As critical facility infrastructure matured and evolved over the last few decades, it has progressively become more complex and specialized. The skills and talent required to operate and maintain typical office buildings are no longer even close to being adequate for meeting the demands of critical facilities. For many businesses and organizations it makes not just common sense, but financial sense to procure rather than hire the specialized facilities management expertise and staff, and to allow the corporation to focus on the core business. But just as with any outsourced function, it is paramount that owners remain diligent and cognizant of how, and how well, their critical operations are supported.
Many if not most critical facilities today have outsourced facilities operations and management functions in lieu of relying on direct employees. Well known facility management firms with experience in operating and managing critical facilities include Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), Cushman & Wakefield, and CB Richard Ellis (CBRE), just to name a few. These firms have substantial portfolios of sites under contract. In most cases, the firms and their assigned staff become almost indistinguishable from their clients to the outside public. They permanently reside at the client’s site, have client email addresses, and represent the client in many day-to-day meetings and decision making processes. In some cases they have even taken over various procurement functions and manage capital projects.
There is still some debate in the industry as to which model is the “best practice;” to manage critical facilities in-house with direct employees or to outsource to facility management firms. Either model can be successful or either can fail. The key to success lies in the execution by the owner to ensure actual performance meets or exceeds expectations. The best tool for measuring the performance of a facility management firm is a site specific audit that is comprehensive of the contracted and assigned duties and responsibilities.
In order to measure performance objectively, there must first be benchmarks, policies, goals, or other clearly defined criteria to measure against. This applies equally to either model (in-house or outsourced) and should be documented in formal corporate and/or site standards and supporting policies. Where feasible, these standards should quantify a minimum acceptable performance and how (and even how often) actual performance will be measured. The most critical performance parameters should align with the overall business or mission goals and strategies and are typically referred to as key performance indicators (KPIs).
Most facility management contracts are quite specific with regard to what duties and responsibilities are assigned and include clear scopes of work. The contracts define staffing levels, operating budget constraints, reporting mechanisms, and other tasks and responsibilities. The best contracts also include clear performance criteria that allows management (including both the owner’s and the contractor’s management) to understand what constitutes success and meets expectations.
The process of measuring performance should also be formalized, and be as objective as possible. Creating a comprehensive, objective auditing tool can be difficult, to say the least. Just as it takes a much higher level of knowledge and expertise to write good policies and procedures than it takes to follow them, and much higher level of knowledge and expertise to develop a training program and curriculum than it takes to attend training, it takes greater and more specialized talents and experience to develop sound auditing tools than it takes to actually perform an audit.
A good audit tool should not only identify areas of weak performance but also identify the underlying, root-cause or causes contributing to the weakness. An obvious example would be a safety related audit where a site reports more incidents and/or “close calls” than are considered acceptable.
As important as this information is to know, what is more important is to determine why there are so many incidents or close calls. Were the incidents related to a common hazard? Were the incidents associated with a common individual or individuals? Was the staff provided appropriate safety training? Does the corporate or site safety policy address these incidents, is it communicated and understood by the operating staff, and with adequate enforcement procedures in place? Is there a formal incident review and reporting process that includes performing a “lessons learned” briefing to the appropriate staff and was this process adhered to? Are there other competing influences at play such as staff required to work excessive overtime, or penalties for not completing work on schedule, or deployment of new or modified systems or equipment without formal turn-over and staff training?
Another example could be where a site experiences more equipment failures, system outages, or lower availability than expected. Again, it is just as important if not more so to determine “why” these failures are occurring than it is just to identify a higher than expected failure rate. Does one class of equipment experience most of the failures or is it across the board? Are the failures due to age and if so, is the expected equipment lifespan based on actual equipment condition? Can the failures be correlated to a particular shift, operating scenario, or maintenance practice? And as with the safety example above, was there a formal incident review and reporting process that included performing a root-cause analysis followed by a “lessons-learned” briefing?
A well thought out and developed audit tool should be able to not only measure the contractor’s overall performance, but determine overall compliance with corporate and/or site standards and policies. It should measure the contractor’s ability to manage and control the myriad of programs and processes required to operate and manage critical facilities, and shed light on why performance weaknesses and discrepancies occur. A quality audit tool in the hands of a knowledgeable auditor can form the backbone of a sound quality assurance/quality control program. When combined with a formal corrective action program, the result is the basis of a continuous process improvement (CPI) program that provides both owners and facility management firms with roadmaps to “cultures of excellence.”