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20 March 2019
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On your marks

It can make some of us see red. It’s fiddly and fussy. But since it can help us control and reduce costs, can we afford not to benchmark? By David Arminas.

6 September 2012

Just mention the word “benchmarking” and the hearts of some FMs will sink down to their boots.

There’s a crisis in the organisation and benchmarking will prove in black and white that the FM has been missing the mark when it comes to running the estate.

Benchmarking will show that the FM should have been doing better and now must
face the music for their lack of attention.

“Absolutely not,” says Peter Excell, associate director at Rollright Facilities. “Benchmarking is nothing more than an interesting analytical tool and won’t make or break an FM’s career. It’s really about simply reviewing FM running costs.”

There is no right or wrong in the results, says Excell, who has seen an increasing interest in benchmarking by FMs in general in the past two or three years. What counts is what you do to change your ways, if a change is needed at all.

“It’s an initial management check for the organisation to get a sense of where their asset sits in comparison to like-for-like assets owned by other companies,” says Excell. “It’s a ‘where can I reduce my costs’ exercise. There is no ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ in the results.”

In fact, most people benchmark without even being aware they are doing it, says Stan Mitchell, a director of consultancy Key FM and BIFM chairman from 2002 to 2004.

“Benchmarking is actually one of the most natural things for someone to do. When they start a new job, they will compare in some fashion how well they are doing compared to the previous incumbent or how their new organisation stacks up against their old one. What they are doing is benchmarking in the simplest sense of the word,” says Mitchell, who is also chairman of the ISO Technical Committee for FM.

Any fear of benchmarking may come from the internal organisational environment within which it is proposed. There might be a perceived ‘crisis’ or ‘threat’, typically from a financial or management perspective, says Mitchell.

“Certainly, a personal barrier towards embarking on benchmarking might be a lack of knowing what needs to be considered to make a worthwhile exercise. It’s seldom as easy as it initially seems. Benchmarking also needs to be thorough and robust, otherwise it will not stand up to scrutiny.

Exactly how to make benchmarking thorough is what can put people off, says Peter Kimmel, a principle of FM Benchmarking, the online tool for BIFM members.

“At first, benchmarking seems a no-brainer,” he says. “It almost always identifies ways to save much more money than it costs and payback is typically under a year.” So why aren’t more people doing it?

Kimmel, an architect and former FM now based in Marylandin the US, believes it’s because people have to learn how to do it, a real education process. “What kind of data should be collected and what is done with it? How do you then work with the data to see where improvements to your asset can be made?”

There’s a lot of free information, white papers, government advice, basic templates, tools and webinars on the internet. FMs should also watch the conference scene where ‘how-to’ presentations and case studies are presented.

At one time, says Kimmel, FMs could find a lot more in-house experience of benchmarking, even within their own facilities department. But the economic downturn over the past several years has resulted in a brain-drain within organisations in general. He believes there are fewer in-house FMs with solid benchmarking experience and suggests a consultancy might be the best option.

Finding a good independent consultant is essential to ensure that results are unbiased. Also, as with any business analysis worth doing, in-house FMs shouldn’t divorce themselves from the benchmarking process if they bring in a consultant, cautions Mitchell. It may be difficult to find the time to be as involved as he or she would like. They can ensure that data captured is in the right format and accurate and, in particular, can be used for further analysis.

Almost anything can be benchmarked, from energy and water consumption to floral displays. But some things are more difficult than others.

One of the most challenging exercises faced by Excell was benchmarking a client’s landscaping. Keeping in mind the fact that comparisons have to be made on a close like-for-like basis, Excell and his team looked at images of the client’s estate to see how much fresh water and foliage was on site.

However, the most common reasons for conducting benchmarking exercises relate to occupancy costs. “It’s seen as a tool to either counter the perception that costs are too high, or demonstrate that costs are being adequately managed,” says Mitchell.

Above all, FMs shouldn’t be fearful of going it alone or initiating benchmarking without senior management approval. Of course, that will depend on how much top-down authority exists over and above the FM. But benchmarking needn’t be a signed-off, senior management-led project, advises Excell. “If the board isn’t interested in it, there is nothing really stopping an FM from starting to collect data over time for their own use.”

Mitchell agrees: “Be proactive and, after taking due consideration regarding the politics of the situation, align the measurement criteria with the standard BS EN 15221-4 2011 Taxonomy, Classification and Structures in Facility Management, published last year.

“When the time is right, you will be in a position to undertake benchmarking at relatively low cost and achieve optimum value.”