Last edited 28 Jul 2014

Operation and Maintenance Manuals - Cheap Options

Operation and maintenance manuals (O&M manuals or Building Owner's Manuals) contain the information required for the operation, maintenance, decommissioning and demolition of a building. They exist for a reason, they have to be done and, if they’re compiled and used properly they can save money and help save lives. It makes sense to put in the effort to do them properly and leave a good document on site that reflects well on you and your company. The outsourcing of O&M Manuals can be one of the first things to get cut as main contractors and subcontractors attempt to be as competitive as possible, but it can prove to be a false saving.

There are a growing number of cases of main contractors approaching specialist providers with only a short period of time left before the manuals are due to be handed over. It is usually the same story. Contractors know that doing the manuals themselves will save money, but they underestimate the amount of work or complexity involved and before they know it they’ve left it too late.

This is bad news for a number of reasons:

  • There is a good chance that by this time the client is already annoyed with the way that the manuals’ are being done. ‘Homemade’ manuals can sometimes be handed over too late and the last memory the client has of the job is of scruffy O&M Manuals turning up weeks or months overdue.
  • If you have to hand the manuals over to a specialist manual production company, they realise that these late jobs are always going to be awkward and that they will disrupt their existing work, so they will charge accordingly.
  • Clients often postpone sign off of a job because the O&M Manuals are not up to scratch.
  • The manuals reflect on the Main contractors, regardless of who produced them.
  • The building management / maintenance team have frustratingly inadequate manuals that at best make their lives more difficult and at worst can endanger staff.
  • CDM Coordinators need to produce Health and Safety Files that work together with the manuals, but will these manuals have the required information?

The options available are:

  • Do the manuals in house, on site but ensure they’re done properly.
  • Keep them in house but allocate main office personnel to do them.
  • Employ a specialist company.

The potential problems with the above are:

  • Site staff are usually pretty busy, especially towards the end of a job (the time when the manuals require the most input). Their time is split between the manuals and their main work and either, or both can be affected adversely.
  • Centrally-based staff can produce good manuals but there’s also the problem of them getting snowed under when a number of projects finish at the same time and of being underused during other periods.
  • Specialist O&M Manual compilation companies cost money. Also, how do you know whether they are going to produce the standard of manual that you want?

Whoever you choose, ask the following questions:

  • How much do they cost?
  • Do they have the time, knowledge and skills to produce a good quality manual that does the job and impresses the client? Ie:
  1. Can they use advanced word processing, computer graphics, CD autorun packages etc?
  2. Do they have a good understanding of exactly what is required in an O&M Manual, and appreciate the requirements of H&S files and building log books or a database system?
  3. Does the IT system allow for large file uploads to avoid email size problems?
  4. Is there a progress report available for client and client reps to consult?

If you go for the in-house option make sure that those entrusted with the O&M production have enough knowledge, time and resources.

If out-sourcing:

  • Select a company that specialises in Manual production, not an offshoot of a larger company
  • Make sure that they can answer yes to most or all the points mentioned in above
  • Every job has different O&M needs. Check the spec for details. Avoid companies who try to stick to their own layout. Find one that is happy to customise manuals to meet the job requirements.
  • Check their information gathering methods. Too many simply issue a template and sit back and wait. Opt for a someone who keeps communications open at all times.
  • Check their existing clients. Large construction companies are unlikely to use companies that don't produce the goods.
  • Figure in the costs and don't necessarily go for the cheapest.

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