Published by Essential FM Report, Number 43, Tottel Publishing, pages 6-7.
For any business function, one key sign of having ‘arrived’ is pressure to benchmark. Entire books have been written on the subject but, in a nutshell, benchmarking is a process of comparing two or more business processes in order to understand how to improve them. Processes can be compared within an organisation (e.g. a multi-national contrasting finance processes in subsidiaries in different countries) or among different organisations (e.g. a ‘club’ of companies sharing information on their finance processes). Good benchmarking has been the starting point of many successful change programmes. Equally, poor benchmarking has scuppered change programmes or has overlooked opportunities for improvement.
Facilities management is well suited to benchmarking. However, benchmarking, in any area, is never as straightforward as it looks. Can we define facilities management in two different organisations? How do we know that we are comparing like with like – apples with apples? Can we trust the people who are providing the comparisons? Have people just given us easily available numbers or have they worked hard on them? How do we reconcile different levels of information within different organisations? How do we fairly compare organisations of different sizes? How can we ensure that the information has been validated: interviews, published accounts?
Facilities managers should welcome benchmarking as a sign that their function has become more important. We can expect significantly more benchmarking in UK facilities management soon. Most of the recently-created Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) set up for Private Finance Initiative/Public-Private Partnership (PFI/PPP) deals need to provide ‘market testing’ of their costs on a regular basis and, short of re-tendering, benchmarking is an efficient way of doing this.
A large government research organisation wanted to benchmark facilities management costs, but found that standard, “office space” comparisons did not encompass some of the more unusual facilities and laboratories they had. They were afraid that commercial organisations would not be interested in comparing facilities management with them but, surprisingly, when they approached a large pharmaceutical organisation it was pleased to conduct joint benchmarking of five of the government organisation’s larger sites with three of the pharmaceutical’s sites. A joint team was established to work out comparisons and reported back in about eight weeks.
The results of the study were interesting, particularly as the government organisation’s facilities turned out to be, overall, less expensive per square meter and per staff member, however the staff satisfaction level at the pharmaceutical organisation was higher. Both organisations learned valuable lessons, e.g. the pharmaceutical organisation on cleaning standards for laboratories, the government organisation on fleet management and contracting for scientific equipment maintenance. Both facilities organisations felt more comfortable defending their cost bases to senior management as they had been able to work out the trade-off between costs and staff satisfaction.
Benchmarking is the art of knowing the possible. From benchmarking you find out where you can improve; how much volume can make a positive or negative effect on costs; and what do the ‘best of breed’ achieve so you can set your own targets. A good benchmarking process is regular. It’s part of the routine. Basically there are three types:
Benchmarking can be an expensive or lengthy process. The first stage, as in any major project, is a clear definition of the objectives and scope accompanied by a statement of the anticipated benefits. The process of setting objectives is often iterative: we find out what is possible, perhaps a competitor wishes to share information, and then re-examine the objectives, scope and benefits. In benchmarking programmes Z/Yen has managed, the clearer the objectives and the more the project benefits are ‘pre-sold’ to senior management, the better the end result. The objectives, scope and benefit need to gain support within the organisation before we move on to planning the project.
The next stage in benchmarking is thorough consideration of what constitutes comparable organisations. A number of questions show the flavour of this stage: are we trying to learn best practice or see how comparable organisations tackle our sort of problems? Are we going to learn more from people like us, or from people outside our sector working with different problems? Will our own people find X or Y organisation more credible? Are our people going to believe a study which does not include Z organisation? Can we get outside sponsorship? How will we encourage people to share sensitive information? What benefits will other participants get from the benchmarking?
Because benchmarking intrinsically involves third parties who provide the comparisons, this dependence needs to be addressed early on. Can we do all or most of the benchmarking from the outside or do we need direct contact with the comparative organisations? Whom do we know in these organisations? Can trade associations help us? Organisations must be approached at an early stage to assess their genuine interest and commitment. In principle, many organisations are open to benchmarking, however the timing and the effort may not coincide with their current plans. Benchmarking will need to be sold to them.
In benchmarking, as in any major project, it is easy to list a long series of ‘essential’ factors for success or hundreds of ‘crucial’ pointers. The design of a full scale project is too involved a task for a short article, but in outline one structures facilities management benchmarking around seven standard elements – inputs, processes, outputs, feed-back, feed-forward, monitoring and governance. Some ideas for comparison include:
The end result will typically take the form of comparative tables – we don’t do this, they do; this is our % of staff cleaning complaints, this is their %; here is our M&E cost rate per £ of turnover, here is theirs. To move from a report to positive change, workshops and other mechanisms need to communicate the results and confront managers with performance assessments. Managers need to be challenged to change their behaviour in order to reach goals that benchmarking implies can be achieved. Managers need to develop theories about how to improve. In the end, analysis can always be more detailed; comparisons will always be slightly unfair; results will probably be somewhat incomplete. The benefits, however, are not always in the end result. Frequently, the very process of benchmarking prompts much needed thought on why we do things and what we expect.
