Relationships in maintenance provision
Is maintenance work best carried out by in-house staff or outsourced? Jo Harris of BSRIA brings together some of the ideas discussed at a seminar organised by the association.
The question many in our industry struggle with is ‘in-house or outsource maintenance’? A recent BSRIA seminar looked at the relationship side of this dilemma with presentations from a client, an outsourced maintenance provider and a university professor of organisational behaviour and psychology.*
The client’s dilemma is that, depending on the size of the organisation, there can be many diverse decision makers when it comes to maintenance.
One thing all decision makers have in common is that maintenance is still seen as a service provision, perceived as a cost to the organisation.
The internal struggle is how to demonstrate value from maintenance, because without showing value then procurement will be determined on lowest cost. The lowest-cost option comes with a health warning that is apparent across the construction sector and, indeed, all areas of life: 'You get what you pay for.’
The advice for clients is to look inwards first before determining how to resource maintenance activities and make an informed decision. In particular, look for the value maintenance can bring to the organisation.
Maintenance can support the core business of an organisation; schools focus on learning, hospitals focus on patient recovery time, and offices focus on productivity and staff retention — all of which can be affected by how well the facilities they use are maintained.
Schools with stuffy or poorly lit classrooms, hospitals with unreliable heating or electricity supplies, offices with poor thermal comfort — all will affect the outcomes the organisation is aiming for.
Understanding who the customers are within an organisation and their relationship with the maintenance team is another important area to review. Will there be direct contact with the maintenance team or it is a nameless, faceless out-of-normal-working-hours interaction that is needed?
Once the client understands their organisational needs the focus will need to shift to look at what the market can deliver.
The industry has a skills shortage at present, and in-house engineers are hard to find. However, there are also many different models available; the answer is to select the option that aligns best with the needs of the client’s organisation.
Clients can benefit from buying in expertise from outsource providers, but those providers need to recognise that there can be restraints on spending. There will be times when putting contractual obligations to one side will provide a route for the best engineering solution but getting the best value of £/m2 spent on maintenance is not easy.
Discussed during the event were examples of large organisations taking nine months to review their internal needs and prepare an outsourcing tender package which, in the end, needed a 2-page summary in plain English to explain what they really wanted. Communication is a key to successful outsourcing; it is tempting to let the procurement team and lawyers produce the paperwork but there is no substitute for having clear terms that both client and maintainer can understand and which set out the expectations and objectives of the service.
From a client’s perspective, things that make maintenance successful include all the basics of meeting the statutory obligations and also successful management of finances. There should be no surprises in terms of finances, and tussles over who pays each time a repair is required can terminate relationships earlier than expected.
Environmental obligations being met and exceeded is a value-adding service that all maintainers need to be providing and excelling at. Clients want innovations; the perception is that anyone can provide maintenance, but doing so by bringing new process, products or ideas adds value to the organisation.
Remember that maintenance it is actually mostly about occupiers and not engineering for the sake of engineering. Maintainers interact with the users of the building, and how this is done can have a positive or negative affect on them. A proactive team which monitors and addresses issues before they are noticed can demonstrate the value they add to an organisation by reducing the amount of end-user time spent calling the helpdesk or worrying about the environment they are working in.
Psychological principles can be applied to help enhance organisational performance, engagement and well-being — as our last speaker of the event outlined. Where people are trusted they work together and pull together. If control and monitoring are needed it is a signal that an organisation has low trust and it is a burden on both parties. Trust can be improved, even in maintenance; we as an industry need to ensure our organisations have one eye on developing productive relationships, whether they are in-house or outsourced.
Jo Harris is principal consultant in the sustainable construction group at BSRIA.
* For more information on how to diagnose trust levels and determine where distrust exists contact the Centre for Trust, Peace & Social Relations (CTPSR) at Coventry University.
Presentations delivered during the event can be accessed on the BSRIA website under our O&M benchmarking network page ‘The challenges and opportunities of in-house 'vs' Outsourced Hard FM — 22nd April 2015’