The Value of Facility Benchmarking

Even when we find ourselves with decent data about our facility operations, we can be unsure about what it means.  Our premise is to make better use of what already know, and “strategically” focus on those areas that provide the best potential value.  Benchmarking provides a useful tool to help us focus and prioritize our efforts.

For example, if our benchmarking shows us that our custodial cost per SF is in the good range, we know that we probably have limited opportunity to reduce the custodial rate so we probably will find better potential elsewhere.  Conversely, if our benchmarking shows us that both our HVAC maintenance and energy costs per SF are relatively high, we know these are prospective areas of opportunity, and can even evaluate which of them might be the larger opportunity to pursue first.

About Benchmarking

There are a lot of places that discuss the practice of benchmarking (including Wikipedia) so I am not going into much discussion about that here.  At its most abstract, it is the simple act of comparing things.  In the context of facility benchmarking, it is all about comparing various building performance metrics (size, cost, sustainability) to see which ones perform better and then to identify what are the operational practices that result in the better performance.

Comparing the measurements is the means to the end.  The end is identifying (and replicating to the degree possible) those conditions that result in the good measurements.

Here some facility benchmarking programs that are available for specific industries (Disclaimer: since this post was written we have acquired Facility Issues who provides some of this benchmarking):

There are other privately run, topic-specific, and non-US programs as well, but some of those are more about the measures than the practices so do your due diligence.

Getting Value from Your Benchmarking

In March 1998, a colleague and I presented a case study on Cost Effective Benchmarking Methods for Facilities Management at a Tradeline Conference in San Diego, CA. This presentation was a summary of lessons learned from seven rounds of benchmarking attempts by my organization, in various programs, by various providers.  The presentation was well rated – I like to think it was because of our candor in sharing lessons learned but it may be been from amusement of how we managed to mess things up so many times.

Here are some suggestions for how to get the most out of your efforts:

Understand your agenda.  Benchmarking is an analytical process, and if approached with a wide-eyed open mind it can lead to some very interesting discussions. However, many organizations approach it either as a pure cost-cutting measure or with the goal of getting the best “score.”  Both of these approaches are using the metrics from the process to justify an answer they want.

Understand the data.  Since it all starts with comparing performance metrics, it is important that you are looking at useful metrics and like-to-like data.  Few people would confuse $/SF and $/SM, but many times maintenance cost/SF includes different activities and cost factors.  So be inquisitive when seeing significant differences in values to make sure that the cost that is 2/3 as much is not reflecting service provided 2/3 as often.

Understand what drives the performance (metrics).  Focus on the high performers, and in particular their practices and culture.  What do they do that you can copy?  How do they do it?  Why do they do it that way?  Why don’t you already do it that way – what is going to be an obstacle?

Understand that changes may not work as quickly or as smoothly as hoped.  Once you have identified the practices that are worth a try, use change management practices to apply them.  Work with stakeholders to explain the changes, the reason for the changes, make the changes, monitor, measure the benefits, and fine-tune the changes.  There is typically a lot of inertia in any system, including facilities management operations.

Stay the course.  Benchmarking is a continuous improvement process.  Many folks view it as a snapshot – how are they are doing right now – and then move on.  Some of the more interesting learning comes from trends you see is an ongoing program.  Was last year typical or unusual because of ___? When you changed your maintenance program, did you really see the projected savings of 10%?  The energy costs at building X have increased by 22% so we probably have a problem to investigate.  Plan to run your program several years to really gain insight into your operation.