Building an Outsourcing Practice | Article

woman talking on cell phoneWhen Jim Smolesky got into the facilities management business, he figured he’d have to be part plumber, part electrician, even part structural engineer. But he never guessed he’d have to be part psychologist, too.

Smolesky, executive vice president for Facilities West Inc., an outsourcing provider in Scottsdale, Arizona, had signed an outsourcing contract with a government agency. The agency had been housed in a building that was erected in the early 1900’s which was now being modernized. Building codes today, however, are much more restrictive than they were 100 years ago.

The Americans With Disabilities Act significantly reduced the useable office space because that law required wider aisles to allow a wheelchair to pass between the desks. Losing this much space turned out to be a big handicap for the government agency.

Smolesky and his staff had to sit down with each department and tell them squarely about their reduced square footage. Then the outsourcing expert had to determine what items the agency, which had been parked in commodious leased space, could actually return to the new digs. An even bigger dilemma was what to do with the items that would no longer fit.

Condensing office space turned out to be harder than fixing an air conditioning condenser. These workers had collected lots of stuff that had sentimental value to them which now wasn’t going to fit. “It was a real selling job,” says Smolesky with a sigh.

Outsourcing Maintenance Calls to a Call Center

Facilities West, which currently has offices in California, Colorado, Texas and Washington state as well as Arizona, also handles the usual facilities management requests. The firm spends a great deal of time attempting to accomplish its maintenance and repair jobs with as minimal disruption to the customer as possible.

For example, the outsourcing vender never schedules a landscape crew to mow the lawn at 10:30 in the morning when the office inhabitants are on the phone or in meetings.

Smolesky has spent his entire career in the corporate facility management world. In 1995 he noticed that building owners were beginning to outsource their facility management. So Smolesky and five of his fellow corporate managers formed Facilities West as a corporate outsourcing firm.

The company started with facility project management. Most of these projects included corporate moves which typically required remodeling and structural improvements. The outsourcing provider hired the general contractor as well as all the construction related trades people to get the job done. The vendor’s oversight included making sure the project was completed within the budget and met all applicable building codes.

Smolesky says the company’s clients were so pleased with their projects they asked the outsourcing provider if they would be interested in taking on other assignments. The firm’s blueprint grew to include placing on-site managers to configuring telephone systems.

It’s newest offering, again at the suggestion of a client, is a service maintenance call center. Facilities West clients can phone the call center for their repair needs. The appropriate repair person is then dispatched with dispatch.

Smolesky says this kind of service works well for bank holding companies. Financial institutions carpet a territory with branches. However, it is not cost effective for the holding company to place a facilities manager in every branch. Instead, the bank outsources the facilities management and has the branch staff call Facilities West’s toll free number with a repair request. The call center accepts email requests, too.

Experience to Handle Every Problem

Smolesky says companies that have multiple satellite offices form the foundation of the vendor’s call center business. “Customers like it because it’s a one call system,” he reports.

Every month the outsourcing provider sends each customer a synopsis of all its repair costs. Some clients even outsource the facility’s bill payments to Facilities West.

The firm also provides on site management staff. One corporate client has a call center located a long way from its corporate headquarters. The top executives want to concentrate on the activities of the call center and don’t want to worry about the plumbing. So a Facilities West employee provides the facility manager who works with all repair crews.

If this manager runs across a problem s/he is unable to handle, help is close at hand. Facilities West has 50 employees on its payroll, all expert in some specialty. “There’s always someone on our staff who has dealt with that issue before,” says Smolesky.

Smolesky says facilities outsourcing makes sense because executives today don’t have time to manage half a dozen different contracts or call someone else if an esoteric problem arises. Outsourcing is also the perfect solution for short term projects.

Facilities West has been known to turn down business. Some prospects have shown up on the doorstep wanting to outsource “because the building down the street did.” The vendor studies every prospect and then makes a recommendation. “We have told clients, ‘We’d love to have your business, but outsourcing is not in your best interest,'” he reports.

Smolesky says outsourcing relationships work when both parties view the contract as a partnership. “Our ideal client is a company that views outsourcing as a way to enhance their business,” says the executive.

Working Out Disputes Until the Client is Happy

The firm purposely has no service level agreements (SLA), although it would be happy to include them in a contract if the client asks. “We try to avoid anything that would cause us to say, ‘No, that’s not in the contract,'” says Smolesky. If Facilities West is not meeting a client’s expectations, the vendor sits down with the client to reconfigure the program to make them happy. “We don’t want to be in a confrontational relationship,” he explains.

Lessons from the Outsourcing Primer:

  • Vendors can expand their product offerings by pleasing their clients. Having earned their trust, they ask the vendor to provide more services.
  • Successful outsourcing relationships happen when both parties believe it’s a partnership.
  • Working things out when a client is unhappy avoids confrontation.
  • Corporations that have multiple remote facilities outsource the facilities management of these satellite offices because they don’t want to manage them remotely. They like† receiving just one bill a month for repairs.

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