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Help for the helpdesk

Author : Tim Fryer

31 May 2012

Jo Wilson

Jo Wilson is a Central Services Officer for Matalan, and such are her abilities that she was awarded the PFM Partners in Excellence award at last year’s PFM Awards. Tim Fryer went to meet her to find out why she is held in such high regard

Magazine articles typically deal with ground-breaking projects or the thoughts of the captains of industry, but to make these projects work; the captains need a good crew. It was for this reason that the PFM Awards introduced its Partnering Excellence category - to reward individuals ‘on the ground’ who make a project work and maybe the new name for this award for 2012, the Partnership Team Member Award, better reflects this.

Traditionally the winner has come from the service provider, but in 2011 it became apparent that one of the key people behind the success of the SSS Management Services helpdesk project at Matalan came from the client side. The project itself won the ‘Partners in Public Access Facilities’ category in the 2011 Awards, and the two awards sit proudly side by side on Jo’s desk in her office in Skelmersdale in Lancashire, Matalan’s head office. The project itself will be covered in a future issue of PFM, this interview was to find out more about Jo, her job and her aspirations in FM.

I started by asking how she started out in her career in FM?

Jo Wilson: I started off in retail as a Saturday sales assistant with Littlewoods, progressed into Index the catalogue shop and went into the head-office side of the business working for store support. This was basically a help desk function, dealing with queries & complaints from Stores and Customers. In 2006 the company was sold and all staff where either transferred or made redundant. In 2008 I was approached by a previous employer who had a job vacancy in the FM department for a role that suited my skill set. That was three and half years ago and I have been here ever since.

The first role that I was employed for in FM was to deal with the help desk and the soft services side of the FM department which was basically waste and cleaning support for the stores. In 2008 we decided to outsource the Hard Services side of the department, which was tendered to a number of companies and took some six months to get the project in place. The tender for the helpdesk function was awarded to SSS Management Services. This resulted in a change of role to the Hard Services (Maintenance) function, were I was became heavily involved with the setting up process of information for the helpdesk function of SSS Management and Matalan partnership.

Tim Fryer: So SSS do not do your M&E, they run your helpdesk

JW: Yes. We have a number of our own contractors in place for each maintenance package for stores and the Head Office.

TF: Is it easy to find companies that offer a niche or single service on a nationwide basis?

JW: It is a lot better now than it was, but we do go out to tender on the basis of our own specification and requirements. As we have become more established we have a lot more knowledge of companies that are nationwide, so identifying suitable contracts are a lot easier now than they were a few years ago.

TF: So if SSS deal with these contractors, do you have any direct contact with them?

JW: If issues need escalating and if SSS have not been able to sort something out I do have contact numbers for each contractor. There are times when I do have to bypass SSS if I have an urgent problem that needs resolving quickly, we can intervene to get the ball rolling a bit quicker by dealing directly with the contractor. When this happens SSS know that we have issues that need sorting out ASAP - you need to be a problem solver and alleviate any problems that are going on.

TF: Who do you get the hard time from – is it the store managers or the regional FMs?

JW: As with any retail organisation Store Managers teams are very demanding but they are our customers and we have to respond to their requests.

TF: Presumably there are times when for H&S reasons a problem needs to be resolved if a store is to open – is there some sort of priority scheme?

JW: We do have priorities processes in place. Priority one is a two hour call out, the procedure we have in place is for the stores to call the SSS helpdesk, log the call and then SSS will then escalate the call and contact the contractor directly and organise for them to attend site. If the Store still has concerns or having further issues they will contact us direct, by either feeding the call to Facilities Department or the Regional Facilities Manager’s for that area. [There are 3 RFM’s – one for Northern, Midlands and South – each RFM has about 71 to 74 stores to look after]. I am backstop to help them if they are struggling with something.

TF: Is it easy to budget for planned maintenance, but is it difficult to budget for reactive maintenance and repair if your budgets are very tight?

JW: Our budget costs are split into two categories revenue costs and capital cost. Our budgets are challenged constantly on a daily basis, at the moment we are getting a lot of theft of air conditioning units and copper pipes from our properties overnight throughout the country, so we have to spend a lot of our Capital Budget in replacing the systems, which are of course unbudgeted.

TF: Have you had any formal training in FM?

