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Intelligent Information

15 April 2005

Delivering accurate, real-time visibility of job status and performance reports across the portfolio on a 24/7 basis requires a fundamental change in approach to post contract control and management information from outsourced FM providers, as Maxwell Segal explains

INFORMATION IS EVERYTHING for an in-house FM Director responsible for a multi-site property portfolio. The problem that FM providers are now only really starting to tackle is the use of discrete computer networks to manage each contract on a site by site basis. This piecemeal approach is short-sighted for both sides. It makes overall management of the property portfolio more difficult for in-house FM directors who cannot see the big picture due to a lack of service transparency. It also makes it harder for the FM provider to implement best practice by transferring successful IT innovations developed with one client across its whole client base.

Resolving this situation is possible, but requires a fundamental overhaul of the way FM providers approach the provision of management information. One of the weaknesses in client relationships in the past has been the suspicion that providers have exploited gaps in information to massage service performance data. This has resulted in distrust on the client side, based on loss of control and a justifiable fear that they don’t feel they know what is happening across their property portfolio.

One proven alternative to the traditional approach is to develop a global centralised information management system based on Maximo that runs on a private industry standard data network. This allows for the provision of such services as Portal (Extranet) and wirelessbased systems to clients and service engineers. Investing in this technology is the key to FM directors and managers gaining access to critical management information quickly via a system that is integrated, in real-time and transparent.

However, implementing an ICT system based on central management of client assets requires both management and financial commitment. The reason, as discussed earlier, is that greater access to information across the board is a double-edged sword. If an FM provider is prepared to give a client complete access to the status of its building portfolio, it must be confident that service performance will be in line with contractual performance standards. In other words, it must be confident that it can deliver.

The introduction of a centralised information system should be the catalyst to radically improve service delivery. The process starts at the outset of a contract with electronic asset gathering based on bar-coding and handheld devices. This avoids a protracted mobilisation. The compilation of an accurate data inventory is essential for the development of planned preventative maintenance programmes.

HBOS plc was formed from the merger of Halifax and Bank of Scotland in September 2001. The M&E maintenance portfolio which GSH manages has grown considerably since the contract’s commencement in 2001 and now covers over 7m sq ft across the UK with brand names such as Halifax, Clerical Medical Insurance, Birmingham Midshires, Halifax Estate Agents and Intelligent Finance.

Maximo is centrally deployed to all GSH operatives and management as well as client FMs through traditional fixed network access, the Internet and wireless technology such as Blackberry. The use of Blackberry wireless technology is a first for HBOS and is aimed at both GSH and HBOS employees.

Portal reporting has been designed together with GSH and has reduced administration considerably. With all information on-line and in real-time HBOS management has full transparency. Its centralised system allows GSH to offer a wide range of information across the portfolio or by specific building, all in a standardised format for ease of analysis. Job logging on the Blackberry and client reporting through an Extranet (Portal) has delivered exactly what HBOS require. This reduces administration, ICT overhead and provides transparency of performance. This common approach has allowed HBOS to transfer its asset management to GSH with 24/7/365 access to job performance and asset information.

Although Maximo was purchased off-the-shelf and is tailored by GSH it has developed all of its value-added services in-house. This includes, Blackberry, wireless mobile, SMS based Maximo inquiry, Portal reporting and so on. This keeps costs down and fosters closer working with HBOS. The characteristics of such an approach to ICT developments with clients enables GSH to offer similar services across all its clients. Significantly it enables GSH to work more closely with its clients and be agile in responding to their specific needs.

If equipment life is to be extended and operating efficiency improved, inventory asset data must then be integrated with specific details about when and how it should be maintained. This is made possible by the automatic uploading of collected data stored on the handheld to an automated maintenance specification and labour loading system, such as GSH’s Asset Data Gathering System. The resulting labour planning, equipment specification and data validation system is compatible for migration to Maximo and the populating of the contract.

Traditionally, the delivery of jobs to engineers and their subsequent closure has been either by mobile phone, fax or their physically visiting their branch office. This is inefficient and makes it more difficult for engineers to confirm job acceptance, and then completion, immediately a task is finished. The solution is to communicate with engineers out in the field more efficiently. Delivering jobs wirelessly is not new but via Blackberry represents a significant improvement in usability and information transmission. Information is encrypted and secure. The devices have a week-long battery life, can be used one-handed and has a keyboard for data entry. Jobs can be accepted using the device and job closure immediately confirmed to Maximo on completion.

Accessibility and timeliness of performance information is essential if a client is monitoring a service provider’s performance against contract. With Maximo now being punctually updated by service engineers, clients can now quickly interrogate job status independently over the Internet, via the portal, by Blackberry, or by SMS from a mobile phone. Service delivery levels are underpinned by enabling clients to see realtime performance information laid out in a series of reports and accessible using the portal, SMS and Blackberry too.

The consolidation of informational and control systems across a portfolio is the way forward for the FM sector. It means clients can analyse comparison costs from building to building and assess equipment performance. Centralised management information will also transform client relationships across every aspect of dayto-day operations – mobilisation, evaluation and renewal. In effect it is providing a platform for improved real-time communication between clients, account management and service engineers.

Critically, the financial implications are positive too. By removing the requirement for single, discrete systems based at client premises and instead enabling across-the-board information to be delivered through the private global data network, the overall cost of the IT overhead to clients has been reduced. Centralised management of property portfolios therefore provides a double benefit - IT costs can be reduced whilst improving client relationships.

... Maxwell Segal, GSH’s Group Technology & Innovation Director

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