tool.

What makes Future Space think there is room for it in the market? Well, it has developed its FM tool to use the database inherent in MicroGDS. So while you are using MicroGDS and placing the geometry used to articulate your design, the MicroGDS database catalogues the information according to the rules defined using the Future Space tools. When the design is complete, the full drawing package and database can be handed over to the client for managing the facility.

The benefits are that there is no external database (ergo there are fewer things to go wrong), the database is populated as the design develops so there is no post-processing to perform, and data is easily editable by dragging and dropping the objects using the graphical interface.

You don't even have to use MicroGDS as your standard CAD tool (although it helps) as the Future Space tool will import data directly from AutoCAD and, with a little manipulation, the results are the same.

So if you are managing a facility which includes 20,000 people on 35 sites and you are constantly moving people around, you may benefit from a closer peep at Future Space. As an architect you may just be a little more attractive to the large corporates if you can deliver your data to them in a fashion that will make their life easier.

The cost is wholly dependent on the size of the implementation for existing projects but the guide given to me works out at about £2 per square foot of floor space. When you bear in mind that the cost of maintenance is in the region of 10 times the cost of development, I think it could be money well spent.

Joe Croser can be contacted at joe@croser. net

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