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Mixed models: A bad bet or a pocket pair?

September 19, 2010
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Many people do not like change, especially cleaners who have wor-ked at one facility for many years.

With the recent and fast-growing trend of outsourcing duties that have traditionally been performed in-house, both building service contractors (BSCs) and in-house facility managers may think they are taking a gamble by trying something new.

Contractors — whether new management figures, full-time workers, or specialists — stepping in on in-house turf could be seen by some employees as a threat to their job security, but working hand-in-hand can produce a positive outcome.

Two pair

In March, City of Chicago officials hired private firm Scrub, Inc. to clean and maintain two terminals at O''Hare International Airport, slashing 220 in-house jobs.

Early last year, officials considered eliminating all 293 custodial positions at O''Hare, but decided to keep existing custodians in one of the three terminals.

This was done to compare in-house productivity rates against privatized custodians, to determine which group performs better.

Since the inception of the three-year, $26.6 million contract, John Teele, Deputy Commissioner for Facilities, Chicago Airport System, said that the attendance of in-house workers has increased significantly.

According to Teele, the Commissioner of Aviation thought that by creating a competition between in-house employees and BSC workers, attendance and overall performance would improve, and the commissioner''s hunch was right on the money.

Airport tenants — primarily the airlines — are largely satisfied with the cleanliness of the facilities, Teele said.

No time to bluff

So how can other facilities that may be in similar situations implement a mixed model?

Teele said that first, many variables need to be factored into a decision to outsource.

This may include:

  • Cost savings
  • The need for specialized work (i.e., marble floor care, window cleaning, etc.)
  • Excessive accident rates, creating a need for highly-trained professionals
  • The need to increase productivity
  • High absenteeism, leading to inefficient performance

Once O''Hare''s variables were weighed and measured, Teele said that officials developed a detailed specification and competitively bid the document through advertising.

Eleven companies submitted bids, and the City of Chicago selected Scrub Inc., the lowest bidder.

Although low cost is appealing, David Frank, an industry consultant for Highlands Ranch, CO-based KnowledgeWorx said that the primary reason in-house operations consider contracting is cost, but warns that you get what you pay for.

Know the odds

Frank advised that in-house managers do their homework: Don''t just buy on price alone because that is exactly what you will get — a low price.

Research is an important tool in finding a BSC, according to Frank. Define the needs and wants at your facility, and pick a reputable company.

Ask questions; don''t just award a contract to the lowest bidder.

Ask about tasks, frequency, labor and supplies.

Cleaning is a business and needs to be conducted as a business, Frank said, adding that BSCs need to hold a level of professionalism that is suitable for your work environment.

Frank also suggested using BSC "re-port cards" or a quality assurance program to effectively communicate satisfaction and where improvement is needed.

Four of a kind

According to Alan S. Bigger, director of Building Services, University of Notre Dame, these are the four most popular, basic models of outsourced services:

  1. All services are outsourced
  2. Specialized services are outsourced; general duties are performed by in-house workers
  3. Only management is outsourced
  4. Management is in-house; cleaners are outsourced

What drives outsourcing, Bigger said, is that monetary resources are being cut in a number of facilities, and keeping duties in-house becomes too expensive for the organization''s budget.

Bigger believes that the best way to determine if outsourcing is the better way to go is to complete a trial time (similar to what O''Hare has done) with the same variables in both instances.

Compare the costs, productivity, quality, satisfaction and results to that of in-house performance, and your decision should be easier. (See Facility Focus, p.41, for a related story on this topic)

Take the pot

Whether or not your facility decides to contract out all or some of traditionally in-house work, it can be a win/win situation for both in-house workers and BSCs.

Take window cleaning for example. According to Bigger, many facilities — including Notre Dame — contract out window cleaning, due to the high liability of the task.

This is a win for in-house operations because it is one less task to worry about, and it keeps insurance costs down.

For the contractor, this is a window of opportunity (pun intended) to grasp how an operation works, and to detect other tasks the facility may need done, according to Bigger.

Present your case contractors; it could lead to new and profitable opportunities.

Nicole Bruno, associate editor, assisted in the research for this article.

Recent Articles by Kris Ross, associate editor

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