Growing volume, complexity put the heat on facilities management
Just about everyone involved in business, of any size, appreciates one of the most important of the basic principles: if you can consistently do more with less, and do it better than your competitors, you`ve pretty much got it made.
There are fields, however, where the impact of the drive to do more with less is particularly acute.
One of these fields, facilities management, has taken dramatic strides in recent years as those working in and entering the field have raised their skills and adopted new standards.
And, at senior management levels in business there is growing understanding that facilities management is a dynamic and increasingly complex undertaking that cannot be understood by applying old and imprecise terminology such as building management, property management or, worse, cleaning and security.
Executives appreciate more than ever that the billions of rands invested in fixed capital not only has to be protected, but maintained and enhanced to help generate the productivity and returns on assets required to remain competitive.
This drive for better returns on physical assets has been supported by the increased availability of recognised facilities management qualifications. This has helped to nurture the emergence of a new cadre of professionals, fully equipped with the skills required to handle the full spectrum of activities that now come under the facilities management umbrella.
However, with this growing level of skill and professionalism has come the realisation that better quality information and management tools are needed to cope with the increasingly complex business of managing effectively hundreds of tasks that are often dependent on each other for the overall job of facilities management to be successful.
Top of mind right now for many facilities management professionals is that they are expected to manage and maintain many more things, and to take on more responsibility. In addition, facilities management is frequently a candidate for outsourcing considerations, creating an added dimension of tension irrespective of whether you practise facilities management within an organisation or as a supplier to it.
Central to these concerns is the appreciation that the growth in facilities management`s responsibilities has been accompanied by an explosion in the number of individual tasks that need to be managed and coordinated. Indeed, many facilities management professionals are telling us that they recognise more than ever one critical point: nothing in the facilities management field can be done manually any more.
Why? Well, let`s consider for a moment just some of the key questions and issues in facilities management and the potential impact they have on an organisation:
How many assets are you actually maintaining and what is their value? Have we got a quick and accurate method of identifying, classifying and putting all of our assets on a database that is easily accessible and understandable to the average user?
Which assets are under warranty and for how much longer? What are the conditions of the warranty? Are we meeting these conditions? Do we have a fast and automated way of knowing when assets go out of warranty and need to be covered by a service contract?
Have we calculated the potential costs of not correctly maintaining our facilities, in terms of "hard" equipment cost as well as that of lost production time?
And when scheduling and ordering preventive maintenance, do we understand clearly on what, when, why, at what cost, how much down time there might be, and have we got proper checklists for all this that we can access instantly and re-use?
What if the preventive maintenance turns up something that`s going to break soon and has to be repaired or replaced? Do we have an automated process to get the ball rolling, or do we have to call someone to call someone else?
Have the technicians got the right parts with them, or do they have to order and wait around?
Do we know how fast we consume spares and maintenance supplies? Does someone have to track manually the trend in our inventory, or can we get better information at a keystroke?
How accurately do we understand where we are bottlenecking, who or what vendor is letting us down? Do we have accurate and up-to-date information about the mean time between failure of key assets?
Can we establish, instantly, what the service record is of particular suppliers? Can we match that, just as quickly, with what the supplier contracts say is required?
How good are our plans for when something goes wrong? Will we be a help or a hindrance to business continuity? Have we put together the best emergency processes that can be activated automatically and do not rely solely on individuals following something pinned to a notice board?
When there is a critical breach, are we confident that at a keystroke the emergency procedure kicks in and everyone who needs to know and do something is notified and acts according to that procedure?
How good are we at responding to user and tenant complaints? Can we automate the opening of a job card that enables anyone, including end-users, to track progress?
How often are we able to pull up insightful statistics that enable us to prepare informed analyses of how well we are functioning and of the stability of managed facilities?
Clearly, then, there is enough work to do and keep track of to keep an entire floor of facilities management staff occupied continuously - except that it is most unlikely that any of us would be able to, or want to, recruit that many people.
Ultimately, we require our facilities management professionals to spend most of their time managing, preventing and analysing rather than arranging, doing and tracking things that we should be able to automate.
In fact, there are places where major progress has been made in automating and integrating a broad range of facilities management processes. This includes both large and medium organisations such as Propnet, First National Bank, Standard Bank and Stellenbosch University.
Key to these organisations` transformation of facilities management has been the innovative and judicious use of information technology.
Indeed, it is really only by adopting the most appropriate information technology that we can hope to both automate and integrate hundreds of different but related processes in a way that enables the facilities manager to spend more time adding real value.
Of course, one still has to assess and select the IT solution that will do the best job for the facilities manager now and in future. In our experience, there are four critical factors that facilities managers consider in this process:
* Flexibility: How flexible is the software solution? Can it be easily adapted to your organisation`s needs and processes?
* Time to value: How long will it take for you to be able to demonstrate the rand value of actual savings and improvements from having this solution?
* Integration: Can the solution be integrated with increasingly sophisticated building management systems so that, for example, incident reports can be automatically created and the appropriate people automatically notified?
* Business intelligence: Does the solution enable you to pull up at a keystroke the core data and trends that will enable you to draw up quickly business plans based on this analysis?
In addition, we would say that the solution must be proven and stable, provide deep functionality and features, and be able to scale up as the facilities manager`s responsibilities expand.
In the end, the best response to growing complexity is to simplify relentlessly - by finding ways to automate and integrate the high volume of routine tasks that can so easily suck the time out of your day. Information technology can be a genuine ally in this endeavour, leaving you more truly in command of every situation.