July 2010


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Re-Commissioning Facility Management Organizations
FM organizations need to re-examine their mission to determine goals and eventually objectives.

Jim Sinopoli PE, RCDD, LEED AP
Managing Principal,
Smart Buildings LLC

Contributing Editor 

We re-commission our building systems to maintain them at optimal performance in order to save energy, money and time. The financial metrics for such re-commissioning is impressive with credible studies showing payback periods for commercial office buildings at about 8.5 months. However, do we ever re-commission a facility management organization (FM) to see if there are better ways to get things done and maintain optimal organizational and operational performance? That is, do we periodically examine the processes, functional relationships, tools and overall organization? Would such an organizational re-commissioning have a payback similar to the building systems themselves or even a better payback given the cost of personnel?

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Operations and maintenanceApproximately 75% of the total lifecycle cost of a building is in operations and maintenance so it would seem that the organization in charge of operations and maintenance would have a large stake in the building lifecycle costs and its asset value. Yet, while there are exceptions, many facility management departments have an outdated structure, operate in a reactive mode and haven’t examined or modeled their internal process since the 1990s. There’s no doubt that the challenges of a facility management organization has intensified over the last several years. There are pressures to address energy consumption, deploy technology solutions, work out organizational challenges with the IT department and the executive suites, and upgrade/keep current the skills and knowledge required of facility personnel. These challenges are the reasons the organization needs to be re-assessed and evaluated – the mission, objectives, tools, relationships and processes of the FM department has changed a bit.

Commissioning equipment and systems generally means we verify equipment is properly installed and operates as intended. Initial commissioning focuses on specifications, design drawings and design intent. Over time however, design intent gives way to the reality of how a building is being used and occupied; the focus is on how we optimize the building performance given its real use, its occupancy and the equipment and systems it has. A similar shift has to take place with FM departments, moving from or expanding their original objectives to address the new realities. So, how do we re-commission the building operations?

We start with a comprehensive re-examination of the organizations objectives developing the criteria for measuring the performance in meeting those objectives; then detail the processes required to achieve, verify and document their performance. What follows are suggested processes and issues one may face in assessing and re-commissioning an organization.

Reviewing the Goals, Objectives and Performance Requirements
FM organizations need to re-examine their mission to determine goals and eventually objectives. Goals are high level, intangible and very general; objectives are tangible, short term and measurable. One well stated objective I recently heard was from a senior operations manager at a major international company who said something to the effect “We have 10,000 alarms a day and I want to document each alarm and reduce that number to 300 within six months”. Other objectives could be related to reductions in energy consumption, time to close out work orders, or upgrading staff proficiencies and credentials. Whatever the objective, it’s something concrete with a way to measure the organizations performance in fulfilling the objective. Note that mature organizations make their objectives and their processes formal. Objectives are generally the “what” of what the FM organization is doing.

Processes and Practices
How an organization goes about meeting its objectives can be a mixture of old-school and new-school processes and practices. New school refers to younger, entrepreneurial organizations or technology companies where the organization may have a flat hierarchy that is self-organizing and where management essentially conveys the objectives and end result to the employees (i.e. “reduce the alarms to 300 per month”) and lets the employees suggest and decide on how to reach the end result. This approach is more in line with the internet’s “wisdom of the crowd” (Twitter, blogs, on-line rating systems), the premise being that groups make better decisions than any individual.

The “old-school” approach is more scientific, starting with an objective modeling or description of the current practices and determining how it can be improved to meet performance requirements. The best known approach is called Six Sigma, developed about 30 years ago to minimize defects in manufacturing processes. The methodology used for existing processes such as those in an existing facility management organization is called DMAIC; define the goals and objectives, measure the performance of the current processes, analyze the data, and improve and control the process. For example, if the objective is improve alarm management one collects data on what really happens in the process, not what is suppose to happen, not what is written in some policy guideline memo, but the data on how people actually perform the task. A modeling of current practices is the benchmark for improvement recommendations, thus moving the examination from descriptive to prescriptive, developing the new processes, rules, and procedures that will lead to improved performance. Metrics need to be developed and formalized to measure the performance of the process applying the adage of “monitoring so that we can manage”. At times it seems we are trying to get the most minuscule piece of data from building systems but don’t have any metrics on people and the operation. We need to think of this as expanding our “points list” to the organization itself.

One of the most innovative deployments of the Six Sigma approach is the Sigma Sustainability Institute (SSI), lead by Hari Gunasingham, assisting organizations in making sustainability intrinsic to an organization’s framework for managing its core processes. Interesting, SSI uses a software platform, iViva.works, to assist the development, implementation and management of enterprise processes.

FM Issues: Potential Mental Ruts

Rut #1: Most of the industry is focusing on the devices; “New Widget Thinking”
Think of a smart building in three overarching layers: the hardware and devices to monitor and control the buildings systems, the software and the data management which will provide more intelligence and actionable information for management of those systems, and the operation staff and organization managing all of it. We tend to focus on the devices first, the software second and figure that the people part will just work its way out, that people will adapt. Are we more interested in new devices for building systems than the people managing and servicing those devices and systems?

Rut #2: Typical days for technicians and engineers may be 8 hours of “fighting fires”
Many FM organizations have technicians and engineers that simply respond to alarms and events all day. They struggle with how to prioritize multiple requests and don’t have the time to be proactive in preventing alarms or events in the first place. Facility organizations will always need to be reactive to events but there needs to be a better balance with planning, forecasting, detecting, etc.

Rut #3: Skills sets and knowledge base
Yes, we need a high performance FM department to operate a high performance building. The days when a seasoned facility engineer can walk by a chiller or pump and detect and diagnose an issue with the equipment just from the way it sounds, are gone. The penetration of IT technologies into the building systems and the newer building systems being installed as part of energy efficiency add to the skills sets and knowledge base needed to operate today’s buildings. Training, especially cross-training needs to be an integral part of the FM organization.

For more information about smart buildings, technology design or to schedule a Continuing Education program, email info@smart-buildings.com.


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