Spring cleaning for your facilities? 4 smart things you should do

Spring cleaning for your facilities? 4 smart things you should do

Facility management is undergoing a significant process of evolution and transformation. The days when the facilities management (FM) or engineering group was housed in a small office in the basement next to the elevator mechanical room are long gone.

The profile and value of the facilities management team has become more visible and critical as organizational executives grapple with energy, building costs, finances and occupant expectations. However there's still work to do for FM to be fully appreciated and seen as a strategic internal organization and valuable asset.

The increasing pressures, challenges and expectations of FM are unlike those of other business functions. Building operators are now dealing with advanced technology, new building components, increased levels of building complexity, managing energy demand, procuring new energy supplies, a changing skill set and knowledge base for personnel, etc. The transformation is disruptive and will eventually destroy old priorities and processes.

Given that the Spring season is known for renewal and regrowth, now may be a good time to get ready for the new FM reality. The high priority "To-Dos" are as follows:

1. Start with the Data

Data is the gateway for managing building performance. Overall, FM has not been nearly as active as other business units in managing data, developing metrics and KPIs, mining data and analyzing it. If data and information must drive sound management decisions, this has to be a priority.

If you don't have a data management policy, develop one. Identify the information that is strategic to the performance of the building and the facility management organization and then work backward to identify the set of data to support your metric. Review your data management system (not to be confused with a BMS), the use of third-party data such as energy markets or weather, and confirm the accuracy of data sources such as sensors and metering within a building.

Measure and monitor down to as granular a level as reasonable, make decisions on facts and share relevant data with specific groups based on their interest.

2. Invest in People

Overall, there appears to be a global shortage of qualified facility engineers and technicians. The reasons vary, but it is tough to attract young people into the profession. This is partially attributed to the perception of the profession as being underpaid, low-profile and organizationally marginalized.

Also, in many parts of the world, ongoing management and operation of buildings is simply underappreciated, undervalued and an afterthought. So with the talent pool shrinking, so are the skill sets and knowledge bases of what it takes to operate and maintain a changing facility. A priority To-Do item is to focus on attracting, recruiting, and retaining the best talent.

You may want to reassess your recruiting, especially for younger men and women. This is a demographic that has slightly different motivations, such as the public image and values of the company, and is often committed to social and environmental responsibility.

Cooperative relationships with local colleges and universities can be worthwhile. Here you can possibly influence the curriculum to make sure that what is being taught aligns with the skills and knowledge your company requires.

In addition, development of an intern program allows young people with technical knowledge some experience in the real world while at the same time allowing the organization to assess their capabilities and employability.

Spurred on by the imperatives of energy and sustainability, building systems themselves and the technology of the systems are changing. With that, the role of technicians and engineers is also being redefined.

Think about the number of new systems that are installed in buildings that simply were not prevalent a few years back: solar panels, wind turbines, water reclamation systems, exterior shading systems, solar tracking systems, electrical switchable glass, structural anti-corrosion monitoring systems, etc.

So there's also a clear need to provide additional training for existing employees on new systems and new tools. This is something that not only adds value to the employee, but also reduces turnover.

Part of the manpower gap may be addressed via technology. The latest analytic software and instrumentation can support the work of a technician and engineer. Also, the technology tools an employer is using or has available may help in attracting younger talent.

3. Develop a Plan to Update Your Technology

Upgrading technology is a constant, not static endeavor. If you're sitting on systems older than five years without any significant upgrades or controllers older than ten years than you may want to start with an assessment of your current internal operational systems and building systems.

The internal facility management systems may be comprised of capital planning, work orders, asset management, preventative maintenance, and also include the building management system (BMS). These tools, with relevant software and proper organizational policies can help in structuring the operational processes within the organization to create data and metrics regarding operational aspects such as the number of open work orders or acknowledged alarms. These are factors that define operational efficiency and effectiveness.

Particular attention should be paid to the BMS, as this tends to be the go-to daily operational tool and the depository for much of the building system data points. Older BMSes lack significant features such as analytic and demand response applications and customizable dashboards.

The innovations in building management systems are coming from medium-size control companies utilizing open source platforms. Their offerings provide higher levels of system integration, more software applications, better user interfaces and enterprise coverage.

It's probably time to at least pilot the emerging integrated building management systems (IBMS). The use of advanced software applications integral to an IBMS, such as fault detection or alarm management, has demonstrated significant financial payback in energy and operational costs.

Don't forget the field devices: the sensors, meters, actuators and controllers. Review your deployment of meters and sensors; these are generators of valuable data. Install additional devices if needed and recalibrate existing devices to ensure accuracy. Small deviations can result in substantial costs.

4. Build Better Relationships and Communicate Results

Facility management touches everyone within a building. While some of this is the daily interaction with occupants to resolve issues, and is important, the strategic relationships are with the C-suite and IT, as well as groups involved with capital planning, business strategies and finances.

Within the organization, FM needs to regularly communicate, convey and even promote its accomplishments, reminding others that many times the largest asset in a company is its facilities. Moreover, you must make the case as to why the management and performance of the building is in their (the organization's) best interest and a crucial part of the business and culture.

The relationship with the IT department is essential. FM uses facility management systems that are IT-based and the IT infrastructure penetrates most all of the building systems.

Here again, regular communication, understanding the work processes in each organization and setting mutual expectations for service performance can help to solidify a relationship. Some organizations have gone as far as having both IT and FM in a System Engineering Department, and employing one operations center for both groups.

Importantly, these relationships don't end at the building door. There are outside businesses and organizations that FM needs to engage with as well; primarily key contractors, manufacturers and industrial organizations. It is with these relationships that FM can clearly delineate their expectations and requirements for services and products, as well as learn about best practices from similar companies through industry organizations.

Every day many of us use a personal To-Do list to organize and be productive. We write things down, organize, prioritize and track our To-Dos. It's a never-ending process, but one that brings focus to what we're doing. This is what we see as the priority To-Dos for FM.

Flower photo via Shutterstock.