Balancing today’s FM challenges with the need to invest for the future

Tom Norris, senior national account manager at Rexel, explores the most pressing issues healthcare facilities managers are facing and how building a network of partners can help them to deliver on their present and future objectives

Juggling priorities is a daily occurrence for most facilities teams, particularly those in charge of large healthcare estates.

Add to this balancing act the need to strike an equilibrium between current and future challenges, and FMs certainly have a challenge on their hands.

At a time of continued austerity and squeezed budgets, every penny counts and, for now at least, the focus for most healthcare FMs remains on delivering against cost, efficiency, and service standard targets.

From the outside, it may seem like this focus on the here and now is counterproductive to delivering on future objectives, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

When present challenges are resolved succinctly, and with the right partners in place; they can unlock resources and a strategy for future developments to reduce costs, increase efficiencies, and improve standards.

Let’s start with using partners and suppliers to improve costs in the short and long term.

Working closely with a good supplier partner, FMs can very quickly realise cost savings and efficiencies.

In the short term, this can be done by looking for lower-cost alternative products which do not compromise on quality and standards.

A longer term strategy to improve cost efficiencies using a supply partner would be to address the need for ‘marginal gains’ in the present, but with a view towards a future rationalisation of products.

At a time of continued austerity and squeezed budgets, every penny counts and the focus for most healthcare FMs remains on delivering against cost, efficiency, and service standard targets

For example, products can be replaced according to a universal specification, rather than like-for-like, so that rationalisation happens gradually on a rolling basis without a large injection of cash required.

Using this approach, FMs not only benefit financially from the added purchasing power of buying a smaller number of product lines in bigger numbers, but maintenance and stock is also streamlined, ensuring that parts and spares are always in stock when required and work can be carried out quickly with minimal disruption to staff and patients.

Intrinsically linked to cost is efficiency and this presents a more-complex challenge to FMs when it comes to balancing short and long-term objectives.

Take energy efficiency, for example. With stringent carbon reduction targets in place, facilities managers are well placed to seek out energy-saving technologies to reduce the environmental impact of the day-to-day running of a building.

As with cost savings, this can be ‘marginal gains’ such as swapping to energy-saving lightbulbs, or large capital expenditures which will have a bigger impact on energy use, such as replacing ageing heating or cooling equipment.

We are currently working with the FM team at the NHS Highlands Trust on a short-to-mid-term strategy to reduce its lighting energy consumption by half, replacing old lighting fittings, internally and externally, with new LED and low-energy options.

The lighting solution offers the health board a payback rate of 25%, representing a four-to-five-fold return on the trust’s initial investment of £400,000, and a lifecycle potential of between 15-20 years.

So, with a short-to-mid-term strategy to replace all the lighting, the trust is benefiting from major cost and efficiency savings for up to 20 years.

Consideration will also need to be given by FMs to the electrical vehicle revolution.

As more hybrid and solely-electrically-powered vehicles hit our roads, parking at hospitals and medical facilities – particularly where paid for – will need to meet this demand.

FMs need to anticipate this development and consider a plan for implementation.

To devise and implement a longer-term energy efficiency strategy can be a lot more complex, but FMs can once again call on the help, support, and expert guidance of their supply partners.

When present challenges are resolved succinctly, and with the right partners in place; they can unlock resources and a strategy for future developments to reduce costs, increase efficiencies, and improve standards

They can advise on longer-term investments suitable for the individual needs of the healthcare setting, such as digital solutions.

We are already seeing significant growth in demand for digitally-based building management systems to help track, measure and improve aspects energy consumption and efficiency, and this can be a good place for FMs to start to establish long-term carbon saving targets.

While cost and efficiency are very much internal matters for FMs, its service delivery is very much outward facing and therefore requires equal billing.

For acute healthcare providers, in particular, where the hospital is in service 24/7, there can be no room for standards to slip as this can affect staff and their ability to deliver high levels of care as well as the patient experience.

A solid supplier can help FMs achieve their service targets by being a safe pair of hands and delivering the goods when, and where, needed.

This guarantees partners can get on with tackling routine maintenance programmes and unexpected breakdowns without the headache of delays in sourcing parts or spares.

But, while this approach pays dividends, it relies on the FMs having robust systems in place their end, and this may not always be the case.

In 2015, Rexel was asked by NHS Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth, for assistance in resolving its store stock challenges, which included a lack of knowledge of stock levels, items frequently being out of stock, multiple suppliers for the same product ranges, limited visibility on dispatch, and no procurement traceability.

A solid supplier can help FMs achieve their service targets by being a safe pair of hands and delivering the goods when, and where, needed

To help the hospital’s FM team regain control of its stock and improve its first fix rates, Rexel introduced its SmartStores solution.

The system – which can be set up on any android device – provided a platform for the trust to issue, return and re-stock goods, auto re-order items, and run stock reports to effectively track use and costs.

It also allowed the hospital to amend stocks each month to ensure redundant stock could be removed and fast-moving items relocated to areas where they were easier to dispense.

It has been so successful in Portsmouth that a further nine NHS trusts are looking to roll it out with a view to incorporating non-electrical products, such as catering and cleaning items, in the future.

In summary, smart partnerships can help FMs to meet their short and long-term objectives, boosting their team with specialist knowledge and experience to inform decision-making, product selection, and how to efficiently create and maintain the best environment for delivering first-class care.

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