Internet Link to Hines' Best Practices
The real estate giant identifies the most powerful ways to improve performance from properties around the world and uses its corporate intranet to share them
Best practices has become a popular business buzzword and is gaining favor in commercial real estate management. But how can true best practices be identified? Equally important, how can those practices be shared in a large organization?
One answer to those questions can be found in the Hines’ best practices program for operations and engineering. This innovative program was developed and refined over a three-year period by an internal team, including key members of corporate operations and engineering services, information technology, and corporate communications.
Today, when Hines managers want to find information on practical ways to improve building operations, they can easily find a range of useful resources, including scores of approved best practices from employees in locations spanning the globe.
The entire effort began with an annual tenant survey conducted by an independent organization. Satisfaction scores given by tenants rating their experience with Hines management services had stabilized for several years at a nationwide level of 90 percent. While this was a great vote of appreciation by tenants, the next challenge was to move more tenants toward being “completely satisfied.” Finding ways to do just that was the goal of a workshop held in February 2000. The workshop pulled together more than 20 property and engineering managers whose property teams received the highest-scoring tenant feedback within their regions.
The majority of workshop participants agreed that one of the most important ways to boost satisfaction ratings was a best practices program. Such a program, which would enhance idea-sharing among building management staff, was envisioned as a new way to provide the highest and most consistent level of customer service for all Hines-operated properties. While the concept seemed relatively straightforward, establishing a system-wide best practices databank was a challenging task.
Defining and Collecting Best Practices
One of the first hurdles was to better understand the concept of a best practice. The term is inherently positive, yet ambiguous, so it was essential to agree upon a definition that would be consistently understood. Once clearly stated, this definition would be instrumental in determining the ideas that have merit enough to be added to the collection of best practices.
For this program, a best practice was defined as “a documented tactic, strategy, process, new technique or technology producing superior performance that is readily adaptable to other Hines offices or properties.” Furthermore, every best practice must meet at least one of the following criteria:
- address people issues: training, team-building, motivation and employee morale
- enhance information-sharing and communication
- improve a process or operation that will reduce risk, costs or time.
Each best practice submission must pass an initial review at the regional level to confirm that it meets the defined requirements. The next step is a review by the best practices committee, which is balanced between facility/property management and engineering operations from each Hines region. Submissions follow a standard format, which includes a brief description of the implementation of the practice, its components and benefits. A majority vote of the committee decides if a practice will be added to the database.
The entire review and posting process is managed through an electronic routing system using workflow controls within the database. The system automatically logs all activity, such as what documents were assigned for group review, how long it took to process each action, and where items were routed. E-mail notification is sent to appropriate committee members during each stage of the process to alert them when a proposed best practice has arrived for review and to remind them periodically of work to be completed. The system monitors all workflows in progress and interprets the results upon completion of each step.
Managing the Database
Best practices in the Hines database are categorized by type within the operations and engineering disciplines and include forms and worksheets, tenant relations programs, communications procedures, equipment testing applications, custom-designed tools, and numerous performance and benchmarking applications. Developers of best practices are encouraged to provide electronic media attachments to the practice description to fully communicate how their procedure actually functions in their building. Electronic files associated with each best practice are maintained on the database for reference. Supporting material may include digital photographs, illustrations, diagrams and other graphic representations to give others a clearer understanding of how to apply the concept and adapt it to a particular situation.
Standards, methods and performance measurements deemed as best practices have been identified from properties throughout the world, representing much of the more than 80 million square feet Hines currently manages.
For example, an Arizona property manager provided a cleaning inspection checklist, now used by other managers to ensure consistent examination of building common areas and tenant spaces. From Boston came a career brief used for recruiting new employees. A San Francisco property shared a successful tenant relations program.
A contribution from Chicago described how to set up specialty toolboxes with job-specific checklists. An Atlanta management team explained how it improved tenant communication using lobby literature stands. Engineers in Seattle developed a management template for hazardous waste compliance, while their counterparts in China provided specifications for improved equipment drains.
