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A National View

01 September 2006

Handling M&E maintenance across a diverse estate brings a number of challenges over and above those
relating to contracts for just one building. Guy Tucker considers the benefits of a national approach to
managing maintenance across the portfolio

Crown Prosecution Service, London

IN PREVIOUS ISSUES OF PFM WE’VE EXPLORED some of the key considerations when selecting an M&E maintenance partner (PFM June 2006), and how to take measures to ensure that relationship proceeds in the way that everyone expects (PFM July 2006). In this final article, we take a look at the additional factors that apply to national contracts – covering many sites across a wider geographical region. Of course, the fundamental principles are the same whether it is one site or 100 sites that are being considered. Businesses need their plant to be up and running when they need it – with the minimum downtime and disruption to their core activities. The plant also needs to be maintained effectively to prolong its life. In addition, you may want to link energy management to the maintenance regime to ensure efficient running and reduction in overheads and carbon emissions.

In the case of national contracts, however,achieving these business-focused objectives requires a more searching appraisal of the service provider’s approach to the management of the contract and the allocation of resources. Traditionally, maintenance contractors have managed national contracts by allocating the various buildings between their regional offices.

Essentially, this seems sensible because it ensures each building is dealt with by local operatives who - theoretically at least - can provide a quick response.

In reality, however, experience shows that levels of service will vary from one region to another depending on a host of variables such as operational and managerial resourcing, skills available, workload, inter-regional politics availability of specialist sub-contractors, etc.

Key customer
For example, you may have 25 buildings contracted to a particular company with, say, 15 in the South East, five in the Midlands and single offices in the North, North West, North East, South West and West. In this imaginary scenario, you are likely to be viewed as a significant customer by the regional managers of the South East and Midlands regions but perhaps considerably less significant by the other regional managers who only look after one of your buildings.

As a result, the service you receive from region to region may be influenced by your ‘importance’ to the people running the show in each region. There’s also a chance that you will need to deal with a number of different people when addressing issues – which could lead to communication failures and an impact on response times.

Furthermore, the resources available to these regional offices may vary from one area to another, depending on a host of factors ranging from the skills available in the area to the ‘size’ of the office in relation to that organisation’s activities in other areas. For instance, the service provider’s Birmingham office may be very busy and successful with the resources to invest in staff training and broaden the skills of its workforce.

This in turn may enable the use of fewer subcontractors in that region. In contrast, the Newcastle office may not be so profitable and, therefore, less inclined to invest in staff training and the development of staff skills.

The end result of such a regionally fragmented approach is that standards of service will vary widely. The knock-on effect is that the service you provide to internal customers will also be patchy and inconsistent from one building to another.

Consistency
As more and more facilities management and estates management departments seek to deliver a consistent performance across all of their buildings, and monitor this through detailed measurement of KPIs, the ability to standardise on services such as M&E maintenance is increasingly important.It makes sense, therefore, to ensure that the service provider can provide that consistency – not just in terms of physical presence in key regions but also in its cultural approach to national contracts.

This was a key consideration when the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) awarded a maintenance contract for 97 buildings, spread across the country, to a single service provider. Tendering companies were scrutinised rigorously by the CPS and its managing agent Donaldsons. Nigel Oliver of Donaldsons explains, “It was very important to us to work with a team that would grasp the concept of integrated management, with high calibre staff, on a national basis. Traditional service has been delivered on a regional basis with little national overview, so customers end up with a collection of regional service delivery mechanisms.

While most industries have moved to national models, the M&E maintenance industry has been slow to move in that direction but Cofathec Heatsave has proved to be very accommodating in meeting its customers’ needs.”

National models
When appointing a contractor to handle a wideranging estate, therefore, it’s essential to assess their policy towards national contracts. In particular, does their approach suit your needs – you are the client after all.

For example, it is far more convenient to have single point of contact at the service provider for the entire contract. This person should have the seniority and authority to take ownership of the running of the contract at all sites, with the ability to make key decisions quickly. They should also have access to national resources, rather than being restricted to the resources in each region, with the ability to deploy those resources as and where they can be used to full effect.

Central hub
Any requests for reactive calls should also be routed through a central hub, providing greater transparency and easier measurement of performance across the entire estate, rather than having to gather information from several offices and try to bring it all together.

Linked to this is the service provider’s commitment to achieving a consistent performance to the entire contract, irrespective of whether it’s a corporate headquarters or a small regional office. The same KPIs should be applied to every building and measured against SLAs that encompass the entire contract. Similarly, the planned preventative maintenance (PPM) regime should seek to add value to the contract, rather than just keeping the plant ticking over. PPM ought to take account of the way the plant is used and its importance to the smooth running of the building. In the case of national contracts this approach needs to be applied across the entire property portfolio.

This means your service provider needs to have a clear understanding of the plant at each building in relation to the functioning of the building and should be seen to make the effort to acquire that knowledge.

Where energy management is part of the maintenance remit, the same principle applies. Knowledge of the plant and how it is used will enable the contractor to improve and maintain efficiencies throughout the estate.

As well as your M & E contractor taking full responsibility for the efficient running of the plant, there are also life-cycle management, plant replacement schemes and, most importantly, management of energy consumption to consider. Will your contractor help to reduce environmental emissions, or help address the spiralling costs of energy and the impending EU-led Energy in Buildings Performance Directive right across your portfolio?

When laid out logically like this, all of these points may seem obvious but it’s surprising how many national maintenance contracts are still managed on a region by region basis. From the very first negotiations it is important to take a national view and ensure that your service provider does the same – and will continue to do so from mobilisation through to the day to day running of the contract.
.. Guy Tucker is National Sales Manager at Cofathec Heatsave


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