Benchmarking costs and service levels, as well as quality and user satisfaction, is easier than ever, but managers sometimes fail to use these benchmarks in making key decisions, because they believe that their sites vary too much, i.e. the sites are heterogeneous. The fundamental problem is how to combine, rapidly and simply, large amounts of internal data on actual building and property use with external benchmarks in order to make predictions about:
setting performance measures for property and facilities managers;
forecasting demand for hotdesking, workplace environments, refurbishments and service levels for varying locations;
whether to outsource components, and to whom, as well as setting contractual targets;
One approach is to use statistically calculated comparisons by combining available internal and external data into a large dataset containing, for instance:
property characteristics - size, location, freehold/leasehold, etc;
cost – direct cost;
workplace productivity appraisals;
usage - security data (swipe cards), CCTV, car park use, canteen use, IT use, telephone poll data, meeting room bookings and utilisation per square meter;
customer views – staff questionnaires, external evaluations.
Some of the data sources might seem unusual (for instance using offshore companies to count the people entering and leaving buildings from CCTV), but all contribute to helping understand true property usage. A key difference, particularly for large property holders, is using statistical sampling of the actual workplaces in order to avoid the enormous costs, and largely wasted effort, in exhaustive documentation of today’s environments. Using Dynamic Anomaly and Pattern Response (DAPR) systems such as Z/Yen’s PropheZy prediction engine, various predictions can be made from the dataset.
cost targeting per property or property group;
usage per property;
ideal workplace environment per property;
desirable service and satisfaction level targets.
Basically, by using statistical predictions, managers can contrast heterogeneous sites. One large accountancy organisation with offices across Europe used statistical prediction to compare different city centres with different town centres and set standards - for instance, “despite the security problems of being located in a city centre, your man-guarding costs are still too high. Nevertheless, you are doing well at keeping cleaning costs down, despite costs being higher than average because you are in an expensive city.” They were also able to work out what type of work environment was correlated with the highest professional staff productivity and undertook a large renovation programme to realise the gains.
A related presentation to the British Institute of Facilities Management - "Looking DAPR: How Dynamic Anomaly and Pattern Response Will Change the Management of Facilities" (particularly slide 12 onwards).
Not surprisingly, competitive organisations benchmark themselves frequently. Somewhat surprisingly, competitive firms often cooperate on benchmarking against each other. Z/Yen conducts global surveys on costs among the vast majority of investment banks. Despite being intense competitors, they all share a desire to control costs and are prepared to share sensitive information in order to help themselves. When benchmarking across organisations, an independent third party often provides confidence in data gathering and comparisons as well as anonymity for sensitive data. Many trade associations, institutes, publications and consultancies provide a valuable role helping their clients to determine what to benchmark, when to benchmark, how to plan the process, how to manage the process and how to interpret results wisely and sensibly.
We always seem to come back to “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”. However, “you can’t measure what you think is impossible to find”. There are quite a few sources for further information:
Organisations obtain benefits of many different sorts from benchmarking:
In summary, benchmarking is an opportunity for facilities managers to learn. Through learning we become more effective and more useful. We become particularly useful by learning what targets we can set for ourselves, our own ‘benchpressing’ programme for fitness. While we still have a long way to go developing comparable metrics, the increasing amount of benchmarking is giving us fitness guidelines - what benchpressing weight we should expect from facilities management.
Michael Mainelli, PhD FCCA FCMC MBCS CITP MSI, originally did aerospace and computing research followed by seven years as a partner in a large international accountancy practice before a spell as Corporate Development Director of Europe’s largest R&D organisation, the UK’s Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, and becoming a director of Z/Yen (Michael_Mainelli@zyen.com). Michael spent a few years as Business Development Director of a major outsourcing company and advises several property, construction and facilities management firms.
Michael’s humorous risk/reward management novel, “Clean Business Cuisine: Now and Z/Yen”, written with Ian Harris, was published in 2000; it was a Sunday Times Book of the Week; Accountancy Age described it as “surprisingly funny considering it is written by a couple of accountants”.
Z/Yen Limited is a risk/reward management firm helping organisations make better choices. Z/Yen undertakes strategy, finance, systems, marketing and intelligence projects in a wide variety of fields (www.zyen.com), such as strategic planning work for outsourcers, structuring large facilities management deals, helping with PFI/PPP risk/reward evaluation or benchmarking costs across global investment banks.
Z/Yen Limited, 5-7 St Helen’s Place, London EC3A 6AU, United Kingdom; tel: +44 (0) 207-562-9562.
[An edited version of this article first appeared as “Benchmarking Facilities Management”, Essential FM Report, Number 43, Tottel Publishing (January 2005) pages 6-7.]