Managing your facilities is a task that can be challenging, especially in the increasingly technologically advanced era we live in. As you probably know, there is a wide range of facility management software solutions that have risen to meet this challenge, and come in an equally wide range of development options. One that might be especially appealing is open source facility management software. This article will investigate what makes facility management software open source, the benefits and drawbacks to open source facilities management and how to select an facilities management solution.
What is Facility Management Software?
Facilities management software, also known as computer-aided facility management (CAFM), or in some cases property management or building management, is software designed to help users manage and maintain their facility. It offers modules that perform a range of facility-related tasks including:
- Assign and schedule maintenance work orders
- Manage space rentals or bookings
- Preventive maintenance scheduling/planning
- Asset maintenance
- Inventory management
- Manage fleets
- Monitor (or even remotely manage) HVAC
- Perform security tasks
- Manage orders and procurement
- Manage materials transport
- Contact/Contractor/Vendor management
- Health and safety
- Lease administration
- Workspace management
- Decision support
The main goal of facilities management software is to support facility managers in the oversight and maintenance of their facility and everything inside it. It is a subcategory of computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) that focuses specifically on facilities.
What Makes Facility Management Software Open Source?
Now that you understand the definition of facility management, we can move on to discussing what we mean by “open source facilities management.” Open source is defined as a program whose source code is freely available for manipulation by its users. This means that users have the ability to go in and make changes to the fundamentals of the program.
Another element of open source software is that it is available for distribution and duplication by the end users. This qualification is not a given as many companies that produce open source software may have legal restrictions against this. Editable code is the main hallmark of an open source program. Some programs may have open source code and closed source licenses.
Open Source vs. Free vs. Freeware
Some terms that are often mixed up are open source, free and freeware. Let’s define them so you can proceed confidently with the type of software that suits your needs.
Like open source, free software is defined by the ability to edit its source code and distribute copies. It is more of a general approach to software than a firm definition — where open source has a specific set of rules, free software is described as any software that “grants the user freedom to share, study and modify it.” So open source is a type of free software, and some free software is also open source.
Freeware is what people often think free software is — it is software that is widely available to license without cost. Some examples are Skype, Adobe Reader and Discord.
Benefits and Drawbacks to Open Source Facility Management Software
Now that you understand the basics of open source software, we can dive into the pros and cons of utilizing it.
1. Cost Savings
A key benefit to open source software is its relatively low cost. Because the parent organization doesn’t have to shoulder most of the costs associated with supporting software — training, customization, etc. — they can pass those savings on to the consumer.
Depending on if the solution is hosted in the cloud or on your premises, the cost will be an ongoing monthly subscription or a one-time fee, respectively. Those upfront costs are cut down significantly by choosing an open-source version.
Another place companies can price gouge their proprietary software is via customization. Typically if a client needs extensive customization from a vendor, they will be charged for every adjustment and modification. Doing these customizations yourself is a great way to save some cash.
Because an organization’s own developers are responsible for crafting open source programs, the customization options are only limited by your budget and skill. With a proprietary solution, all customization must be supported by the vendor, which comes with a hefty price tag.
You can also implement customization at your own speed. If a change isn’t working with your processes, if you need to make tweaks or additions, you have that option: without the lengthy wait time. This flexibility, freedom and control has no rival with proprietary software.
Similar to customization, open source software comes with significant versatility. It can serve small businesses, large enterprises and organizations in all industries. If your developers are advanced enough, they can make the program do all sorts of unique things that can benefit your organization in ways unavailable to others with boxed solutions.
A benefit of this is that it can be embedded into other software solutions (like a CMMS) to get original feature combinations that are relevant to your facility without buying anything extra, a common flaw with boxed facilities management platforms.
Another great benefit of choosing open source solutions is the community of other free software users. Open source platforms, especially free versions of proprietary systems, are almost always supported by a robust community of other users, troubleshooters, developers and more.
Getting support from a community like this is a very different experience than contacting customer support; it encourages users to collaborate and discover, becoming an expert on the platform. It also comes with the benefit of being free of charge, facilitating barter-like information trading and communicating in creative ways.
1. Developer Requirements
Vendors can often provide open source solutions free of charge because they don’t have to put in the work to customize, implement or support them. The burden of development, implementation and IT falls entirely on you and your in-house team. They are responsible for running, managing, adding features to and troubleshooting the system.
This means that you will likely have to dedicate at least a small team of developers to working on the system either full time or for a majority of their time. While this might be realistic for a large organization, most small facilities won’t need or be able to maintain this kind of devotion.
2. Resource Drain
Those developers mentioned in the previous section need to be fairly compensated for their time, which can be a serious drain on your organization’s resources. Competition for talent, especially skills in high demand like coding, is very high. This means you’ll likely find yourself competing for talent with software vendors, which can become pricey. If you aren’t positioned to support excellent developers, your system will be vulnerable to bugs, breakdowns and loss of revenue.
3. UI Woes
The main reason employees don’t utilize software to its full potential is because the system isn’t intuitive to use. This gap can be even harder to broach if your users aren’t particularly tech-savvy or don’t work with software very often, as is the case with many maintenance technicians. This can be avoided through extensive training, but that adds an additional cost and takes time to learn, which can impact your team’s efficiency.
4. Lack of Support
Support is a huge benefit of traditional vendor-offered facilities management software, so it’s a con of open source solutions. While there may be a robust community for some platforms, many in less tech-heavy industries (facility management, for example) may not offer the breadth of community required for your support needs. Even if there is a thriving forum community, it might be difficult getting specific answers for troubleshooting questions in a timely fashion — questions can take days, weeks or even months to be resolved, which isn’t feasible for a crucial system task.
Another issue comes from engineering support. Something you pay for in the cost of a proprietary solution is the specific goal-supporting engineering that goes into making a solution from the ground up, testing it and keeping it running. This reduces failure rates, decreases downtime and promotes ease of use. You are responsible for doing the research and development that goes into building an facilities management solution from the ground up when you choose an open source platform.
Is Open Source Facilities Management Worth It?
For users with a lot of resources to devote to the project, open source facility management software can be an incredibly rewarding option, but there are many potential pitfalls. Open source projects shouldn’t be taken lightly. You can’t implement it in an afternoon; it takes a lot of time and dedication to add and maintain the facility management features you need, and you have to designate someone to perform continual management of the system to ensure it’s always operating smoothly.
How to Choose a Facility Management Tool
Whether you’ve decided you want to dive head-first into an open source project or buy a system off the shelf, selecting a facility management solution can be tricky. Follow these steps and utilize these resources to make it smooth and suited to your unique business needs!
The first step is to identify which features of a facility management solution your organization will utilize most frequently or most urgently. This facilities management requirements template lists all possible requirements and helps you prioritize them based on your needs.
Once you’ve identified the most crucial requirements for your organization, you’re equipped to compare platformed based on how well they perform in those areas. This facilities management comparison matrix offers analyst ratings in each requirement category for many industry leaders. Using this method, you can create a shortlist of the top vendors for you — we recommend choosing around five.
To get a customized price quote, demos, trials and more information from these top matches, you’ll want to create and submit a request for proposal. This free template can guide you through the steps to make sure your RFP will get you the information you require. While you wait for responses, check out this facilities management pricing guide to get a feel for industry pricing entry points and associated costs.
Open source facility management solutions have their pros and cons, and now you should be equipped with the knowledge to choose the best fit for your organization — regardless of code accessibility.
What questions do you have about facility management software or how to choose it? Leave us a comment and we’ll get back to you with answers!