Facilitating efficiency

Facilities management – the housekeeping that manufacturers, and all other businesses alike, have to do but probably wish they didn’t. But there is now a growing wealth of external firms out there which will do the work for you, for a fee of course. So is it worth it?

From catering to cleaning to security and supplies; from project management to pest control to refurbishing and design – these are some of the roles undertaken by facilities management firms. Outsourcing these tasks is becoming increasingly common in almost all types of business, not least manufacturing. Indeed, facilities management as an industry is touted as one of the fastest growing here in the UK. But is it really necessary or is it a luxury? Is it cost-effective and does it improve efficiency? And should manufacturers be looking to pay external firms to do the housekeeping they’ve traditionally done themselves?

As already alluded to, facilities management en compasses much more than taking out the bins and keeping the coffee pot well stocked. The Facilities Management Association (FMA) – a representative trade body and network for FM suppliers – describes the industry as “a profession that encompasses multiple disciplines to ensure functionality of the built environment by integrating people, place, processes and technology.” In short, it’s the organisations that accept contracts of the non-core tasks a firm needs fulfilling.

To elaborate, the services offered by FM companies are often divided into two types: ‘hard’ and ‘soft’. Where examples of ‘hard’ tasks may include landscaping, building and asset maintenance, ‘soft’ provisions could entail cleaning, reception and health and safety services.

And this is where facilities management often crosses with property management. Though not one and the same, the two often go side-by-side – firms that offer one branch of services usually offer the other to a greater or lesser degree. Property management generally applies to strategies relating to the physical premises and includes the rearrangement of the working space and subsequent letting-out of the excess, or relocating the business entirely if it is found to be the most efficient way forward. Facilities management, as described, refers to the maintaining of the property and everything inside it.

The specific undertakings offered vary by company but other tasks that can be outsourced include resource planning, procurement, fire and risk assessments, budget formulation, training, procurement, reprographics, decoration, mail services, equipment maintenance and porterage.

Most FM providers arrange tailor-made solutions for each of their clients. This means all firms, regardless of size, can efficiently employ their services, paying only for the facilities they need.

The initial benefit that FM affords manufacturers is effective skills management. It enables them to concentrate on what they do best – manufacturing. And in the same vein, CSR programmes are constructed by environmental and communications experts; food needs are provided by qualified caterers; building repairs are carried out by skilled maintenance staff – every task is undertaken by someone with the appropriate expertise.

There is also the element of security that an FM contract provides. For instance, if a complex building maintenance issue should arise, and it is covered under an outsourced FM arrangement, it can be taken care of quickly, effectively and with minimum time and fuss. In this respect, FM relieves some of the threat associated with unpredictable non-core scenarios.

This leads into cost efficiency. How much productivity is lost when members of management or staff from the factory floor have their attention taken away from their role to deal with admin, house-keeping chores or unforeseen circumstances which have an adverse effect on production? And similarly, how much time is taken to outsource these assignments individually as they occur? By creating a relationship with one FM firm the value of the initial expenditure of effort and time could be worth well in excess in of what it originally costs.

While talking efficiency, keep in mind the maxims of 5S: ‘seiri’ (sorting) – keep only what’s necessary, discard everything else; ‘seiten’ (set in order) – position tools where they are needed; ‘seiso’ (sweeping) – keep the workplace tidy with everything in its right place; ‘seiketsu’ (standardizing) – keep surroundings and responsibilities consistent; and ‘shitsuke’ (sustaining) – continually maintain and review. One of the main elements contributing to staff morale is their everyday working surroundings. Creating the ideal working environment is a key factor in efficiency and it’s an element that can be naturalised into the business by the behind-the-scenes work of FM suppliers.

With the vast catalogue of services that FM firms offer, crossing many different sectors and requiring a huge range of skills and expertise, manufacturers looking into the prospect of outsourcing their FM needs may be sceptical of employing a ‘jack of all trades’ contractor when the lack of proficiency in such a situation was part of the reason they initially sought assistance. The answer, when seeking an FM provider, is to look at which tasks the provider will carry out itself and which it will subcontract to third party firms. In addition, check which sub-contractors the firm uses and research the training schemes and qualifications of its own employees. But before that, identify the skills that are already available internally and outsource only what there is a lack of time or practicality to carry-out.

Flexibility, though, could be a vital attribute for manufacturers with fast changes in focus or level of business. An FM provider with multi-skilled staff may be able to supply personnel who can quickly adapt to operate across a number of areas, where and when they are needed. For instance, providing switchboard relief at peak call volume periods and switching to business intelligence data integration when new company forecasts need producing.

Smith & Nephew, the London-based FTSE 100 manufacturer of medical devices, undertook a review of all of its facilities management around two-and-a half years ago. The facilities manager Paul Andrews led the initiative and continues to monitor and review the facilities strategy that was introduced as a result.

He said: “We had to review everything because there was a mismatch of internal supply and outsourced work – some areas were overlapping and others were left short. It was a formal facilities project. A project of aims, risk analysis, financial analysis, communication with stakeholders and senior management to identify what we needed and what we were looking to get out of the initiative. And that wasn’t just cost savings. Obviously, being a medical product manufacturer, we need to be quite astute when it comes to standards in things like cleanliness and tidiness, so in constructing a plan for our task allocation we began with a model of the essential criteria that we needed to stick to.”

One benchmark to look for when choosing an FM supplier is ISO9001, the globally-recognised quality assessment certification awarded by independent regulatory bodies and devised by The International Organisation for Standardisations. As a business management guideline facility to ensure quality practice, the system is employed across a broad range of industries, including FM. The benefits of the model are that it brings more involvement from senior management right through the ranks in the quality management system, thus obtaining solidarity in focus, and it encourages a high level of documentation to create best practice guides and troubleshooting records. In addition, it re-emphasises customer focus, leading to specifically recognisable tuned services for particular clients. One criticism of the certification is that it is restrictive and does not allow for continuous improvement once initial measures have been implemented. Another is that it is more of a measure of how good companies are at documentation than quality and efficiency.

Andrews says that, though it is a good initial indicator of value which firms should use when first identifying FM partners, it shouldn’t be used as an absolute affirmation of quality. “It’s not the be all and end all,” he said. “You have to research further, lift a few stones. And the best way to do that is to look at other sites and evaluate the work they’ve done.”

Overall the main advice from Andrews is that firms should keep in mind what they want to achieve out of the partnership and choose the firm that is best equipped to deliver the end result they’re looking for. “Have they demonstrated through other projects that they have the skills in each department to perform the job efficiently? Check with the firm’s other clients to get some testimony back on how projects have gone,” he said. “And you can’t hide the financial side. Is it going to be cost effective? What’s in it for them and what’s in it for you? Most importantly, it’s about finding an FM company empathetic with your needs and objectives.”

The question – at a time when efficiency (or lack of it) can make or break a manufacturing firm – is probably not whether the company can afford to outsource elements of its facilities management, it’s whether it can afford to not.