By Phil Wales
Outsourcing of services has been a major initiative in the drive for cost reductions among large facilities organizations and evidently is not abating. Concurrent is the rapid adoption of workplace technologies to streamline, standardize, and gain control of facility management operations. These two trends are logical allies when executed within a well thought out approach, but too often the benefits are not realized due to several factors.
Following a brief overview, let’s look at three common models for the application of workplace technology in association with outsourcing and the motivations behind each.
Where We Are Today
The use of outside service providers is a valuable way to refocus the facility management organization on value-add strategic services by shedding tactical services. It can be a trigger for transforming the way work is done — delivering more effective and responsive services. And there is an absolute association between the outside providers and the technology used to deliver those services.
The question isn’t: Should technology be used?
Rather, it is: Who controls that technology?
In facility management technology, there are various options but for the full-service corporate real estate (CRE) and facilities organization, the recognized default solution is an Integrated Workplace Management Solution (IWMS). This is due to an IWMS offering a unified and normalized database for all portfolio functions, operational efficiency (only need to learn only one system), enterprise-wide analytics for making actionable decisions, and support for portfolio-wide best practices. These benefits are not possible by handing out pieces of the solution to various suppliers employing their own back office systems.
Outsourcing: Common Facility Management Technology Models
1. Client-owned and operated workplace technology. As mentioned previously, the standard for large portfolio managers involves using IWMS technology that gives corporate management a trusted source of information to make decisions. Under this model, the service provider is expected to access and utilize their client’s solution in the delivery of outsourced services. The advantage of this model for the client is that control of the process and ownership of the consolidated data is maintained.
However, a significant disadvantage is that the service provider loses the benefit of the training and adaptation of their own technology that in most cases is the basis for both their cost and performance commitments.
2. Service Provider-owned and operated technology. Service providers all have their favorite tools for delivering their services. The positive side of this model is that the service team is already trained on how to use the technology, and the systems are normally optimized to the service delivery protocols on which the service level agreements (SLAs) and outsourcing program commitments are based.
On the negative side, there is a very real loss of control and thus at least a perceived transparency issue with how the SLAs are actually being performed. With this model, the facility management client must learn how to submit and report out of a third-party solution, and access to real analytics in that system is under the control of the service provider being measured. Additionally, regardless of a marketing message to the contrary, there is a loss of institutional knowledge since the data is stored in a solution not owned by the client. Even if the contract with the service provider requires the delivery of the data if the contract is terminated, the accuracy of that data and the ability to access can be questionable.
3. Hybrid model. What can be considered an ideal technology model for outsourced facility management services is to mitigate the negative and still allow the positive benefits of the first two models, by doing both of these. Case in point: The advantage of the client-owned system is that it supports an organization’s business processes which should be the basis of the service SLAs. It also allows the facility management client’s employees to continue working with a system for which they are familiar. Reporting comes from a trusted database and meets the client’s specific corporate requirements.
The key is for the internal system to know who is responsible for delivery of actual services. That means, once a work order is entered into the internal system, that system will then recognize who is responsible for the service delivery (e.g., internal team, landlord, an outside service provider).
Specifics of the work order are then delivered electronically to the system used by the responsible party (see diagram below; click to enlarge). SLA criteria such as response time, costing, and service delivery time can easily be tracked within the internal system since it knows the SLA terms. However, the service provider gets to do their work within their own system since the electronic transfer of the request is fundamentally the same as if the client had entered the request directly into their system. They have all of the advantages of their own processes and training with the predefined integration providing the minimal responses to comply with the SLA. Once the work is completed by the service provider, the integration transfer back to the client’s system the work disposition information and the client can run reports, see service statistics live, and so forth.
Simplify, Maximize Outsourcing
In addition to the facility management client having access to a trusted set of integrated tools for managing an enterprise-wide set of services, those facilities are best served when they retain governance of their own data, have control over trustworthy performance analytics, and can automatically monitor compliance to contractual SLAs. The hybrid model provides all of these benefits while not handicapping the service provider and adding undue burden to their delivery service model.
Wales is CEO/founder of Houston, TX-based eBusiness Strategies, LLC. Over the past three decades, he has advised some of the world’s largest private and public sector organizations in applying business and technology solutions to support critical enterprise assets. A registered architect, Wales is certified by National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), and is a CoreNet Global and International Facilities Management Association (IFMA) member. He holds a B.S., Environmental Design, and Master of Architecture from Texas A&M University.