Maintenance and Operations

Solving the Facility Management Document Storage Problem

Plans, O&Ms, inspections, warranties, and other documents touch the daily lives of everyone on the facilities team, from those at the executive level to the technicians in the field. There is a fundamental need to capture, document, retain, locate, and share information in every facility.

Each facet of the job―handling operations, keeping on top of maintenance, and exploring energy management―has multiple challenges, regulations, governing bodies, tools, technology, and documentation to master.

Whenever a building is renovated, expanded, or remodeled, new building plans are created by architects, engineers, designers, and contractors. These plans might include construction documents, specifications (which could be electronic or paper), shop drawings, and BIM models, just to name a few. After the project is completed, even more information is generated.

How much of your personal documentation do you save? With buildings, there is a far greater need to save information because buildings evolve every year, changes are made, surveys are conducted, and repairs and inspections are routine. As buildings evolve, facility management teams expand and change, too. People retire. Newcomers are hired. These cycles continue year after year. Each cycle is likely to produce more documentation than the cycle prior, due to additional requirements and rules.

According to our research, one in three commercial buildings in the United States are over 50 years old and 72% of the buildings are over 20 years old. Year after year, as we make changes and upgrades to facilities, additional building information gets piled up, further aggravating the problem.

As buildings age, documentation reflecting renovations and remodels increases. Buildings go through hundreds, if not thousands, of changes. Extensions and tenant improvements generate additional documents and information which must all be stored and accessed when necessary. Simply put, over the years you gather a mountain of information.

When the IRS requests us to hold financial information for 7 years, we think it’s a long time. You could only imagine the amount of information that gets accumulated in buildings over 15 or 20 years. It’s no surprise that document storage rooms look the way they do.

Storing Documents for Easy Access

Most facilities have plan rooms, garages, basements, or storage closets where documentation is stored. Were these rooms designed to house documentation and keep it organized? Hard to say. Maybe some newer buildings were built with a room for that purpose in mind. But that’s doubtful. It’s a pretty safe assumption that building owners looked around and said, “We’re not using that space in the basement. We’ll just use that room for general storage, roll up the blueprints, tag them, and put in some shelves for binders.”

The pathway-to-paper problem worsens for facility managers who need those building plans on a regular basis. Even if the plans are well organized, they can become disorganized quickly, because not everyone using the room is particularly neat. This leads to a disorganized and decentralized area in which decades of documents are stored.

The digital “jungle,” where a conflicting and confusing array of electronic storage formats are stored, doesn’t solve the problem of accessing information either. Each medium must be carefully and slowly reviewed visually, and the work is managed on a desktop computer, rendering the digital “jungle” useless to a technician in the field who works exclusively with mobile devices.

Why Electronic Storage & Document Scanning Have Limited Value

When document scanning was introduced, facility managers were excited because they could use the technology to store paper documents.

The average building has outlived several generations of storage format. Can you open a CD? What about a 3.5 floppy disk? If your files were in a proprietary CAD format, do you have a program that will still open them?

You can spend hours scanning and wind up with files that are difficult to locate and read. If the files have a generic PDF01, PDF02, PDF03 naming convention, it might be easier to just go back to the paper!

The document storage problem is exacerbated with both paper and a myriad of electronic formats that aren’t interactive, organized, or easy to read.

What Are the Consequences of Document Accumulation?

  • The inability of teams to quickly find building info when emergencies occur;
  • Possible duplication, missing documents, or inefficient document filing; and
  • Excessive time looking for the information they need. 

When building plans and information aren’t easily accessible, identifying a simple shutoff valve in an emergency or providing facilities information to first responders can take several hours, putting building occupants’ safety in jeopardy.

There have been countless cases where simple water leaks flooded multiple building floors, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages, because building plans and shutoff valves could not be found. Floods and other emergencies are not just costly; they put building occupants at risk. In other cases, losing a high-value piece of equipment in a hospital, for instance, might jeopardize the ability to generate revenue and possibly require turning patients away.

What Are Some Better Solutions for the Problem?

While missing documentation may be redrawn by architects, that’s a costly and time-consuming task.

A better management solution is to scan, digitize, organize, and transfer all that data to the cloud, making it accessible via an app on a mobile device. It’s like carrying your records room in your pocket. And by using artificial intelligence, machine learning, and optical character recognition, the information becomes organized, easily searchable, and instantly available.

Facility managers rely on technology to control equipment, adjust energy usage, and even manage technician schedules. Now technology finally exists to enable instant access to building information while in the field, dramatically improving the efficiency of facilities technicians. Building documentation will continue to grow, but today’s tools, with better control and organization of documents and information, can help ensure safe conditions for building occupants, increase time savings, and improve productivity.

Jack Rubinger is marketing content writer for ARC Facilities. He can be reached at jack.rubinger@arcfacilities.com.