In-house or outsource maintenance
The question many in our industry struggle with is ‘in-house or outsource maintenance?’
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, 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. Make an informed decision. 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 impacted through 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 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, but there are also many different models for outsourcing maintenance - 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 £ spent on maintenance per m2 is not easy.
There are examples of large organisations taking nine months to review their internal needs and preparing an outsourcing tender package which in the end needed a two 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 setting 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 but 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 processes, products or ideas adds value to the organisation.
Remembering 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 the way in which this is done can have a positive or negative affect on them. A proactive team who monitor and address 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. 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.
This article is based on a BSRIA article, The Challenges and Opportunities of In-House 'vs' Outsourced Hard FM - 22nd April 2015’.
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