Professional Development: Best Practices On A Budget
By Mike Singleton and Phil Wales
Published in the March 2010 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
Faced with the challenge of reducing operating costs while maintaining or even enhancing the role of facilities in providing an optimized work environment, some fms have eliminated personnel, cut non-critical services, and turned to outsourcing. Most fms have also turned to technology as a way to streamline work, hoping this strategy will enable them to do more with less. There is a basis for this expectation, since technology is a key component of the solution—but there is a catch.
According to one observer, “There really are not any bad software products left…but an awful lot of bad implementations.” Technology alone does not provide the solution. However, Business Process Management (BPM)—or streamlining facility operations through consistently applied, optimized work practices—can.
BPM is not new; most publications regularly analyze the importance of change. In fact, across the corporate environment, valid solutions to cost cutting begin by a company evaluating its business processes, working hard to align those into best practices, and enabling those practices with technology.
Fms must keep in mind this reality: technology is the enabler, not the solution by itself. Working under a focused set of operational best practices, organizations find less redundancy, better benchmarking, and an appropriate level of automation aligned with operational practices (not counter to them). Facilities organizations following this approach usually find they can significantly reduce operating costs by eliminating time consuming, non-value add activities while still maintaining a high quality work environment.
Technology and best practices play out in two ways. One, technology enables the process. Instead of opting for a bolt on approach through which people buy technology and then try to figure out how to adapt to it or, in many cases, work around it, the software actually becomes an integral part of service delivery. It enables facility personnel to work smarter and focus more on skill level activities and less on administration. Two, from a management perspective, BPM practices literally force people to follow the company’s defined practices uniformly.
Aligning technology with operational goals and best practices must be business driven. Pushing change from the technology up is not only very costly but seldom meets the high expectations that drove the decision to buy the software in the first place. In fact, the most successful technology projects have little to do with technology. They begin with a management vision for transforming how work will be delivered, a willingness to view how and why things are done the way they are, and a clear focus on how things should be done. Relying on a new or expanded facilities software solution for cost reduction seldom results in driving major cost reductions or improving workplace quality. In brief: “Tools are cool, but processes rule.”
These initiatives focus on what compels the organization to do what it does, which guides operational strategy. Once put into place, operational strategy dictates which services are critical and how they should be provided. The services definition tells fms where to focus attention (e.g what functional service areas need support and how can services be best delivered).
Obvious? Not necessarily. Despite the assumption, “Since we do it, we have defined it,” most organizations grow organically and have not paused to assess how or why they do what they do. Why? Invariably people say, “That’s how we’ve always done it”—a statement often met with surprising resistance. Therefore, many organizations simply select software and hope for the best. Yet, successfully providing high quality services while addressing tight budget realities provides little option and should be viewed as an excellent opportunity for fms to address process inefficiencies, or even deficiencies, that have been tolerated during healthier budget periods.
Real change comes when a facilities organization clearly understands how it should work. In turn, the transition to defining functional requirements, writing an RFP, and selecting a software vendor becomes relatively easy. This “new” process enables an organization to provide top quality services more efficiently, effectively, and in concert with the company’s overall business philosophy.
Singleton, senior process consultant, and Wales, CEO are with Houston, TX-based eBusiness Strategies LLC.
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