By John K. Powell, J.D., P.E.
Local governments frequently own multiple facilities spread out across their geographic jurisdictions, and even sometimes well beyond. Federal and state governments, universities, resorts, hospitals, and many other private sector companies also share this in common. These facilities, buildings, and their associated equipment are among the most valuable assets owned by any organization. It is therefore essential that these be properly cared for and maintained. However, experience shows this is not always the case.
As valuable as they are, these facilities can be equally complex. For local governments, and particularly full-service municipalities, the size, design, and purpose of facilities will vary greatly. Facilities such as electric power plants, airports, police and fire stations, animal shelters, community pools, parks, and office buildings provide a multitude of diverse challenges.
Employees stationed at these facilities have varied levels of building maintenance and repair expertise, and, more often than not, no formal training on facilities management issues. Admittedly, these employees often were hired to fulfill different tasks wholly unrelated to building maintenance. As such, for the typical on-site employee assigned this unfamiliar task, taking care of the building sometimes means waiting until something breaks, performing an Internet search, and selecting the first contractor available. Without the requisite expertise, the contractor’s proposed remedy is generally assumed correct and the cost accepted. The employee can then go back to his or her core responsibilities and wait for the next emergency to arise with hopes that it is not during peak customer season, after hours, or during some other inconvenient time. React, repair, and repeat. But there are usually no lessons learned, experiences shared, or competitive pricing performed.
So how can an organization address this facility management dilemma? One solution is through the development and implementation of a Centralized Facilities Management (CFM) program. Centralization of facilities related to construction, maintenance, and repair can prove to be a cost-effective and highly efficient method for managing large and multi-site organizations. Centralization provides consistency in design, materials, pricing, warranties, and more. The following steps can assist an organization with developing a successful CFM program.
As the director of environmental services and facilities for the City of Tallahassee, FL, I am currently responsible for developing and implementing the city’s first CFM program to bring consistency in design, materials, and pricing for all new construction, maintenance, and repair activities. As a full-service municipality, the City owns and operates more than 500 facilities, buildings, and support structures across 160 sites. These facilities vary in size and purpose, including electric power plants, wastewater treatment plants, police and fire stations, office buildings, parks, aquatic centers, and an international airport. I am implementing this program with support from City Manager, Ricardo Fernandez, and Assistant City Manager, Raoul Lavin.
Moving Toward Centralized Facility Management
1. Support from the Top: It may sound cliché, but change is more effective when supported from the top. It’s not just one of many important factors, but arguably the most important critical success factor for any new project or program. Whether the idea started from the top or not, support from above will set the appropriate tone placing employees on notice that this new approach is a priority for the organization. Employees are more willing to buy into a project if they know management is fully behind it. The addition of necessary resources like staffing and funding is also more likely with top management’s support.
2. Establish Core Team and Gather Data: Current facilities management practices must be assessed even before a preliminary strategy can be developed. Start with identifying an internal “Core Team” made up of qualified employees with training in building related matters, knowledge of the organization, and an understanding and recognition of the benefits of centralization. Gather as much readily obtainable information as possible, including the number of facilities, their locations, size, age, purpose, number of visitors, and budget practices. Meet weekly or more often to discuss findings, and at different locations throughout the organization to observe facility conditions firsthand. Meet with other organizations of similar size or purpose, and especially those that have successfully implemented a CFM program.
3. Notify Management: Send out a memo to upper level management announcing the development of a CFM, and briefly touch on how it will benefit them. Include words like “cost-effective,” “efficient,” and “streamlined.” Avoid talking about how it will work, as the specific details and internal processes will come later. This might be the first the recipients have heard of a CFM program so keep the announcement light and upbeat, almost celebratory in nature. After all, if implemented properly, the program will make their jobs easier. Conclude by soliciting their feedback. Remember, facility management is about customer service.
4. Develop a Building Contact List: A few weeks after sending out the management announcement, send one to the current list of building representatives. Again this is announcing the formation of the program, telling them briefly how this is positive development, and notifying them that they have been identified as an official representative or main point of contact for a building or facility. This list will be important for emergency situations and also as you later implement a computer based work order system. Ask them to provide updated contact information as needed. By now, the word should start spreading throughout the organization.
5. Prepare for Immediate Requests: Some internal customers will start contacting you immediately after receiving the announcement. Remember, your customers are not in the business of building maintenance, and they may see this as an opportunity as much needed assistance. Although still in the early stages of development, take this opportunity to listen and help them if you can. It could be as small as fixing a broken light fixture or loose hand railing. If they are ready to invite you into their facility, then take advantage of it. You may find that other facilities are not as open, willing, or excited about what they might perceive as losing some of their control.
6. Request Facility Wish Lists: Ask facility representatives to prepare a project “wish list.” This exercise forces them to think strategically about their facility and prioritize needs versus wants. It signifies that they are partners in this process. It also helps you in developing a baseline needs assessment. Ideally, projects on your CFM capital improvement plan will coincide with some of the items on the wish lists.
7. Select Program Model: Define the type of CFM program that will be developed: full-service or limited scope. Some programs handle everything from HVAC design and roof replacement to security and pest control. Other programs might only handle high level design and construction oversight work. The latter—an “Architect-Contractor-Engineer” (ACE) model—leaves the minor day-to-day repair and maintenance work to the facilities themselves with minimal oversight from the CFM department. Another common model is the “Routine Maintenance and Repair” (RMR) model, which is the opposite of the ACE model. In this scenario, the CFM department will handle all routine and minor maintenance, repair and replacement, pest control, and custodial work, and contract out the higher level design work that requires professional engineering, for example. The RMR approach will employ more technicians and maintenance staff that would be dispatched, with associated trucks, tools, and equipment.
