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Site expert Susanne Wirag, Infraserv Höchst

Interview with site expert Susanne Wirag

Susanne Wirag, Sales Manager Strategic Business at Infraserv Höchst, explains why facility management has become such a complex strategic and operational management challenge that is best tackled by seasoned experts following a systematic approach.

Ms. Wirag, why has it become more important than ever to regularly assess whether your company’s facility management setup is still optimal?

Susanne Wirag: We live in complex and fast-moving times in which companies have to adapt to ongoing internal and external change. Customer requirements are always evolving, while new regulatory requirements are constantly changing the environment in which companies do business. Some of these change drivers are internal, including organizational shifts such as business acquisitions or relocations to new production sites in the same or a different country. Some are external, such as the development of new products and IT processes or technical progress in the market. In either case, things are happening in ever-shorter intervals. The changes affect the core business but ripple out to non-core, or secondary, processes, too. This is why it is good for companies to look at their core and non-core processes and then, when their core business changes, determine whether each secondary process still meets their requirements.

What is the best way to look for opportunities to optimize facility management?

Susanne Wirag: We now have plenty of multi-user sites in addition to the single-user locations. Either model can work efficiently and economically but only if it is evaluated and adjusted whenever changes take place.

We established what we call the “Site Excellence” model to analyze and subsequently optimize business processes in partnership with our customers. We visit them at their site and take a look at their current processes. Then, based on our experience as a professional service provider, we develop new ideas on how to perform processes more efficiently. We also incorporate best practices from other companies and suggest optimizations.

You’re no doubt taking a very structured approach.

Susanne Wirag: Structure is everything in facility management. The first step is to determine the starting point of our evaluation as well as our desired end point, including all the hurdles that have to be overcome along the way (Site Vision). Next, we develop a site-specific solution that factors in aspects such as costs, services, processes and personnel. Once that is done, we prepare to transition to regular operations and implement our cross-functional, success-driven FM process.

“The goal of our Site Excellence model is to form an enduring win-win partnership between the operator and the FM service provider.”

Site expert Susanne Wirag, Infraserv Höchst

What weaknesses does the evaluation turn up most often?

Susanne Wirag: The need for optimization varies widely among companies. For example, some firms don’t have a current written maintenance plan for their equipment because they have seasoned employees who have the maintenance cycles memorized. That can backfire, though, when these employees leave and take their knowledge with them. Companies can avoid this pitfall by writing down the maintenance strategies that they have developed. A formal maintenance plan is like a safety net that automatically reminds you of maintenance dates. All maintenance work can then be documented in the system, where all this data will remain for future audits. All these things are easy to do, too.

Many companies also don’t have a business continuity plan. It lays out how to handle critical situations in an emergency. It can simply be a document where employees can look up answers to key questions: What systems and processes are critical? What can I do myself in an emergency? Whom do I have to notify? Business continuity plans should define responsibilities and clear action strategies.

We also encounter well-prepared companies in which a separate department handles all the facility management work, all responsibilities are clearly defined, and every step is carefully documented. These companies usually have the relevant data and process descriptions for all their systems and contact people, too.

What special requirements do multi-user sites have?

Susanne Wirag: Multi-user sites contain several companies that each have their own set of requirements. If you are transitioning from a single-user to a multi-user site because your space requirements have increased or decreased, it will often make sense to hand off facility management to a neutral third party operator.

A change in tenant structure can significantly shift the fundamental conditions underlying the operation of the multi-user site. The tenants’ various requirements also raise questions about costs and responsibilities:

  • How much gas, water and electricity do the tenants need?
  • What fluids and chemicals are used at the site? Are special safety precautions or new disposal facilities and routes required?
  • Who pays for repairs of common facilities?
  • Compliance issues such as sustainability and renewable energy play a role here time and again.

All these individual factors add up to very complex overall requirements, which may be very specific and vary widely from site to site.

“When you operate a multi-user site, you have to address your tenants’ needs in addition to your own regular issues. That is the only way to develop an operator model that accommodates everyone.”

Site expert Susanne Wirag, Infraserv Höchst

What are the most common operator models used today?

Susanne Wirag: There are basically four different operator models:

Many medium-sized companies like to outsource secondary facility management processes to multiple – generally regional – service providers. It takes tremendous administrative effort to manage and coordinate all these suppliers. Responsibilities are often harder to delineate, too.

It is primarily smaller companies who entrust internal specialists and their own staff with facility management tasks. This is where it often becomes problematic to keep up with the rapid changes in the market, digital transformation and new regulatory requirements.

Some companies have recognized the advantages of bringing in an external service provider but still consider some aspects of facility management as core business processes. External suppliers who prove to be a good fit may be given additional work further down the road. In other words, modern-day facility management has to respond quickly and agilely to new customer requirements.

