By Jay Pearlman
Many facilities management professionals find themselves struggling daily in the competition to secure funds for maintenance projects. Against the more highly visible funding needs for financial aid and faculty salaries, facilities’ needs often comes in a distant third when it comes time to prioritize the allocation of finite funds.
Today, facilities managers must add to their list of responsibilities the task of making the case for funding for critical maintenance tasks and improvements. Fortunately, the right tools for communicating this need to financial decision makers are readily at hand.
The Challenges Facing Facilities Funding
The biggest challenge that facilities managers face in diverting funds to neglected maintenance tasks is making the clearly articulated case for the maintenance that needs to be performed. It’s a significant challenge, to be sure. Some of the more common roadblocks to successfully securing funding include:
- Unattended maintenance backlog: When maintenance budgets fall short every year, the accumulating backlog requires even steeper investments. Yet each ensuing year without the necessary capital investments facility managers are faced with not only attempting due—and overdue—maintenance but also stemming the tide of more significant improvements. Growing backlogs combined with shrinking budgets equal significant problems.
- Explaining the real problem: While maintenance problems grow, the time key decision makers have available to discuss solutions is more likely to remain limited. However, many facilities managers are challenged in clearly and succinctly communicating the complexities they face and the critical need to for capital investment in terms that will motivate financial decision makers.
- Lack of metrics and data: To make the most compelling case for capital, facilities managers are best served by letting hard data speak for them. But without access to data that clearly expresses how facilities compare across a campus or to competitors, it’s significantly more difficult to make a clear case for change.
Fortunately, by understanding these challenges, facilities managers can find the solutions they need. To successfully get the funds they need to address the growing maintenance backlog, facilities managers can turn to a combination of the following elements:
- Relevant data.
- Clear and direct communication.
- The ability to provide a clearly prioritized maintenance assessment.
For facility managers who are more familiar with the boiler room than the boardroom, lobbying for funding may seem a far steeper challenge than performing maintenance on a growing backlog. In truth, however, facilities managers typically have all of the information they need to make their case. They may simply need help in presenting their case in a way that most convincingly makes their argument.
Three Steps for Making the Case for Maintenance Funding
To successfully address the backlog in building maintenance, facilities managers can take the following three steps:
- Identify and analyze all relevant data.
It’s impossible to communicate the need for funding without a clear understanding of the current maintenance situation. A good starting point is to perform a thorough assessment of capital and space as well as operational need. Consider not only the current backlog, but the potential impact of continuing on the current funding path versus investing in the needed improvements now.
To best communicate this information, it’s important to have the right data on hand. It also can help to look beyond your own campus. By presenting validated benchmarking data, facilities managers can demonstrate how their facilities compare to similar buildings on competitive campuses.
- Rank deferred maintenance projects in order of priority.
Institutions don’t create a maintenance backlog in a single year, so it’s unrealistic to think this problem can be corrected in a single budget cycle. Keep in mind, too, that the budget must fund not only the backlog but also routine scheduled maintenance.
To be certain of attending to the most critical needs first, it’s important to apply the data gathered in the previous step toward creating a prioritized list of projects. By tying the top prioritized goals to the institution’s mission, facilities managers can not only strengthen their argument but also position themselves as thought leaders with the C-suite. This step can assist in gaining an open audience when it comes time to address backlog.
- Communicate both the risks and rewards of deferred maintenance choices.
It’s important to express to campus executives not only the benefits of funding deferred maintenance, but also the potential consequences if they don’t. To ensure success, facilities managers have to be able to explain the need for maintenance funding in a way that non-facilities experts can readily understand. To this end, it is best to limit the technical jargon, focus on hard data, and learn the financial vocabulary that carries weight with key decision-makers.
A New Role for Facilities Managers
The facility manager’s role is no longer limited to applying funds provided to them by the institution. The competition for funding is simply too fierce, and too often facility maintenance is left to do more with fewer resources. But facilities do play a critical role in furthering an institution’s mission and today it falls to facilities managers to express the importance for funding facilities maintenance and improvements. Through clear communication of strong data, this new duty can be easily performed.
Associate Vice President, Marketing
Jay has been with Sightlines since its inception in 2000. Over those years, he has played a variety of roles across the company, including those in operations, business development, quality control, and product development. As a key member of a new firm, Jay played a leading part in the development of the Return on Physical Assets Process, Sightlines’ member website, and the tools used to provide comparative benchmarking and analysis. Aside from his work on Sightlines facilities offerings, he led the successful development and implementation of both Go Green and Housing Measurement, Benchmarking and Analysis services. Jay continues to lead several key member engagements each year.