Facilities Management is one of the most exciting industries to be in at the moment, because of its potential to shape the future. Gone are the days of FM teams working from basement boiler room offices, trudging away to maintain buildings with no eye on ‘what’s next’.

There is a healthy appetite for innovation, from wearable technology to 3D printing, and redesign of services to integrate with client organisations. FM professionals have a greater understanding of their clients’ intricacies and requirements, and can introduce cutting edge technologies and ideas that revolutionise the way people do business.

But are these new innovations focused on driving efficiencies or value? There are some common challenges faced by FM organisations that have persisted throughout my 11 years in the sector, which have remained unchanged despite great advancements in FM services and technology.

Running a Business Improvement Consultancy firm (Continuous Improvement Projects Ltd), is exciting because no day is the same. Every project we work on is different and therefore the approach we take is always pragmatic and specific to the requirements of the project. Having had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects across the FM sector, from helpdesk centralisations to contract transformations, the common themes have not gone unnoticed. Every time I walk into a new FM organisation or project, and begin with the all-important question of “what is the problem?”, the responses are always similar. It would be reasonable to think that similar organisations within the same sector face parallel challenges, and that the root causes are alike.  What might surprise, and should concern, the FM industry is: In 2006 when I began my journey in FM, I was discussing the exact same issues then as I am now. Why is this? Surely the millions of pounds of investment combined with the blood and sweat that’s been shed over the years should have eradicated those issues by now.

Here are just two examples from my experience:

Asset Management

Asset Management is integral to Facilities Management, it’s “bread and butter”, yet how many organisations do it really well? On countless occasions I have heard about the millions of pounds spent on asset surveys that haven’t delivered the required outputs and the ongoing rework to achieve an accurate Asset Register that follows Industry Standards. What’s worse is that by the time the Asset Register is finally complete, it’s already out-of-date. There is disconnect between assets being replaced or installed as part of Capital Project schemes and the Asset Registers. Then there’s the process of updating assets in the system database which often appears cumbersome. Without this baseline platform, it becomes really difficult to manage lifecycle management and forward maintenance planning; all of which carry a compliance, commercial, operational and financial risk for all parties.

The focus is often on delivering immediate efficiencies through establishing an accurate Asset Register as a one-off exercise; which enables appropriate allocation of resources and an uplift on the fee that the client pays for maintenance of assets. Many FM contracts manage to achieve this milestone.

The real value (which in Lean Six Sigma terms, is what the Customer is paying for) is in the proactive management and maintenance of assets. This requires longer-term investment in the form of resources and technology, and should deliver greater value which outweighs the costs associated to ‘getting it wrong’ repeatedly. In this instance, the value is delivered through a compliant estate where all site residents are safe from harm, more certainty around the volume of work as a robust Planned Preventative Maintenance regime should reduce the number of reactive requests, improved productivity and increased revenue generated through asset replacements.

Management of Works

Several years ago, I recall discussions with a Director about several issues relating to the management of Customer service requests. Listed below are just some of these issues.

  • The need for real-time updates on works progress to improve customer communication and control over performance
  • The inability to understand workforce productivity due to a lack of, or poor quality of, labour data
  • The ineffective means of planning works without robust estimated times against types of jobs
  • The lack of jobs linked to assets
  • Limited visibility of workforce availability and location to enable more efficient management of works
  • Challenges with meeting Service Level Agreements, attracting deductions and reputational damage

Technology has really helped advance some of these items forward, with the introduction of hand-held devices, tracking devices and system enhancements. But – and it is a big ‘BUT’ – how many of the above issues still exist in the industry today? I have yet to find an organisation that does not continue to face these challenges. Is this because the improvements are focussed on efficiencies rather than value?

The investment in technology has been significant, and as with any well-run IT project, they have all been approved upon a strong business case that demonstrates a return on investment (ROI). In my experience, project teams are pressured into delivering an ROI as quickly as possible, driving the projects to focus on cost-saving deliverables rather than those that will ultimately deliver sweet success through value. Perhaps this is why these challenges are yet to be overcome.

In this article, we have explored some examples of persistent challenges faced by FM organisations where it would appear that efficiency has been prioritised over value. We have reviewed some of the great strides taken to leap forward, and the barriers holding-back success. The examples above are a sign of passion and drive, and a will to change.

For me, they also highlight a focus on immediate priorities with a blind-eye on value, which is what’s most important to the Customer. As they say, the Customer is King. If FM Organisations focussed more on ‘value’ than on driving internal efficiencies in a bid to reduce costs; would it impact Customer reputation? Could it lead to improved Customer retention which is the ultimate goal? Would it finally ‘put to bed’ these enduring challenges and create a strong foundation from which to face new challenges as part of continuous improvement?

When embarking on any improvement project, we at Continuous Improvement Projects, always define ‘value’ first to ensure that the project is focussed on the right things. Realising efficiencies is important, but efficiencies are worthless if they don’t ultimately deliver what’s important to the Customer. The next time you embark on a project, think about your area of focus and how it aligns with the Voice of the Customer.

This article was also published in Industry Today on May 25th 2017

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