Data Linking Requirements in Facilities Condition Audit RFPs

When preparing a Request for Proposal (RFP) for Facilities Condition Audit (FCA), including software-based delivery of findings, facilities managers should avoid complicating the bidding process with nondescript data-linking requirements.

A common endeavor of today’s facilities managers in the higher education arena is to have an FCA performed. FCA services typically include the installation of some type of database software application to help the facilities manager sort, filter and analyze the FCA results. Software applications provided by leading consultants in this field are often more than just delivery tools. They typically include dynamic features designed for long-term use as tools to assist in building management decisions. This type of application is sometimes referred to as a Capital Planning and Management Solution (CPMS), and it has become quite an important component of FCA services.

When developing an RFP for FCA services that includes deployment of a CPMS, facilities managers may be tempted to include a provision to link this new data to existing data sources or applications such as work orders, preventive maintenance applications or space planning and allocation programs. This inclination is correct in that data transfer between these related applications does enhance the value of each of them. This transfer could also avoid issues of conflicting data and the inefficiencies of duplicated data management or data entry efforts. However, inclusion of this data-linking task in an RFP for FCA services is likely to create confusion and inconsistencies in the procured bids, and may even inadvertently increase overall cost.

Relatively detailed knowledge of software is required in order to create an efficient link between separate applications. There are so many facilities management-related software products on the market that it is unlikely that any one consultant possesses this depth of knowledge on all of them. And it is even more unlikely that competing consultants have comparable levels of knowledge on a specific group of applications that a client might be using.

When bidding this type of work, consultant firms most likely develop their bid costs using an allowance to cover the undefined effort related to data-linking tasks, especially if the nature of the link is not well defined in the RFP. This might make it difficult to get an apples-to-apples comparison of proposed work versus price.

There are some ways facilities managers seeking bids on a proposed FCA project and associated CPMS can lessen this effect.

The obvious solution is to leave out the data linking completely. But that neglects the idea that a powerful tool could be gained by integrating existing and new systems. A less drastic approach is to leave out the vague reference to the provision of data-linking services and, instead, include more performance-oriented consultant requirements that ensure that the selected consultant can accomplish the desired application integration once the initial FCA services are completed.

Example conditions might be that the supplied CPMS must be based in an industry-standard database format with an open architecture that allows it to be linked to other databases, or that the bidding consultants must maintain a certified programmer or applications developer on staff. The RFP could also ask that bidders submit synopsis of past jobs where they have exhibited their software’s ability to integrate with other systems, thus establishing the consultant’s field-proven capabilities. These are the types of measures that can be taken if the facilities managers do not have a well-defined idea of what they want in terms of application integration. It leaves the actual task of linking out of the initial FCA project but ensures that future coordination is not precluded.

While these measures are good, an even better way to get to that final goal of integration of facilities management software is for facilities managers themselves to understand exactly what they want out of it.

Instead of an RFP containing vague text, which creates a nondescript indication of scope, such as “Provided database software shall be linked to this institution’s existing preventive maintenance software,” the RFP could state something more specific. For example: “This institution maintains an SQL-based work order processing program that can report annual work order cost subtotals for each building. The consultants’ CPMS application must be linked so that these per-building annual work order subtotals can be read into the CPMS and consequently displayed and analyzed as budget cost components at the level of the major repair, upgrade and renewal projects subtotals calculated and stored within the CPMS.”

With this more specific description of the linking task, not only are the competing bids based on corresponding levels of services, but also, the final product is more functional and tailored to the client’s needs. This approach works only if the management team defines specifically how it wants its software to function.

It should also be noted that not all consultants offer software customization so, to some degree, data-linking requirements may limit the pool of firms that can bid a given FCA project. However, those firms in the forefront of this field will not find this requirement challenging to meet. Therefore, this kind of bidder list preening may not be undesirable.

Whether a plant management team can define data-linking ideas for an FCA being considered, the idea of integrating various applications can be accommodated in the RFP without adversely affecting the quality of bids.

Randall W. DeFranco, AIA, is with Entech Engineering, Inc., a full-service engineering and architectural firm in Reading, Pa. For more information, visit their Website at .