Roundtable: Keeping up with facilities management

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

The fourth in our series, Steve Wright quizzes Dave Ward, area sales manager at Hamworthy Heating.

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

‘Prevention is better than cure’ is the maxim for effective FM. While we as boiler manufacturers are aware of the capital expenditure involved in buying new equipment, the problems associated with aged boilers should not be underestimated: costly call-outs when the old boiler fails, higher maintenance costs, non-quantifiable risk of a complete boiler breakdown. Any equipment has a limited lifespan.

Another often neglected point is the gas cost saving brought by new equipment. With energy overheads typically accounting for 85 to 95% of the total costs over a boiler’s life cycle, it is quite possible to achieve real savings of as much as 35% on heating bills by using modern, efficient boilers and the right control strategy.

The capital expenditure for gas often comes out of a different budget compared to the gas bills, so one party who looks after one side of the budget might not be aware of the other. 

We need to get the message across to all involved.

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

In our case, technology has made heating more efficient and cheaper to run. An example would be weather compensation, which adjusts the flow temperature of the heating system according to outside temperature. 

Elsewhere, built-in controls allow multiple boiler installations to be run more efficiently than a single boiler, while also extending equipment lifetime by evening-out the use across the installation.

More broadly, FM has been made easier through building management systems which can control heating, ventilation, lighting etc. from one place, often remotely via cloud access. 

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

Both are on the front line when it comes to the running of buildings. As with anything, there is always a cost pressure and workloads can fluctuate as problems arise. When breakdowns happen, both departments still have to work together to keep everything running smoothly and to get sensible solutions. 

While estate managers tend to look after the building from an asset/purchase point of view, facilities managers are in charge of operations and running costs. Hence, a facilities manager would recognise potential issues further in advance and advise the estate manager when equipment needs replacing (planned maintenance and replacement). With the importance of looking at whole-life costs, these roles should be more closely aligned now.

Q. What opportunities will the internet of things (IoT) provide in FM?

IoT has a big potential. It will help us to make our systems more sustainable, also thanks to automation (e.g. in relation to heating self-learning – when are the optimum switch-on and switch-off times for each building) and remote control. However, as with all things connected to the internet, we must ensure that our systems are protected against attacks. While we’re already seeing what can happen if an identity gets stolen due to insecure passwords on emails, the threats from IoT could be indirect, such as intercepting communications which could grant a stranger access to someone’s property.

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

Some try to save money by contracting out – but higher education sites can have specialist needs. With a dedicated in-house team, these needs are generally run without a hitch as there is continuity with staff. In the past, we used to work with more in-house-trained engineers than we see now.

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

There is immense value in well-run buildings, but this can be overlooked in the name of savings. All universities are under increasing financial pressure, so ways of making savings are naturally being explored. However, this can be a false economy, leading to fixes being postponed and possibly resulting in higher costs at a later point.

University sites are getting bigger and more spread out, which makes them more complex to handle. Higher university fees also mean that those in charge of buildings need to be more careful how money is spent while keeping them sustainable and to a high standard.

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