Sending a Message

By Dan Hounsell  

The figure is startling, but only if you haven’t been paying attention. According to an Arizona school facilities official discussing his HVAC system maintenance in the state’s schools, “I would say that 70 percent of our problems out there are due to lack of maintenance, 20 percent is old age, and 10 percent would be design and construction errors.”

That’s right: Seventy percent of the schools’ HVAC system problems — and, most likely, 70 percent of the costs — are related to inadequate or improper maintenance. The official was further quoted as saying, “Overwhelmingly, what we saw was that the districts had no preventive maintenance programs and no understanding of the equipment.”

I spotlight these comments because they are especially revealing in the context of one of this month’s cover articles, “Tough Sell.” The article explores the age-old challenges facing maintenance and engineering managers trying to secure funding for their departments’ mission.

One overriding theme in the comments from managers is that because maintenance departments are not revenue generators for most organizations, they’ll never be at the top of facility executives’ priority list when budget time rolls around.

While that rationale might hold up most of the time, when it doesn’t hold up, the results can be disastrous. Short-sightedness in the form of failing to fund properly maintenance can disrupt facility operations and undermine otherwise well-intentioned financial decisions, as the comments of the Arizona school official demonstrate.

What does this mean for maintenance and engineering managers? Among other things, it means that in most organizations, because they understand maintenance needs the best, they are responsible for carrying the message that proper attention and funding for maintenance pays dividends.

Given the economic pressures surrounding institutional and commercial facilities these days — and given the largely out-of-sight, out-of-mind nature of maintenance — it is predictable that facility executives will focus their attention elsewhere.

The most successful managers will be those who persist in reminding facility executives and building owners that even relatively small but savvy investments in maintenance in the short term can help organizations avoid larger and more expensive problems over the long term.

No other messenger can be as effective.

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  posted on 7/1/2002   Article Use Policy

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