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FM client view: Help us forecast expenditure

One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced with maintenance over the years is knowing how much I’ve spent.

At Whitbread, what we look for in a good FM provider is accuracy in terms of expenditure and forecasting expenditure. This is essential if we are to hit our budget at the end of the year.

To this end, we employ financial analysts whose job it is to look at data, spot trends and try to work out areas where we are potentially wasting money. It’s a service that every good FM company should be offering to its clients. Unfortunately we haven’t always had that, so we’ve had to do it ourselves.

“In the past five years we’ve moved to a more bespoke service, led by a larger number of smaller players”

Every year, we spend roughly £30m on the revenue side of maintenance, which covers reactive repairs and planned maintenance including electrical testing, gas testing, air conditioning servicing, etc.

This is a considerable sum and on top of that we’ll spend another £30m on capital works, which includes the larger maintenance such as new boilers, roofs and drainage.

Historically, we’ve used larger FM providers to provide a one-stop shop. But in the past five years we’ve moved away from that to a more bespoke service, led by a larger number of smaller players and using much more in-house maintenance.

In-house base layer

Two years ago we launched a project to bring in 440 internal maintenance workers to service our 670 hotels.

This team does all the small maintenance, such as repairing door locks that have fallen off or carpets with holes in.

Our internal team takes away the base layer of straightforward maintenance so that it can be done quickly by those operatives on site.

In the past we have struggled to track the cost and progress of our maintenance across our chain; even the big providers that we’ve used have struggled to help accurately track and forecast expenditure.

Online process

In response to this problem, we have moved to an online system called ProNett. Using ProNett has meant staff at every one of our 670 sites can log into an online portal to record maintenance jobs that are required.

It then allows the maintenance team to record how they’re getting on and to sign-off the job when it is finished.

“We are now able to understand our costs at a granular level, which is hugely important”

Using this system means every day we know how much maintenance is going on across our portfolio, how much we’re spending on it and whether one particular site is having more or less work.

Across our chain we have more than 600 operations managers, who all deal with things differently, but through using ProNett it means their regional managers can keep an eye on where there expenditure is going and it means we’ve been much better able to forecast.

We can then direct the internal maintenance team as appropriate and we can procure and track small packages (flooring, for example), which is a great advantage in the hotel business.

External benefit

Also, in terms of our external FM providers, the system allows us to pay them quickly, which is very important.

We are now able to understand our costs at a granular level, which is hugely important - we can make strategic decisions about sites with recurring problems, as we’re able to identify them more easily with this system.

We wouldn’t have known about some of these problems with the old system because we wouldn’t have had the information.

Alex Flach is construction and R&M director at Whitbread

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