FEATURE MARKS TO PROVE IT Mike Boxall, Managing Director of Sitemark, the de facto standard for good

buildings, explores what benchmarking should really include and how facilities managers can benefit from it.

Benchmarking is misunderstood. Talk to consultants and they’ll usually tell you it’s about comparing the cost of services at one site with an industry average figure or standard. The reality is, this definition describes just one aspect of benchmarking and underplays its scope and potential for positive change, especially in the facilities management sector.

“The industry continues to

suffer from less than scrupulous procurement and a tendency

for businesses to win contracts at any cost.”

It’s hardly surprising that this view persists. Over the years, customer purchasing behaviour within FM – particularly within the public sector – has almost solely emphasised cost. Increasingly, we have seen an inability to differentiate between price and the standard of service being delivered, which in turn has led to thinning margins and a demand to manage figures so tightly that even basic provision is compromised.

As events over the past 18 months have shown, FM is particularly susceptible to this ‘race to the bottom’ practice. The industry continues to suffer from less than scrupulous procurement and a tendency for businesses to win contracts at any cost, even if that means operating on a zero-margin basis in the hope of winning more profitable work at a later date.

An ardent focus on cost not only damages the industry’s reputation and its ability to operate ethically but also compounds the ill-effects of commoditisation, which results in weaker brands, poorer standards and a barrier to best practice.

Moving beyond price Progress is being made on this issue. Last year, for example, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) published a professional statement to help reduce risk and increase transparency within FM procurement. This change aside, though, there is little else in the way of help for either organisations looking to elevate their service or customers that are trying to find the most appropriate service partner on a basis other than cost.


This is where a thorough best practice benchmarking process comes into its own. Analysis that not only looks at pricing but also issues like service standards and specifications, staff training, wages, and productivity will help to separate the organisations that ‘talk the talk’ from those that deliver consistently.

Good comparison, of course, only works on a ‘like-for-like’ approach. It makes little sense to compare standards and specifications between two different organisations when they ascribe to different bodies that will each have their own rules and regulations. A client, for example, might want a service partner with certain ‘green’ credentials, like zero to landfill waste management or a low carbon footprint. Without an agreed benchmark in place, it becomes very difficult to assess the effectiveness of these organisations and the value of the green accreditations they have been awarded. Uniformity is therefore required to cut through this noise and truly understand what’s happening beneath the surface.

The whole picture The benefits of best practice benchmarking, however, go well beyond helping the customer to understand who they’re dealing with. Service providers that understand their position in the market are better able to make improvements that have genuine lasting effect, which consequently helps to raise the standard of service across the entire industry. Those that understand how to add value beyond price will typically find themselves more competitive, particularly when bidding for work that emphasises less-quantifiable factors.

“Service providers that understand their position in the market are

better able to make improvements that have genuine lasting effect.”

These seldom measured factors are now growing in importance as the effects of the global financial crisis ease and customers start to look closer at what service they are getting for their money. While not yet commonplace, there is growing consensus that the cheapest option is not always best for a company’s overall output.

Indeed, customers that take seriously the connection between workplace, staff engagement and productivity are now looking for a more holistic view from their FM partners. They want to know how an organisation’s offering will help to achieve certain objectives, be it

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