Any database must maintain effective organization of data to ensure efficient retrieval of information. Initially, the corporate e-mail system was used to send documents to the committee for review. Committee members e-mailed comments and voted using advanced communication management features of the system. Approved practices were then posted on an application server database. Despite the inherent drawbacks of this system of communication, the pilot program was successfully launched in 2001.
Two years later, compelling business reasons made development of the Hines corporate intranet a practical reality. The information technology division incorporated the best practices program into a new document management system and developed a fully Web-enabled process supported on the corporate intranet.
Best Practices on the Web
The best practices program engine was custom-written by Hines IT using Java technology and built on a BEA Systems WebLogic platform as the application server. On the Web-based back end, the Documentum enterprise content management platform from EMC Corp. controls the management and powers deployment of an ever-growing online storehouse of documents, file attachments and best practice submittal forms. The decision to develop a custom package, rather than using an off-the-shelf application, was driven by the specific business requirements of the best practices program. Existing commercial software could not accommodate the high degree of customization and flexibility required for the program.
The communication sequence of best practice development, submittal, review, approval and posting operates using e-mail workflow functionality kicked off by Documentum and integrated into the corporate intranet. Authentication of user access permission is required through Microsoft Active Directory to maintain a secure environment.
The overall development process could be characterized as moderately challenging from an IT perspective, primarily because the searchable database was constructed using Documentum, a technology that was initially unfamiliar to the internal IT group. Other than having to come up to speed with this new technology, the program was put together following standard development methodology. A detailed blueprint of the program business requirements was provided by corporate operations and engineering services. This process map was then used to develop the technical requirements from which the entire Web-based framework was built.
The Best of the Best
Not every proposed practice is able to pass the scrutiny of the review committee. Joe Routh, a Hines engineer for more than 20 years, devised an overhead trolley system secured above air handling units to support the weight of heavy motors when removed during servicing. This design allows such unwieldy parts to be more easily handled. Although this invention served its intended purpose well in the locations where Routh had installed it, the best practices committee debated concerns that such a system could fail if improperly installed. Because of potential safety issues, the submission could not be endorsed for company-wide application.
Undaunted, Routh joined other members of the Two Shell Plaza engineering team in Houston to submit an effective plumbing design for routing condensate and overflow drains from tenant equipment into a common hub drain on each floor of the building. This idea was quickly approved by the committee and earned a team trophy for the group.
A popular feature of the program is the personal recognition given to each employee who develops an approved best practice. A letter from the best practices committee along with a customized gift of appreciation is presented to best practice developers to acknowledge their individual contributions to the program.
The Hines best practices program has been successful in building channels through which ideas are shared at an ever-increasing rate. And with these creative ideas come both the inspiration and practical guidance to improve many of the methods used to manage building operations.
The best practices program has been well-received by Hines senior management. “This new program will enhance communication and sharing of successful business practices developed by Hines employees to improve our products and the services we deliver to our clients, tenants, properties and employees,” says Jeffrey Hines, president. The ultimate result will be increased tenant satisfaction — which is where it all began.
Don Emerson is a senior manager with Hines Interests in Houston, Texas. The Hines portfolio consists of more than 700 properties completed or under construction.
Proposed BACnet changes specify web services
Web services could simplify access to building energy and performance data, thanks to proposed changes to BACnet, the standard data communication protocol for building automation and control networks.
The proposed changes, contained in an addendum to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning's BACnet standard, specifies the use of Web services to provide a means to integrate building automation and control systems with other enterprise computing applications.
Web services provide for computer-to-computer applications many of the advantages that the Web provides for human-to-computer information access, according to Bill Swan, BACnet committee chair.
Potential uses of the technology include simplifying access to building energy and performance data for inclusion in spreadsheets and other management reports; accessing equipment run-time data for use by maintenance management systems; allowing tenant control of space temperature setpoints; coupling of room scheduling with ventilation and comfort control; and many more.
The effect of the proposed changes is to provide a set of generic Web services that can potentially interface to any building automation protocol as well as to describe exactly how this interface would work with underlying BACnet systems.