It has become very common for large companies to aggregate and hand off many of their FM tasks to a single service provider, preferably one with an international presence. The advantage is that the external FM specialist knows the processes at all the company’s locations, while the customer does not have to coordinate umpteen suppliers but has only one contact to handle all its needs.

How can operators make company-wide facility management even more efficient?

Susanne Wirag: It is important to choose a professional, experienced service provider who has established service delivery standards and follows them consistently at new locations. This includes organizational structures, the introduction of structured processes, employee training, state-of-the-art IT systems or certified quality management systems.

What other benefits come from transferring multiple FM activities to a single specialist?

Susanne Wirag: We see a lot of different things working with customers. For example, some companies have assigned facility management tasks to employees in different departments. These people mainly work on core processes and do the FM work on the side. However, the absence of central management means a complete lack of transparency into costs and similar factors.

A professional service provider provides assurances that its facility management system is fully compliant with all regulatory requirements in addition to being safe, efficient, transparent, highly structured and based on the latest technologies. In-house personnel no longer have to perform demanding FM tasks but can concentrate on their areas of expertise. The overall company allocates less bandwidth to non-core processes and frees up capacity for other concerns.

Another advantage: If you contract the same facility management provider for different company locations, you will have the same secondary processes everywhere. So if one employee is away, another can quickly step in because they already know the procedure. Sites become more comparable with one another, while facility management can be placed under full central control – from documentation and reporting to accounting. This can – under certain circumstances – eliminate the need to set up a separate organization at each site.

“Structured, multi-site facility management by an experienced service provider reduces the company’s administrative and management overhead while increasing safety, reliability and transparency.”

Site expert Susanne Wirag, Infraserv Höchst

How is the partnership between the company and the external facility management service provider organized?

Susanne Wirag: The customer always sets the strategy; the service provider executes it. However, it may take many different forms. Sometimes, the service provider strictly follows the customer’s specifications. In other cases, the company sees the service provider as a partner who not only provides services but draws on its experience to advise the customer and assume direct operator responsibility. It usually starts with one question: What services do your employees absolutely have to provide, and what services can you hand over to a service provider? By answering this question, customers essentially decide what belongs to their core business and what non-core processes they can delegate to external specialists.

Infraserv has extensive experience with customers in the chemical, pharmaceutical and process industries in various corporate structures, including a wide variety of hybrid models. Infraserv can support all business models with its profound cross-industry experience.

“Customers often specify a service package only to realize later that they need additional services. Infraserv has a broad enough portfolio to scale FM services as required – including selective or project-related extensions to the original service package, which customers often request. In addition to classic FM services, we also offer support in areas such as health, safety and environmental protection or assistance in optimizing energy consumption and disposal processes.”

Site expert Susanne Wirag, Infraserv Höchst

What are the disadvantages of simply letting your site operations slide for a while?

Susanne Wirag: We have seen many cases in which non-core processes unintentionally become more and more neglected in favor of the core business. Sometimes, FM is simply seen as a heavy financial burden. These companies run the risk of non-compliance with the latest regulations. They may also not know enough about their equipment’s condition and availability. In the best of cases, they may just fall behind on equipment investments; in the worst of cases, the equipment may break down entirely.

What factors make modern-day facility management more complex for providers than it was in the past?

Susanne Wirag: FM is still occasionally and almost disdainfully dismissed as a glorified janitorial service. That underestimates its complexity. Facility management is a true strategic and operational management activity that has to fit into the company’s processes and demands distinctive social, technical and methodological skills. Much of the job involves communicating with customers – not just fixed points of contact but many people across the company’s hierarchy. This requires providers to have some empathy for the company’s circumstances.

Facility management is also greatly affected by IT and digitalization innovations such as predictive maintenance, remote customer support and KPI reporting. FM managers have to understand, master and implement all of these functions while introducing the tasks to their teams. All that makes facility management extremely complex.

What are the current trends in facility management that involve multiple operating units? What operator models dominate the industry?

Susanne Wirag: As I mentioned earlier, large companies are already relying more and more on the services of experienced, internationally positioned FM specialists. Many small and medium-sized companies are not there yet, but there are also entire industries that are behind the curve. They are still doing things in-house or together with a gaggle of small regional service providers. However, the tide is shifting toward service providers who can take on entire portfolios of responsibilities with integrated service models that feature packages for hard and soft FM services.

Another up-and-coming trend is sustainability and green facility management with renewable energy. Customers are increasingly requesting the installation of sensors in order to reduce their energy consumption by intelligently controlling machines, lighting or air-conditioning units. Digitalization and the Internet of Things have generally accelerated the trend toward making processes more efficient, economical, demand-oriented and eco-friendly.

Many companies have also prioritized “New Work”, i.e. the design of new working environments. They want to replace individual or open-plan offices with new concepts that put employees’ health and well-being front and center.

Ms. Wirag, thank you very much for talking with us today!

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