What needs to start before systems stop working?

Facility Managers often need to be jugglers too, keeping the needs of building occupants met with one hand while keeping the building manager they report to, and often the building owner, happy with the other. It can be tempting to defer reporting problems for as long as possible, while immediate demands often make long-term planning a challenge.

However, building systems have a finite lifetime. As they age, they will experience faults that cannot keep being patched up with short term solutions. What Property Managers and building owners really need from their Facility Managers is thorough planning and reporting with a long-term view.

A Facility Manager should be aware of what plant and systems are installed and be able to answer some key questions. What physical condition is it in? What about its operational condition? What stage of life is it at? And are the equipment and systems appropriate for the current building use and for the future? Knowing the answers to these questions means smarter planning can start.

For example, it makes it easier to budget when you know the full replacement value of the installed plant, along with its current and residual value. It gives context for any costs that arise, allowing the cost of repairs or upgrades to be seen as part of a bigger picture. When a Facility Manager knows the likely life left in a particular piece of equipment, they can make the case for setting a budget or sinking funds for the work years in advance. Being able to forecast future costs for HVAC, electrical and hydraulic systems means there are fewer expensive surprises for the building owner.

The other big question Facility Managers face is when to schedule in upgrade work. Is it when the tenant’s lease has expired, and a new tenant is planned? Or when a tenant undertakes a significant internal layout change? Both are options when it is known well in advance what plant needs upgrading or replacing. What about if it is nearing the end of its economic life, or it fails completely? If it becomes unreliable or outages happen, the work must happen urgently and without preplanning. This can cause significant downtime and disruption and increased maintenance costs, both of which can lead to tenant complaints.

Ultimately, short term thinking is expensive. Unplanned expenditure for failed plant can cause immediate budgeting issues and major frustration for the building owner who is footing the bill.

There are other costs too when unplanned plant upgrades are urgently required. There is less time to follow a thorough design process and specify the right equipment. Urgency means that a tender process to find the most competitive pricing is not a realistic option. Sometimes the best solution is equipment with a long lead time for procurement, so compromises are made. Unfortunately, an off-the-shelf stop gap solution will still be a compromised solution, 20 years down the track.

Fast-tracked installation can mean paying more, as penal rates for out of hours work kick in. That must be balanced against the downtime and loss of productivity for tenants. In the rush, opportunities to upgrade the overall building system may be missed.

Overall, dealing with an unplanned outage or plant failure is disruptive, costly and can severely damage tenant relationships to the extent that leases are not renewed, or tenants seek legal avenues for compensation. And for the Facility Manager fronting the relationship, it goes the other way too – they can be caught in the middle between tenants and their Property Manager or the building’s owner.

The way to avoid all this stress and cost is to plan. If planned, in advance, central plant upgrades can be completed with minimal disruption for tenants. There may be limited perceived benefit for tenants – simply the same car with a new engine – but planning around them makes the upgrade less disruptive. And if there are perceivable benefits, such as a better overall system, reduced energy consumption or improved indoor air quality, they are more likely to cooperate and plan around the work.

There are multiple benefits that can be introduced as part of a planned and budgeted-for upgrade. Newer technology, new energy efficiency measures, and future proofed equipment can be installed that will allow for future expansion. The overall building quality can be improved, to the point of earning or increasing its NABERSNZ or GreenStar performance rating.

For building owners, it is an opportunity to assess their property’s whole of life costings and stage the upgrade work over several years, as part of a staged plan that will deliver a more cohesive and cost-effective system. It is also an opportunity to earn goodwill from tenants by demonstrating a proactive approach and a commitment to a better tenant experience.

There are things a smart Facility Manager can start doing now to be prepared for when their system stops working – and to save themselves future headaches. The simple first step is to talk to us about a Condition and Operational audit. Jackson’s can provide an expert, independent assessment of the current state of play for a building’s HVAC, electrical or hydraulics plant and systems. Then, armed with the data we have provided, they can make an informed case for funds from the Property Manager or building owner.

We can provide the right advice because we deal with existing building stock all over the country and see these issues play out every day. We also consider all the aspects of a project, so we can provide comprehensive budgets up front so our clients can allow for Capex investment.

A key part of what we do is training. We ensure that clients, the project team, and the end users are all on board with the solutions we are installing and can work with them to keep them performing well for years to come. It is all part of our collaborative approach. We take a long-term view, working with property owners and tenants – and the Facility managers keeping both sides happy – to get the best out of their building.