Change is afoot, it has been a slow burner for some time but is coming to the forefront, environmentalism. So we have greener, leaner, meaner and efficient systems: HFC, HC, CO2 systems and glycol systems. All designed to make our planet a better environment to inhabit. However in this drive, which is for the better, other things are allowed to fall by the way side. I believe we have lost our way in the drive to retain the all-powerful coin. Corners cut chasing the almighty pound/dollar. So what’s different now you ask?
One word –maintenance.
In what is considered the unhealthy previous days, maintenance was at the forefront. We did maintenance on all aspects of the kit and did it well. Pride taken in making sure it was not only right, but exceeded expectations. Everything was checked, stripped down, oiled and lubricated. During a PPM on site you would check it with a fine-toothed comb.
I was recently told a story by an ex-engineering manager. When finished he used to have his engineers clean and re-paint the plant room floor on sites. To ensure it stayed clean, kept the engineers clean, and left a lasting impression on the quality of work with the customer.
Ultimately it paid off. Most breakdowns would be the results of part failure, instead of lack of maintenance.
Unfortunately this no longer seems to be the case. It is all 3 parts of the operational chain working against good service:
Maintenance Companies: With so many contracts, which are not being negotiated to correctly define. They are either overrun with a volume of impossible to meet response times (2 hour emergency for a bottle fridge anyone?). They are pushing engineers to get as many jobs in a day does as possible. The whole operation becomes a box ticking exercise, to hit SLA or First-Time-Fix. Yes, stats may look great, but is the work done really of value?
Engineers: All too many are too eager to go through the motions. Say parts are needed when a little more time could fix, complaint about ‘how’ and ‘where’ they are being sent. Not treat the customers onsite how they should. Engineers need to remember, they are the on the ground ambassador of their company. Engineers behavior and actions can seal or destroy contracts.
This has been the root cause of the issues. Now do not get me wrong, I fully understand exactly why they went down the paths they did. The extent I believe is too far. They don’t want to have companies fleece them on costs (which we all know happened, mark-ups in the 100% of percent’s). The issue now though, is the costs are that tightly specified and monitored that there is little to no profit for the maintenance companies to afford to run.
However, in this sense, these companies have been shooting each other in the foot. Everyone wants work, and no matter the price, someone is silly enough to accept to do it. Value for money is important, but most are cutting their noses off to get work. As an example, a recent-ish tender I was involved in, was for the M&E Maintenance contract for a local councils primary schools for 3 years. There was 4 companies tendering. 3 of the companies total tender submissions landed between £240k and £265k, the winning bid?
£140,000. A full £100k cheaper than the next nearest company.
Why this doesn’t ring any warning bells with the customer reviewing the tender I do not know. It also fly’s in the face of what all the companies are told….
“Price isn’t always the defining factor”
I have yet to see a tender where the winning bid isn’t the cheapest. They are leveraged 90% towards price. Luckily, there is some more change on the way….
It starts in the public sector, as a council tender manager advised to me just last week. Quality Assurance is taking a bigger and bigger slice of the pie. He also advised that now, the cheapest and most expensive bids are immediately discounted for his council. This at least highlights that the people are noticing the drop in quality of service by going for the cheap option.
Another issue, of how little value customers… or at least the high levels, put on maintenance. If they bring someone in to cut costs, you can bet your house that maintenance will be one of the first things to be reduced or go completely. The problem is, these people have short term objectives that are easy to hit by doing this, with total disregard of the bigger costs they are causing further down the line.
It doesn’t matter if you are going green and buying environmentally friendly. If you aren’t maintaining them and having to replace them twice as often. It defeats the purpose.
Opinions and mindsets need to change.
Retailers would need to offer higher budgets their stores’ maintenance. Really look into the benefits of a decent maintenance regime.
This would mean teaching employees at store level simple things. Emptying cases to carry out maintenance when requested it a must (engineers are more effective when they are working, rather than waiting about surprisingly!), this saved time can get the unit operational quicker and better allowing them to realize higher sales figures across their estates.
Contractors have to be compelled to up their game and begin to supply a decent level of service to their client base as at moment, they win contracts and struggle to make money once they are committed (retailers take note – you get what you pay for).
We are all causing each other to work worse, take shortcuts, and not provide the best. There has to be more trust between companies and their contractors, between companies and their engineers. More come and go, more flexibility. The thought most likely terrifies, but think of the ideal scenario you are chasing:
A good and proud engineer. Representing his company on site. Taking his time to ensure everything onsite is working at optimum level, working for a company who is happy to provide this service for their favorite customer. Go above and beyond for them when needed. Finally, a company happy to pay that little more, as it buys them the peace of mind that the work being done is of the best quality, and will ultimately benefit them long term.
You will very quickly weed out the crap, and be left with the cream.