Facilities Management: Be On Guard
This article by Jerry Chamness originally appeared in the May 2001 issue of IPI.
During the hot, humid summer of 1982, the state of South Carolina had a freeze.
The state's economy was slowing and budget experts projected shortfalls. Budget cuts were imminent. Hiring freezes were initiated. Staff was reduced. Agency heads scrambled to reduce their operating budgets. And in-plants became even more vulnerable to outside attacks from privatization supporters.
One victim of the state's 1982 budgetary problems was the in-plant at the College of Charleston. Richard Bennet, manager at the time, said closing his operation opened up five personnel slots for the college. Those slots allowed other departments to add much-needed personnel—personnel they would otherwise have been unable to hire due to the hiring freeze.
The in-plant fell victim not to bad management, nor to an outside attack by a facilities management (FM) vendor, but to an unfortunate downturn in the economy.
This year the economy is slowing down once again. And once again the budget experts in South Carolina are projecting a budget shortfall. Again, budget cuts loom and rumors of layoffs spread statewide.
There's probably never been a better time for FM vendors to attack. Their pitches find eager audiences in companies and organizations that are already looking for magic bullets to kill their budget woes.
Budgets are tight and administrators are not just thinking out of the box, they are buying out of the box. FMs are offering packaged solutions right out of the box, with claims of savings, as well. It even sounds good to me. Why should I knock myself out day after day when I can buy service out of a box, for less money?
Paradise In A Box
As in-plant professionals, you know the answers as well as I do. There are no boxed solutions for the myriad services in-plant operations provide daily. Most in-plants were developed to meet the unique needs of their parent organizations. In-plants share a history with their organizations, as well as common goals. You can't buy that out of a box.
Having a dedicated operation is certainly a convenience. It is also an assurance that when a service is crucial to the success of the organization, that service will be available. The value of that assurance is, in most cases, greater than the costs associated with operating an in-plant.
Having service departments that share a common goal with the organization is a crucial element in the organization's success. No matter what technology, capabilities, cost savings or other enticements FMs offer to an organization, the FM vendor's goals are not synonymous with those of the organization. Goal sharing is a common thread of success that should not be underestimated.
When IBM contracted Microsoft to provide an operating system for its personal computer line, Microsoft had different goals from those of IBM. Services crucial to the ability of a business to achieve its mission should be provided by a service department that shares the goals necessary to achieve that mission.
Ownership is another key element to ensuring that necessary services are provided with the urgency, confidentiality, quality and least possible cost to the organization. When an organization owns its in-plant, it can more readily stimulate responsiveness, especially in crucial situations where time means success or failure for the organization.
An FM will be controlled by the amount of potential profit a situation can generate, not by the degree of pressure upper management can exert.
The in-plant will be controlled by pressure from upper management, by loyalty to the organization, by sharing common goals with the organization, by peer pressure and by pride.
Loyalty is a key element in responsiveness. Outside vendors, FMs and privatized on-site operations are loyal in direct proportion to the amount of profit they can generate. Their loyalties are to themselves, their stockholders and/or their parent companies.
Loose Lips Sink Ships
Confidentiality is another crucial factor. Certain information must be maintained in-house to ensure a competitive edge. In-plants would be remiss to compromise information that could be detrimental to the success of their parent organization.
On the financial side, even a funded operation saves its parent organization money, even when the savings are not quantified. In-plants frequently provide services that can't be billed, in an effort to go the extra mile for a department head or for the organization. In-plant managers typically warn customers of potential exorbitant costs associated with projects and then look for ways to achieve the same results.
Ensure Your Survival
Still, in-plants are constant targets for privatization and FM assaults. Everyone has a better solution, and unfortunately, to some administrators the grass does look greener on the other side.
Steps managers can take to ensure a better chance for survival include:
- Keeping up with technology.
- Knowing the value of the service your operation provides.
- Knowing what external threats to your operation exist.
- Making sure your customers value the service you provide.
- Keeping your superiors informed of the value of your operation and the service it provides to the organization.
New technology is not cost prohibitive to small operations. In-Plant Graphics publishes countless articles on moderately sized shops that have justified new equipment. Stay aware of evolving technology, as this is essential to prudent management.
Awareness of the value of the service you are providing is also essential. Know what services you provide that you can't bill for, and what services you provide that an outside vendor or FM vendor could not, or would not be willing to provide.
Keep an ear to the rumor mill for the external threats that might creep in through the back door. Know what the political climate in your state is and lobby your superiors for support.
Provide a high level of customer service. Never take a customer for granted or underestimate the importance of a customer's job.
Make sure your superiors are aware of the level of service and value of service you provide. Administrators are busy, burdened with problems from many directions, and pressured by forces externally and internally. It is your job to periodically remind them of the value that your operation adds to the organization.
An informed manager who stays abreast of technology, runs an efficient operation that provides a high level of service, and keeps his superiors happy and informed of the operation's value is still not immune to closure. But such a manager stands a much better chance of survival from facilities management threats and privatization supporters.
Jerry Chamness was formerly director of Printing Services at The Citadel, in Charleston, S.C.