Enhancements further increase efficiency and streamline project management
Four years ago, the first version of the Approvals Information Management (AIM) system successfully streamlined the business processes critical to product Approvals, improved data collection and introduced a customer portal that delivers accurate and timely information on project milestones, status and billing.
AIM Phase 1 automated workflows and eliminated most paper by enabling FM Approvals engineers, managers and staff to electronically track and manage every new Approval project from start to finish, including initial customer inquiry and follow-up assignment; product information collection and proposal generation; customer authorization of Approval programs; product documentation and sample receipt; test and analysis scheduling; preliminary and final report generation and review; and FM Approvals certification issuance.
Phase 2 of the AIM system, launched in February, captures a new level of business processes and project types with the goal of further increasing efficiency, reducing time-to-market and saving time for customers worldwide. Where AIM Phase 1 focused exclusively on new Approval projects, Phase 2 extends AIM capabilities with the following features and functions:
- Encompasses additional types of projects, including Private Labeler Agreements (PLAs), service contracts, audits and product revision requests (formerly known as 797s)—extends the efficiency and visibility of AIM beyond just Approval projects
- Centralizes revision requests via a user-friendly “smart” form that automatically adapts to capture correct project details—saves customers time and helps reduce cycle time
- Allows the engineers to view their entire book of business in one place
- Automates escalations based on predetermined milestones—helps keep all types of projects on track
- Enables parallel processing (i.e., triage) of revision requests to direct projects to the correct resources—further reduces cycle time and helps optimize the use of staff time and expertise
- Provides status updates via customer portal for all types of projects
“The first version of AIM was focused on new Approval projects,” explains Terri Pellegrino, assistant vice president, business operations manager, FM Approvals. “Yet the bulk of our work is actually in handling requests for various types of revisions to existing Approvals. For instance, a change request might cover something as simple as a product name change or new company address, up to a change in the materials used to manufacture a product or the closing of a manufacturing site.”
A product revision request—formerly the 797 form—has, until now, been a paper-based process. AIM Phase 2 introduces a downloadable PDF form (see page 12) that automatically adapts to the user’s selections to ask the right questions and capture only the information needed for the revision.
For instance, a customer who wishes to “Update Company Information” such as company name, address or any other details, would check that box on the smart form. At that point, an additional page appears to capture just the required information. Should the customer select “Add Products to Existing Location,” a different type of page would appear requesting additional information pertinent to the new location.
“In the past, that revision request was a piece of paper in someone’s inbox and there was no way for us to update a customer on their status unless you tracked it down,” notes Jim Marquedant, manager, electrical systems, FM Approvals. “Not only was it manual, but that 797 form would be assigned to an FM Approvals engineer no matter what the revision request was for. It could be a change of address, for instance, that didn’t require the services of an engineer.” In the new system, the completed revision request PDF document is saved by the customer and submitted electronically. Each form is evaluated by FM Approvals business group through a new triage process that evaluates each request and assigns it to a resource or group.
“Every completed revision request form is directed to the right destination,” says Rick Dunne, manager, fire protection, FM Approvals. “For instance, maybe a fire protection customer wants to change the material for a valve or other component from stainless 304 to stainless 316. That would be assigned to an engineer in my group for evaluation. But maybe that customer just wants to change the name of the listed company from Fred Smith Company to Fred Smith Limited. That obviously does not require an engineer to get involved, and would be handled by the business operations group.”
This new process for handling revision requests saves time and ensures that FM Approvals’ resources are fully optimized. Along with greater efficiency, customers can now access the status on every revision request, just as they have been able to do with new Approval projects. Customers can use the AIM portal to stay current on every type of project. This includes not only Approval programs and revision requests, but also Private Labeler Agreements, service contracts and audits.
We caught up with several FM Approvals customers to hear their thoughts on the improved customer portal. Here’s what they had to say:
Marioff Corporation Oy
“I’ve tried the new AIM system and my approvals engineers use it on a regular basis,” says Brian Stumm, director of engineering for Marioff Corporation Oy, makers of HI-FOG® water mist fire protection systems. “My team likes the new AIM features and the ability it gives them to do more of their work online versus on paper. It has helped make the revisions request process far easier and, we believe, faster.”
Tyco Fire Protection Products
“We have a very close working relationship with the team at FM Approvals,” says Manuel Silva, director of engineering for Tyco Fire Protection Products. “We typically have a good feel for where our projects stand at any given moment. However, I log into the FM Approvals customer portal from time to time to check that we’re on the same page. We want to make sure that if something is on hold, for instance, that we’re not waiting for something from FM Approvals or vice versa.”
GAF Materials Corporation
“The automation that the AIM system provides has improved communication with FM Approvals and allows us to easily track projects and change requests,” notes Helene Hardy Pierce, vice president of technical services, codes and industry relations for GAF Materials Corporation. “We have a large number of projects in process with FM Approvals and the AIM system helps avoid bottlenecks or scheduling conflicts.” The ultimate goal of the improved AIM system is to enhance efficiency and streamline communications between FM Approvals and its customers around the world. By enabling 24/7 access to the status of every type of project, the AIM system is now able to fulfill its original promise.
“There’s a learning curve for us and our customers in adapting to the new AIM system; however, we’re confident that the rewards are worth it,” notes Pellegrino, whose business operations group developed and maintains the system. “We have continued to grow internationally and the AIM system is an important way for us to communicate effectively with both FM Approvals staff and customers across different time zones. With this extension and enhancement of AIM, we are integrating even more processes and providing access to critical project information of all types, anytime, anywhere.”