Office space reconsidered: IT's role evolves

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks forced 800 workers at Dow Jones & Co. out of their offices adjacent to the World Trade Center. But the company needed those employees to continue working. "We still had a job to do, and we had to find space," says Jennifer W. Keller, manager of facility planning at the company's South Brunswick office.

Keller located new work spaces for all displaced employees within a week, helping the company to continue publishing the The Wall Street Journal, Barron's and its online content uninterrupted.

Keller credits her integrated workplace management system from Archibus. "We've become the librarians of lots of information about what the company has, where people are working, what physical assets they're working with and what it will take to move them," she says.

Although extreme, Keller's experience illustrates the benefits these applications can produce. Users say they help them more quickly respond to changes, more accurately compile information needed for real estate decisions and better forecast space requirements -- all of which can save companies millions of dollars through increased productivity and reduced real estate costs.

Even so, CIOs have not been clamoring for these applications. In fact, facilities managers, vendor executives and market analysts all say that IT has overlooked this area and only recently started to champion technology improvements for managing corporate real estate. "It's been somewhat of an orphaned function," says Michael Bell, an analyst at Gartner.

Bell says that facilities management systems used to be fragmented and departmental, so many IT shops took a hands-off approach. IT allowed facilities staffers to choose their own software and, in some cases, their own outside vendors to support it.

People like Chris Kniola are trying to change that. "We're trying to help [IT] understand, but it's taking some time," says Kniola, project manager of facility technology at a large financial services company near Chicago.

Kniola, who just earned his master's degree in IT, works in design construction but took on the role of IT project planner for the facilities group. Now he's trying to cultivate a relationship with IT, although much of the IT work still falls to his group.

Small change no more

But the days when IT could afford a laissez-faire attitude toward facilities applications are gone. The market for integrated workplace management systems (IWMS) has evolved over the past few years, Bell says. Such systems are now characterized by enterprise-level software that integrates project management, real estate portfolio and lease management, space management and maintenance management. The systems have become linked with ERP and human resources systems such as PeopleSoft, and the investment for big companies can exceed US$1 million. "It's certainly getting the attention of the CIOs and IT people because of the size, magnitude and complexity," he says.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

More about Dow JonesGartnerHISIT PeoplePeopleSoftWall Street

Show Comments

Market Place