by Jay Pearlman
Facility management professionals at colleges and universities face significant challenges when it comes to discussing deferred maintenance. After all, working plumbing and infrastructure don’t attract new students — they’re expected parts of the package from any higher education institution. The result is that many colleges and universities focus on building new cutting-edge classrooms and research environments or state-of-the-art housing rather than on maintenance improvements. New construction seems to better fit the campus mission of standing out among competitors in the ongoing quest to grow the student body and secure alumni support.
However, this focus on new construction does nothing to erase the backlog of maintenance that these institutions face. Over time, this growth will only exacerbate the existing problem. Facility managers who can’t get funding for ongoing maintenance often find themselves spending more on repairs to failing infrastructure than they would have spent in properly maintaining the equipment in the first place. And while students may not be impressed by working utilities, they’ll certainly be driven away by reports of uncomfortable or dysfunctional environments. In today’s social media-dependent society, it doesn’t take long for next year’s recruits to learn that the buildings that look so appealing on the outside are actually uncomfortable places to live and learn.
It’s up to facility manager to help their institutions find balance between the desire to add new construction and the necessity to invest in keeping older buildings and infrastructure running smoothly.
Three C’s To Make The Maintenance Case
Facility managers seeking funding for deferred maintenance may find themselves plagued by their own successes. It’s difficult for leadership to understand the pressing need for funding when everything seems to work so well.
To help explain the problem of deferred maintenance, consider turning to industry benchmarks and data. Any explanation can be made stronger by addressing the three “C’s”:
Complete picture. Having comprehensive data on-hand can help facility managers identify those areas that need immediate updates versus those that can be further deferred for months, or longer.
Competitor benchmarking. By looking beyond the needs of the institution to what competing institutions are providing, facility managers can demonstrate their department’s relative effectiveness and present areas for improvement.
Communication. Even if it seems that the facility management department speaks a different language than the finance department or other relevant stakeholders, clear data is a language that everyone can understand. Presenting comprehensive facilities data and clear metrics can ensure that everyone is on the same page.
How A Third-Party Can Communicate Funding Needs
Most higher education institutions already have on-hand the basic information needed to demonstrate maintenance backlog. However, third-party data collection and analysis can give facility managers an advantage by further validating urgent maintenance needs. Third-party data analysis makes it easier to compare performance to other institutions year over year. Internal data collection, on the other hand, is likely to focus only on one institution over a brief period of time. By turning to external data, facility managers can better communicate how facility improvements can be translated into campus benefits.
Finally, third parties understand that this information will be used by a broad audience. These professionals should be able to present information in a way that can bridge the gap between facility management and other departments in the institution. An experienced third-party analyst typically helps dozens of institutions and can apply that broad experience to more effectively communicating the need to expand the budget for the maintenance backlog. To get the most out of the exercise and to capitalize on a broad perspective, the third party should have experience presenting to multilevel audiences within institutions of varying size and complexity.
Data can speak volumes. The combination of strong data and a common vocabulary that resonates with an institution’s financial decision makers can help facility managers to get the funding they need, when they need it.
Pearlman is associate vice president at Sightlines, a firm that provides facilities intelligence and analysis for higher education institutions. He has been with Sightlines since its inception in 2000 and has played a variety of roles across the company, including those in operations, business development, quality control, and product development.