Facilities (Managing Assets)
Safety for All
Almost every one of us regularly discusses “safety,” whether with our staff or among our peers. In our environment, where we have a direct impact on populations other than our own staff, our responsibilities and liabilities extend beyond our immediate circle. When one of our team members has a mishap, s/he may have an undesirable impact on the larger community.
Let’s get more specific at this point.
The Service Fleet
We should typically insist that our service vehicles, for instance, are safe and well maintained, as well as being proudly representative for our department. Most of the facility departments on the campuses I have visited over the years adequately measure up to this objective. To achieve this, some may use in-house mechanics while others use the private sectors’ professionals; sometimes it is a blend. It shouldn’t make much of a difference which approach a campus selects, as long as expectations are well managed.
We should invest an adequate portion of our financial resources into assuring the safety and durability of our rolling stock and the safety of our campus population, the total of which represents a major accountability. However, if the required and routine maintenance of those vehicles needs to be funded by the same budgets that support already underfunded O&M activities, priorities may get scrambled. For instance, academic departments that “own” vehicles may choose not to fund adequate maintenance of those vehicles in order to take care of academic programmatic needs.
It is not much of a stretch to argue that at least in one way vehicles and IT technology are alike: they are only effective if people use them the way they were designed. Computers are not (yet) capable of solving or preventing management shortcomings. Similarly, vehicles are not able to cure bad driving habits. Computers will not operate correctly if they are or the peripheral hardware is faulty. Vehicles will not allow operators to drive safely if the vehicles’ brakes or steering don’t operate the way they were intended to function.
At some of our institutions we find another characteristic that computers and campus vehicles might have in common: not just underfunding of their maintenance but, more critically, funding their ultimate replacement. We might be able to find or obtain funding for the initial acquisition of (capital) equipment, yet we suck air when we try to find funding to maintain or replace them when that is necessary.
The Benefits of Shared Assets
Many years ago, the maintenance department for which I worked at the time had wrestled the administration out of funding to buy its first fleet of new vehicles. These were an exciting improvement over the hand-me-downs and army-surplus vehicles with which we trundled around the campus before this victory. Then, to our dismay steeped in selfish ignorance, that same administration took those vehicles away from us and placed them in a central motor pool. We could continue using those vehicles only if we leased them from the motor pool, which required a substantial monthly charge to our operating accounts (which initially received no additional budget to accommodate that additional liability).
It wasn’t long before some of us began to see the wisdom of this. The motor pool was charged with the responsibility of developing a plan that would keep each vehicle in safe operating condition while planning for its ultimate replacement dependent on a schedule based on type of use, warranties and mileage, with no additional back-charges to the “customer.” Vehicles were well maintained, more fuel-efficient, and their brakes actually worked consistently. Also, the “curb appeal” of subsequently acquired vehicles was a vast improvement over the stock we had been driving.
This was almost 45 years ago. Imagine my surprise when I recently saw a situation on a large campus that brought back memories of that situation. Employees were complaining about their bosses buying expensive “green” equipment (not vehicles) before resolving significant safety problems with the trucks they were required to drive. We tried to convince them that they had every right to refuse to drive those unsafe vehicles; they responded with loud guffaws. On this campus, the wealthier departments (those with grants) often drove better vehicles than did the have-nots because they could afford to maintain and replace them. Some vehicles were literally driven until they could go no further. This is not right, for any number of reasons!
Funded replacement accounts that are centrally controlled will help avoid safety issues. If repair/replacement schedules are funded correctly, they should include a PM aspect that will guarantee periodic inspections, alleviating potential risks of safety issues, as well as providing a sound replacement schedule.
This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of College Planning & Management.
Pete van der Have is a retired facilities management professional and is currently teaching university-level FM classes as well as doing independent consulting. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.