8. Determine Level of Staffing: If developing a program from scratch for an existing organization, then resources might be limited, including staffing. Organizations are not eager to invest in a new program until there is confidence in staff’s ability to deliver, especially if they have been getting by with business as usual. Be prepared to get creative with the use of your time and the resources your organization already possesses.
Depending on the specific characteristics of your organization, and the type of CFM program model selected, the ideal number of CFM staff will vary greatly—anywhere from 40 to 80 people per million square feet, for example. However, the ratio will probably be much lower, at least starting out. Therefore, contracting out some of the work may be inevitable.
9. Identify and Add Staff: Identify people already within the organization who possess the requisite skills, and who might already be doing a similar type of work. Human Resources can assist with this. While an organization may be hesitant to add new positions, they might be more willing to shift or repurpose existing ones, to better utilize skills without any net gain to the number of full-time employees. Having a list of people throughout the organization and a basic understanding of their facilities related skill sets and trade certifications will serve you well. Similarly, positions may open up through attrition or retirement that can be repurposed to match program needs.
10. Limit Procurement Practices: Limit how employees purchase goods and services from outside vendors. In large organizations, contracts will often apply to multiple facilities. It is therefore important that an office of primary responsibility with respect to each contract be designated. The CFM department should be this office for all building related contracts. Any change orders, modifications, extensions, or renewals of the contract should flow through and be authorized by the CFM department. The CFM department may also want to establish continuing service agreements with multiple contractors so they are “pre-qualified” through criteria such as experience, insurance, and pricing. This will be convenient in the event of an after-hours emergency. Either way, controlling purchasing practices will have a significant and positive effect on the organization.
11. Adopt a CFM Policy: Develop an organization-wide CFM policy which states that all construction, renovation, alteration, repair, replacement, maintenance, and demolition activities shall be reviewed, approved, and managed by the CFM department. Depending on the model chosen, the breadth of the language and scope of management services may need to be narrowed.
The importance of this policy cannot be overstated as it can serve as the backbone of the entire program. Therefore, it should be signed by the head of the organization or their designee. Theoretically, if an organization adopted a well-written CFM policy but had no other resources, funding, or facilities related policies in place, it could still run a semi-effective CFM program since all facility related projects would have to flow through the CFM department for review and approval.
Essentially, this policy, if properly enforced, gives the CFM department the almost sole authority to determine which projects get funded. Even if the building or affected department had their own funds readily available, they could not be used for a building related project without the CFM department’s review and prior consent.
12. Provide Exceptions to the CFM Policy: Consider providing exceptions in the organization-wide CFM Policy for projects that require highly trained technicians for specialized equipment. An example is work on electric substations or transformers, or where enhanced safety or security protocols apply, such as an electric power plant or airport. An exception for emergency repairs may also be appropriate.
Similarly, the policy should allow the CFM department some latitude to determine when to be involved and at what level. If the work is simple, needs to be conducted, there is adequate funding available, and the contractor has been preapproved, there may not be a need to directly oversee the day-to-day work. Inspection after the work is finished may be sufficient to ensure it has been completed correctly. A policy with flexibility will also allow the CFM department to grow and evolve while still having a policy in place that is as equally applicable five years from now.
13. Develop Building Related Policies: Additional policies should be developed to address common building repair and maintenance issues. For example, in large organizations there is probably never a month where some interior painting is not being conducted. An interior painting policy that dictates color so that paint can be shared between facilities, walls can be touched up easily, and that conveys a common brand or look would be beneficial. Reflectivity may also be addressed in the policy so that artificial lighting needs are minimized as well as volatile organic compound (VOC) content for human health and the environment.
Policies should be enacted for other common issues and building components such as carpet, lighting, landscaping, and floor cleaning.
14. Conduct Baseline Assessment: Whether conducted with in-house staff or through use of an external consultant a baseline assessment of building conditions from roof to basement is invaluable. This assessment can help the CFM department better understand the life expectancy of building components, as well as develop an equipment inventory, preventative maintenance schedule, and long term capital improvement plan. Among other things, the assessment can then be used to develop the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
Facility executives may find that other employees within their organizations can directly benefit from information gathered during this assessment such as the department that handles insurance policies, risk management, or compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
15. Identify Funding Sources: It goes without saying that if you manage the money you will have control over how it is spent. However, you first need to identify where the funds will come from. For example, you might move maintenance and repair funds from the facilities themselves to the CFM department. This can be a challenging task for a large organization with a currently decentralized system and multiple departments, divisions and associated funds. Some facilities may have their own maintenance budgets while others will not. Assuming there is a dedicated maintenance budget, it may well be underfunded. An organization may also choose to start with an allocation based system calculated on a square footage basis, and then calibrate each year to reflect actual conditions better. This iterative process can work, but may take a few years to get just right.
Organizations with multiple properties and buildings will find that a properly developed and implemented CFM program can help ensure that facility related construction, renovation, maintenance, and repair work is consistent and cost-effective. Centralizing the process will have a significant and positive effect on the health, safety, and welfare of building occupants and on the organization’s bottom line.
Powell is a licensed attorney, professional engineer, and certified general contractor in the state of Florida, with more than 20 years of experience in environmental, land use, and construction related matters. He is the director of the environmental services and facilities department for the City of Tallahassee, FL (www.talgov.com/eper/eperHome.aspx).
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