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Maintaining the right balance

31 May 2012

Proactive maintenance

Keeping on top of building maintenance is no easy task. Whether a business is large or small, building maintenance can be a complex and time-consuming issue. This is more often the case for FMs looking after multi-site locations where there are so many variables to consider. Richard McCabe discusses the issues

Often it’s the approach the FM chooses to take when planning building maintenance that has the biggest impact on the efficiency of the business – that and making sure the quality of the provision is a good enough standard to be effective.

There are generally three approaches FMs can take when planning building maintenance. One is the reactive method, which doesn’t involve any planning at all – things are just fixed when they need fixing. Another is putting in place a fixed-term contract with a supplier where more regular maintenance visits are needed. And finally, a new working practice is emerging offering a proactive approach with a ‘pay as you go’ business model. How do these approaches to building maintenance differ and what is the benefit to the FM and the business?

Reactive maintenance
Many smaller businesses choose to be reactive and only fix things when they need fixing. They simply call in a local contractor when a problem occurs. When a small business needs new lighting, for example, a local qualified electrician can be brought in to install new lights. The reactive method is a simple and effective way of dealing with problems on a small scale and although the service standards of local contractors can vary, generally it is the cheapest option for some businesses. Also, depending on what needs to be fixed and whether or not it has a big impact on productivity, this method ensures that money is only spent where it is really needed.

Planned preventative maintenance
Where more regular maintenance visits are needed, the FM can spend time negotiating a fixed-term contract with the supplier. Take lighting again as the example, if a company takes out a fixed-term contract with a supplier to maintain the lighting at all of their sites, typically on day one all the lamps are replaced and subsequent visits are arranged as and when new lamps are needed. The number of maintenance visits will be determined by the service level agreement between both parties.

As fixed-term contracts are spread over a period of time (often three years) it is wise, before signing, to check a supplier’s financial position and to ensure the contract includes warranties for the work carried out. It is considered good practice to spread the cost over the term of the contract, as this will help protect the business should the supplier cease trading.

Although negotiating fixed-term contracts for many different building services can take up a great deal of time, in theory the advantage of having them in place is that the FM can turn his attention to something else, safe in the knowledge that the service is taken care of.

In practice though, one of the biggest issues FMs face with suppliers on a fixed-term contract is maintaining a consistent level of service, especially across multiple sites where the supplier sub-contracts the work. The supplier’s incentive to provide a good level of service can diminish once a fixed-term contract is signed and often the onus is on the FM to ensure the service provided by the supplier remains at a consistently good level.

The customer sites that complain the loudest and most frequently will get most attention, while others are neglected. So while fixed-term contracts can provide good value for money, they are often not the most efficient in terms of maintaining high-quality service over a period of time.

One major advantage to some businesses is that fixed-term contracts offer head office predictability in terms of spend. They can allocate maintenance funds to a central budget and then the sites that need the service (and often those who shout loudest) are able to access it.

Proactive maintenance
A relatively new working practice is emerging that is based on a ‘pay as you go’ business model. The supplier visits sites on a regular basis to see if there is maintenance work to do. FMs receive regular reports on the conditions of each site and only pay for what needs fixing. This enables budget to be allocated fairly, to sites that need it most.

Proactive maintenance takes the responsibility away from FMs from having to spot and report problems, as often they are fixed before they are reported by staff – making working practices more efficient. Suppliers offering this form of proactive maintenance do not negotiate complex fixed-term contracts and the arrangement reduces the risk to FMs because if the service is not up to standard then the FM can simply switch supplier.

Proactive maintenance is also the ‘greener’ option. Where if a fixed-term contract for lighting maintenance was negotiated, all lamps would be replaced on day one whether they need replacing or not, however using a supplier that makes regular site visits removes the need for all lamps to be replaced at the same time therefore reducing wastage and saving money.

While this method may offer large multi-site businesses good value for money, it is not always a viable business option for companies with lots of smaller premises.

The right balance
The key to implementing building maintenance provision is to find the right balance between cost and quality of service and this will depend upon the size and nature of the business. The skill of the FM is to manage a portfolio of different building maintenance services and choose the best approach for each one, while maximising the efficiency of the business.

In practice, most FMs probably use a combination of the three approaches described here. The reactive method for minor building maintenance issues that don’t have a major impact on productivity; fixed-term contracts for services that need to start on a level playing field and proactive maintenance for services that need regular and reliable attention.

Richard McCabe is Commercial Director at Quicklight.

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