JW: I have been on a few training courses with BIFM and I am doing one of them at the moment, but I have mainly learnt off my peers really, particularly the Regional Facilities Managers.

TF: Is there any more training you would like to do

JW: Probably yes, I would like to go further in FM. I really enjoyed it and no two days are the same. It’s quite challenging with some of things you come up against. I will hopefully do more training courses once I have completed the BIFM course.

TF: Are there any other aspects of the FMs remit that you would like to expand into?

JW: No, not in our department because security for example is managed quite separately and the soft services side of the FM now sits within our estates department function. We deal with maintenance only, but I could fit into other aspects of the FM remit due to the skill sets I have gained whilst being in the FM role.

TF: What is the relationship between FM and Estates?

JW: We are part of the Estates (Property) Department and work close together as a team.

TF: So now they are together does that increase the opportunities for you to expand your role or are they still two separate career progressions.

JW: If someone were to leave and an opportunity arises then it may be possible to diversify into a new role, as I would have the store knowledge and maintenance skills and it would make it easier to have an understanding of the role in Estates.

TF: Are you involved in Matalan’s energy efficiency policies?

JW: We have an input into that but we have other departments with pacific responsibilities looking into that – the Estates (Property) Department manage the energy efficiency.

TF: So what happens if lighting goes or an aircon unit is stolen, do you replace like for like?

JW: We usually apply for two quotes, one quote for like for like and one for energy efficiency; we usually approve the more cost efficient deal. We would then have to apply for finance from our capital budget; we look for how much pay back we will get. We carried out a T5 Lighting exercise last year in 20 plus stores, the new lights use a lot less energy as the previous fittings and we are hoping to roll the T5 programme out to a further 20 plus stores this year.

TF: And who would monitor the performance of such experiments

JW: We have an Energy Manager in Estates Department that monitors the performance.

TF: Are there other examples of new technology you are looking at?

JW: We have introduced an Evaprotive Cooling system that we have put in one of our stores in the South. The store staff are much happier with it and it seems to be running as it should and is more efficient than the system it replaced there is also a reduced risk of theft.

TF: What background work did you do on that – was it original research or checking up on what the contractor’s claims were?

JW: The contractor advised us what they could do but we carried out further research to find out more information on payback. The trial unit was put in in 2009 so we have good information about its performance now are now looking to introduce similar installations in other stores.

TF: What are the best things about facilities management?

JW: I like it because it is always challenging and no two days are ever the same. It is nice to know you can make a difference in helping someone.

TF: And what is the worst thing about FM?

JW: I think the 24/7 nature of the job means that you can get hassled constantly. Some days you can’t walk away from it. That can be challenging. Another thing that can be hard is working within our challenging budgetary constraints that we have to adhere too.

TF: So is it the budgets or peoples expectations that are the problem?

JW: It is managing people’s expectations because they want everything done and don’t necessarilly that you can do everything they want.

TF: Do most things that happen that affect you happen during shop hours? After hours stuff would be handled by security and therefore estates wouldn’t it?

JW: Most things that affect us happen during shop hours, if anything happens out of hours our Hard Services Manager is always on call, but we also have an RFM on call on a rota system and then they will escalate the issue to the relevant people.

TF: Is there anything you would like to be doing more of

JW: No not really because I am quite happy the way things are going at the moment. I still feel that I am learning a lot on the department and if new challenges come along then that make the job even better.

TF: Anything you would like to do less of

JW: No, I love it all!

TF: Do you mix with other FMs?

JW: I’ve met a few FM’s and I know the people at SSS Management and our Contractors, but with such a busy job there is not always the time for getting out there and meeting people.

TF: Are there enough women in FM

JW: I do think it is a male-dominated world in FM but there are a lot more women coming into it now. The girls tend to start on the admin side but you do see more of them coming through. I think even at the Awards dinner it was clear that there was a lot more women in the industry.

TF: You are increasing the profile of women as well, something you must be proud of.

JW: Yes, I am very proud; I was completely shocked, especially when there are so many great people in that room. I’ve never won anything before and it is nice to get that recognition for the work you have put in.

TF: Who have been your inspirations?

JW: My manager Barry Squelch is one because I have learnt so much from him, but also the people around me I think they are inspirational because we work well as a team and we are doing well. The awards recognise what we are doing in the company and so much of that is down to Barry and the team.

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