Facilities management (FM) is an important piece of the jigsaw of any organisation. According to Statista, in 2017, the in-house facility management market in the Middle East amounted to $6.5bn, making this a substantial industry by itself. For educational institutes, FM is an integral part of the overall management and has a direct impact on the well-being of staff and students, the quality of teaching and learning and in upholding environmental health and safety (EHS) compliance.
At the same time, FM for education establishments bring with them some unique challenges. For example, an educational establishment often has several large buildings, with varying functions, possibly even multiple campuses. A typical mix might include teaching spaces, laboratories, student accommodation, libraries and more, all of which would have different requirements. Another example is the diversity of people using these resources and shift in usage of facilities from students during term time to other activities such as seminars and summer camps during holidays. And most importantly, campus buildings are assets which need to be maintained and enhanced over time, with data from FM dictating grants and funding in the future.
In the backdrop of these challenges, Dr. Matthew Sukumaran, chief operating officer of Heriot-Watt University Dubai shares his top tips for efficient facilities management in educational establishments.
Create a culture of preventive maintenance
While FM works to resolve issues as quickly as possible, it is equally important to create and drive a culture of preventive maintenance. Preventive maintenance may be defined as a regular and disciplined schedule of work undertaken in order to keep facilities operating efficiently, without waiting for an issue to crop up. Preventive maintenance has several benefits - it extends the lifespan of facilities, reduces costs and energy consumption and optimises equipment performance. In fact, studies show that businesses can save between 12-18% using preventive maintenance over reactive maintenance. Educational facilities should have a planned schedule of preventive maintenance covering all assets in order to catch issues before they escalate. It is also a good idea to do a walk through with the facilities services’ provider, focusing on details that are usually overlooked, such as repair or replacement of doors and accessories, ceiling tiles, countertops, cabinets and hinges, and fire extinguishers. It is to be noted however, that preventive maintenance excludes repairs and renovations that are most often undertaken with capital as opposed to general operating funds.
The role played by technology
Like all other industries, FM can benefit greatly from the use of technology. The market today offers several comprehensive facility management software options and technologies which can aid Facility Managers in organising and streamlining their everyday tasks. This includes the use of artificial intelligence or AI, computer aided facility management (CAFM) software which can integrate technology, processes, and people to efficiently execute daily operational tasks, the use of the Internet of Things or IoT to reduce energy consumption, automated building entry solutions and more. These new technologies can help improve efficiencies in several areas such as asset utilisation and performance, service ticket submission and tracking, energy consumption and overall property management.
Lowering operational costs
Leaders in the education space are under more pressure than ever before to do more with less. Student expectations and needs are growing, performance expectations of education institutions are always escalating, yet operating budgets could dwindle. The only way to combat this is by improving operational efficiency and streamlining outdated processes. Here is where FM has a huge role to play and could contribute substantially to making this happen. Some ways by which FM can keep operational costs in check are as follows: optimising lighting by creating an ‘economise mode’ for times when the school or University is at its lowest occupancy, implementing a sustainable design plan, undertaking a professional energy audit to identify and develop opportunities to help reduce energy use and more.
Most educational institutes comprise huge spaces, spread out over more than one building or even a campus. Real estate and occupancy costs are often any company›s largest expense and can be optimised by managing space well. According to iOffice, only 13% of organisations report their workplace is utilised more that 80% of the time. One of the key goals of FM therefore, should be space management which takes all spaces and resources into account. Facility managers can achieve this by carefully considering assets in the space, the needs of employees and the space itself and then working with contractors to make adjustments as necessary. Automation and management systems combined with best practices can help facility managers effectively plan spaces, and provide a solid foundation for space management, which will ultimately affect the bottom line.
Choose the right FM partner
Many educational institutes today outsource their FM work. In such a scenario, it is important to work with an agile partner who adapts to the needs of the educational institute. Another possibility that should be considered is to examine the existing responsibilities of FM and see how they can be managed in the most cost-friendly manner. This could mean carefully examining all outsourcing contracts to see if they can be scaled back, or some responsibilities handed back to in-house staff or looking for temporary staff during peak times.
Given all these factors, it is hardly surprising that the professional field of facilities management is growing rapidly worldwide, establishing itself as one of the mainstays of strategic management for any educational institute.
Programmes such as the Facilities Management programme offered by Heriot-Watt University in Dubai are taught from the perspective of strategic FM, are fully accredited by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and invest in students the competencies and skills needed to manage facilities effectively in a changing business world.