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Contractor Choice

15 June 2006

Appointing the right M&E maintenance services partner makes all the difference to the smooth running of a building. In the first of three articles focusing on M&E issues, Cofatech's Mike Proctor provides some clear pointers on choosing the right M&E service partner

Of all of the support services that are regularly outsourced, appointing a mechanical and electrical (M&E) maintenance service partner is certainly one of the most critical decisions an FM will make. The key difference between building services maintenance and ‘soft’ services is the host of regulations concerning building performance and health and safety that accompanies it. M&E maintenance is highly technical and many aspects of it are statutory, so choosing the right service partner has implications for your organisation’s compliance with legislation.

vital to maintaining a comfortable environment and failing to do so can lead to the help desk being swamped by calls. Not only does this affect staff morale it also has a negative impact on the perception of the FM department by the rest of the organisation.

Achieving best value On the face of it, M&E maintenance is pretty straightforward. You have several items of plant and each one has to be serviced with a frequency that is determined by standard maintenance specifications. You also need someone to respond quickly when something goes wrong. Cost-effective maintenance, however, requires more than just a person in overalls popping in every now and then, fiddling about with the plant and then disappearing for another three months. The maintenance strategy should be a core element of the overall business processes of the FM department.

A critical consideration is how long the contract will be in the first instance. With a oneyear contract, for example, there is the potential for only receiving an effectiv service for half that time. By way of explanation, during the first three months the technicians are getting to know their way around the building and the plant. Then, for the next six months the level of service is maintained as it should be. But by the third and final quarter of a 12-month contract term the contract goes out for re-tender and, inevitably, the personal commitment of the staff is going to be affected.

In contrast, a longer-term contract eliminates the destructive 'them and us' culture that pervades so many contracts, bringing a longevity that yields ongoing benefits once the learning curve has levelled off. And, if you've chosen the right service partner, there's no need to worry about them becoming complacent, as they will share the same goals of continuous improvement

Of course, a longer contract also puts you at greater risk if you choose the wrong maintenance partner - so it’s even more important to get your choice right by carrying out an in-depth appraisal of the candidates. To that end, there are essentially three areas to consider – operational, cultural and fiscal.

The operational factors incorporate the key criteria of keeping the plant running - but a costeffective Planned Preventative Maintenance (PPM) regime should go further than pasting the manufacturer’s recommended service intervals into a spreadsheet.

.....PPM adds value when plant maintenance schedules are structured on a building by building basis, tailored to the use of the plant within each. For instance, a fan coil unit may be scheduled for four maintenance visits a year but, realistically, may only require inspection and cleaning twice a year. Those other two visits can then be used to greater effect elsewhere in the building. As a result, the entire maintenance operation becomes more cost-effective as this philosophy is rolled out across every item of plant.
.....Will the maintenance regime be designed to ensure maximum efficiency of the plant? Just because a boiler is working it doesn’t mean it’s working efficiently. With soaring energy prices, teaming up with a company that will prioritise energy management as part of the maintenancewill bring considerable financial benefits. They may even be able to guarantee energy consumption and source the best energy supply deals as well – placing the risk firmly with the service partner while the FM enjoys flat-line budgeting.
.....PPM should also incorporate asset management so that major plant renewals are planned and budgeted for several years in advance, based on advice from the maintenance company rather than coming as an unpleasant surprise.
.....It is also worth finding out how many subservice partners your prospective service partner is likely to use. Do they have their own multiskilled staff who could reduce the number of specialist sub-service partners on site? And where sub-service partners are required, how will they be vetted, monitored and managed?
.....This links closely to the company’s attitude to training. Are their staff fully qualified – and can they prove it? Do they receive regular training to keep them up to speed with the latest technical and health and safety regulations? Does the company take on apprentices to ensure they have a steady flow of qualified staff to meet the future needs of their clients?
.....Very often, an experienced maintenance service partner with multi-skilled staff can reduce your maintenance costs by making better use of plant and reducing sub-service partners. They may even be able to take on other services, providing even more savings with one point of contact. These are important areas to explore with candidatesCultural

In any working relationship, it’s important to achieve a good ‘fit’ between the twoorganisations that will add value to the maintenance contract. To that end, you need to go beyond the slick presentation team you first encounter and get to meet the key personnel who would be managing your contract. Talking to their existing customers can also provide an useful insight.

.....Where staff are transferring from an in-house team or another service partner, the candidates’ approach to TUPE will also tell you a lot about their culture. Are they just interested in the financial risk, or do they show concern that staff are treated fairly and motivated to embrace the change?
.....Do they show an interest in your business and an understanding of how they will work within it to produce a business-focused maintenance programme? For example, PPM and non-urgent work should be scheduled at times convenient for your day-to-day business, not at times that suit the service partner.
.....Do the candidates have clear lines of communication with well-documented procedures to facilitate consistent performance and accurate reporting? Is there a culture of quality and customer service that is crosspollinated at all levels of the organisation? Are their site-based staff empowered to make basic decisions or will there be delays while they ‘cover their backs’?

Finally all business has to work within financial constraints and budgets. The service fit has to be driven by agreed objectives which offer best value for money. Given the importance of building services maintenance to the levels of service to internal customers and ensuring compliance with legislation, it is well worth going the extra mile before reaching a decision.

possible to take an in-depth look at the companies you are considering and make an informed decision that will yield real benefits. In the next issue of PFM, we will be looking at how the principles of gap analysis can be applied to appointing and working with a maintenance service partner.

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