The client-and-provider relationship has a third dimension - firms who provide product and service increasingly through total FM providers. For these companies, adapting to act in parallel with service providers can offer both systematic and collaboration benefits. Martin Read reports.
13 March 2017 | Martin Read
You don't need to look hard for evidence that FM client-supplier relationships are easily strained and readily terminated.
To choose just one such report, a 2013 survey by consultancy Business Services Growth (BSG) concluded that loyalty between client and supplier is lower than any other business sector. Critically, just 6 per cent of clients surveyed considered their service providers as "trusted advisers", compared with an average across all sectors nearer to 25 per cent.
Aside from all the entreaties for more effective account management on the supplier side, surveys such as this frequently point to the better relationships experienced by smaller providers compared with their larger competitors. The traditional argument - larger providers find it difficult to adequately manage so many clients, spreading themselves too thinly in order to eke out a profit - remains stubbornly in place. Similarly, service providers who collect, analyse and act on client feedback are reported as performing better when retaining contracts. That this obvious activity is such a constant problem is part of the abiding mystery.
But there's another interesting dimension, and it concerns the many firms who provide product and service to client organisations and who now increasingly do so through the client's main FM service provider as a subcontractor. To this end, sometimes a company can experience a seismic shift in the way it delivers product and support, only to fully appreciate in retrospect back how much the landscape has changed. Door and window control systems manufacturer Geze UK has experienced such a moment of awareness, having taken the time to assess just how much the past 10 years has affected its business model and led to significant change to how it operates.
The company's service department has reacted to a sizeable increase in the number of FM service providers running the facilities for which it previously provided product and service as a direct supplier.
"Working with FM service providers means that in some cases we no longer have direct relationships with people running the businesses we service," says Ken Price, Geze UK's national sales manager, automatics and service. "But our systems have become so sophisticated that we are able to react regardless of who makes the call or where it is made from," he adds.
Steve Marshall, Geze UK's service director, says that around 25 per cent of the firm's business is now through FM service providers compared with less than 10 per cent a decade ago.
"Back then, we were dealing with in-house FMs far more. But it's not just the clients that have changed, it's how the business is handled."
The two greatest changes have been automation and prioritisation. In parallel with FM providers growing in scale with client portfolios becoming larger and more diverse, the technology brought in to ensure efficiencies from suppliers has evolved too, with cloud-based portals through which FMs monitor the performance of suppliers and communicate with them. This 'apps and devices' era is seeing more frontline engineers compiling a service history on the fly as engineers log their access to sites and document the installation of equipment and fittings.
Price says Geze has benefited from both the shift to outsourced FM and the technology that supports it.
"They have produced some real benefits on both sides," says Price, "raising standards such as health and safety and holding accreditations of contracted staff and on-site protocols. That's allowed us to adapt accordingly. We know what's needed, who to send and what they need to take with them before they arrive on site."
For Geze this has led to 'priority' jobs becoming the norm underpinned by the need to meet time deliverables on KPIs that may incur financial penalties if not met.
"We now operate a system that parallels that of the FM service firms," says Marshall. "We manage delivery of service through one central point but deliver on a regional basis. Service engineers attend the local sites and develop the relationships on the ground."
This service delivery mechanism provides flexibility to apply resources across the regions and ensures that there is sufficient staffing to address potential pinch-points such as seasonality, which can trigger a dearth of weather-related problems.
"The cold and the heat can affect the operation of door and window mechanisms and have the knock-on effect of compromising air conditioning and environmental impact from doors and windows being left open."
Reactive service delivery is now 60 per cent of Geze UK's service delivery compared with 40 per cent planned maintenance as a new era of 'repair, not replace' has dawned. Consequently, the service side of Geze's business has grown. The impact on client-contractor relationships? More responsive subcontractors that are better able to offer bespoke delivery and be more involved in the ongoing communication between service provider and client.
"We are far more proactive in respect of business development," says Marshall. "We now regularly review the market for contract renewals and ensuring that we are part of the bid process is key to our success. And we've improved our reporting processes and response times. We ensure that we have the ability to carry spares for the doors and windows our clients have in place and we maintain our van stocks so that we can be in the right place at the right time with parts and products."
Five practical tips on collaboration for property and FM
Collaboration has been recognised for some time as a business behaviour that brings tangible benefits to organisations. For example, in his Collaboration Co-efficiency report, Sir Michael Latham identified that 33 per cent efficiency savings were possible through the implementation of collaborative partnerships. Sir John Egan's, Re-thinking Construction report concluded that an annual reduction of 10 per cent management time could be saved by implementing a collaborative process.
Many have offered differing definitions of what collaboration means when applied professionally. Put simply, it is about working with other parties toward common, achievable outcomes. In order to do this individuals are in a non-adversarial relationship where blame is avoided and accountability encouraged, where respect for differences is given, where honesty and transparency is mandatory, and where integrity in behaviour and communication is plainly visible to the wider community.
The BS11000 standard for collaboration in business is becoming an international standard with the new numbering of ISO 44001 (see page 58). The eight-stage framework within the standard provides an intelligent route map to follow in implementing a collaborative approach, but standards and processes are not necessarily for everyone. Property and estate professionals may be left wondering if there is another approach that will bring tangible benefits. Here are five things to consider.
Look at the behaviours of all those who will be involved in the collaborative process to spot any skill gaps or barriers and offer a mix of coaching, mentoring and training to those who may need help in understanding the approach and the benefits.
2. Be clear on your collaboration goals from the start
Gain a clear understanding on the scope and specifics of what you want to collaborate on. Focus minds and it is simpler to get the message across. Collaboration may not be the best approach for everything, so plan a clear outcome at the beginning.
3. Rules of engagement
At a kick-off session agree on the 'rules of engagement' and commit to them. Make sure everyone involved understands and implements these at all levels.
4. Take time to reflect and refocus
Review regularly and track and communicate progress.
5. Build strong relationships
Encourage social and professional interactions along the way to improve relationships and informal communication. Celebrate success!
Anne Lennox-Martin, founder of collaboration consultancy FMP360 Ltd, will further explore the value of collaboration in FM at Facilities Management 2017 on 21 March. For more information visit: