Roundtable: Keeping up with facilities management

What are the key issues, challenges and opportunities facing facilities management teams at today’s HE campuses?

The second in our series, Steve Wright quizzes Neal Grant, head of business development at Derwent Facilities Management. 

Q. What new challenges are being faced in facilities management (FM), and specifically within higher education?

Pastoral care – the health and wellbeing of students – is obviously high on universities’ agendas. FM has a role to play here, particularly around student accommodation. Having qualified staff on your team, providing a sense of community and belonging, as well as being able to identify at-risk students by training your staff and working with organisations such as Student Minds, is crucial. Added to this, our online age – which has bought many benefits – also increases social isolation for many. Offering facilities with which students want to engage helps minimise this isolation.

Q. Are there general rules for good, effective FM – and pitfalls to avoid?

‘Honest’, ‘upfront’ and ‘personal’ remain key watchwords. For all the innovative practices and online enhancements to service delivery, visibility and openness with clients and customers is still the key to successful facilities management. Compliance is also another crucial area for universities. They have a duty to keep their students and staff safe, so a building must be compliant 100% of the time.

Q. Is technology making FM easier and/or better?

Digital transformation in FM definitely makes service delivery easier to manage – from work management systems that guide the staff’s work schedules and processes, to the real-time management of information that can drive productivity efficiencies – such as lessening the need to be onsite constantly, checking up on staff.

Tools such as automated monitoring of a building’s environment will again deliver efficiencies around heating or humidity levels – readings are captured without manual invention, which gives managers 24-hour access to information. This also helps to
flag problems earlier. These systems also allow staff to record their building checks digitally, providing an instant audit trial for all activities. 

So, managers will be alerted earlier when an expected job (such as a cleaning check) is missed.

Q. How do estates management and FM overlap, and is that relationship changing over time?

Like all interdepartmental relationships, they are constantly changing. In our experience, estates and facilities management go hand-in-hand, often within the one department. They are interdependent, after all: there is little benefit for any organisation in investing in a state-of-the-art building or grounds and then not looking after it.

Q. Are there certain elements to good FM that are often overlooked?

FM really comes into its own when the teams are included right at the start of a project – i.e. the design stage. We have delivered real benefits by using our knowledge of what works in student accommodation – where a kitchen is located, how a bedroom is kitted out, what kind of heating system would deliver the best energy efficiency.

Adoption of technology has perhaps been slower here than in other industries. Building Information Modelling has really taken off in the construction sector, but hasn’t yet had the same adoption levels by the FM sector. This will change over time, as the efficiencies and quality of information provided by BIMs are fully harnessed. Cost savings and the client experience would be enhanced immeasurably.

Q. Are today’s universities undertaking their FM in-house, or contracting it out?

The rise and fall of the likes of Carillion has made universities re-assess how they manage their FM, and in some cases there is a trend for services to come back in-house. However, the vast majority still value the external expertise, value for money and quality of service that a specialist FM company can provide. The industry remains competitive, which is a positive for universities: however, the innovation, productivity and push to be the best in such a market ultimately means that the product on offer to them remains a very attractive one.

Q. Is the value of FM properly acknowledged in higher education?

Yes, most universities recognise the role that a well-managed estate plays in attracting and retaining students, and the key role played here by facilities management. Compliance is a key area where the value of FM is clear – Grenfell was a big wake-up call for many large organisations – and this is one area where a specialist FM company can really add value.

Panellist websites:

Derwent Facilities Management:

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