School and facilities management– tips for the unsung heroes.

It’s all digital now isn’t it? Everything. You know, Artificial Intelligence, Virtual and Augmented Reality and the Internet of Things. Everything is done digitally now, right? Or maybe not…

The fact is that the memo about the digital revolution is still winding its way to most organisations including schools. For schools it might be something to do with the lack of money and competing priorities they have to deal with. Trying to do more with less isn’t easy.

In reality, smart technology isn’t quite ready to take over in schools just yet. A couple of recent conversations have underlined to me how, despite the advent of digital assistants, smart fridges and whatnot, some of the biggest gains – or savings – for school management teams can still be realised from the simplest of things.

One school business manager (SBM) told me:

A maintenance contract automatically renewed – even though we wanted to change provider – because we missed the notice-of-cancellation date. The supplier held us to the terms of the renewed contract, locking us in for another year of indifferent support at significant cost.’

 

I wasn’t surprised. It happens all the time. A finance manager at another school was tearing her hair out because the site team had:

‘started a service contract with a new provider without realising (or checking) that a previous contract was still running, resulting in increased costs’

(…not to mention some professional embarrassment).

How does this happen? It’s a familiar tale – too many plates spinning and not enough time. Add to this the fact that many SBMs, bursars and facilities managers, rely on a combination of desk diaries, white boards, personal email calendars (often not shared) and spread sheets to record this kind of information – assuming it’s recorded at all.

Of course, these tools can be highly effective, if you’re tracking small amounts of information, especially if the person doing the tracking has been doing it that way for years – ‘We’ve always done it this way.’ But, they do make it difficult to share and collaborate effectively and are completely dependent on a person remembering to regularly check for forthcoming significant dates – and knowing where to look. 

And what happens when a new SBM or bursar is appointed, or the incumbent is off sick? Who knows where to look then?

You’ve probably also heard of organisations that have needlessly incurred costs maintaining assets that should have been repaired or replaced under warranty or guarantee. The trouble is, keeping on top of all that information is simply too time consuming when there are so many other, more pressing tasks to take care of. So, almost inevitably mistakes or oversights creep in.

But it doesn’t have to be this way and some simple steps can avert the cost and embarrassment of missing key dates. Here’s a quick guide to getting on top of the important dates you want to track:

Contract Monitoring 

Contracts, insurances, leases and a host of other agreements can contain a variety of dates that need to be managed: 

  • Honeymoon or cooling-off periods
  • Discount or fixed-rate periods
  • Expiry dates
  • Notice of cancellation dates e.g. 30 days before expiry to avoid automatic renewal

Failure to monitor these dates effectively can lead to:

  • Important contracts lapsing unnoticed leaving your school exposed to significant risk – e.g. a lapsed maintenance contract or H&S inspection that doesn’t take place.
  • Being stuck with a supplier that you’ve decided is expensive, ineffective or incompetent.
  • Contracts renewing automatically without the opportunity to cancel, re-negotiate terms or identify an alternative supplier.
  • Higher than necessary costs because you missed the opportunity to test the market for better value.

Warranties & Guarantees

It’s the same with managing warranties and guarantees. As an asset owner, you don’t want to be – and shouldn’t be – paying for repairs or replacements if the assets in question are still under warranty or guarantee. But it’s easily done given the huge number of assets and associated paperwork to track.

So, to be clear, SBM’s, bursars and any other asset owners in a school, should be tracking:

  • Which assets have warranties/guarantees
  • The period of coverage
  • The cost of the warranty
  • The terms – what is included/excluded in the warranty/guarantee

This information should be easily accessible to anyone managing or working with those assets to ensure that the benefits of the warranty or guarantee are realised. It’s also worth remembering that warranties can often be extended, for a cost – especially if you can demonstrate that appropriate servicing has taken place (more record keeping!).

Top tips to cut your work and worry-load

Staying on top of all this information can be a chore, but as we’ve seen, the costs of failing to do so can be a lot worse. So, how can you simply and cost-effectively manage these important dates and details, and what key features should you look for?

  • Record your date-based information in a single location.
  • Make it accessible in a shared, collaborative environment so that multiple stakeholders can access it.
  • Upload key documents – scan them if necessary – so that they are easily accessible to authorised users.
  • Use software to help you by issuing timely reminders and alerts – even a basic calendar alert can suffice.
  • Manage events that have either a single date (e.g. an expiry date) or a duration associated with them.
  • Display your key contractual date information on a calendar for quick and easy viewing.
  • Allow authorised users to download a copy of relevant information to their own calendars.

The truth is that technology and software actually do have the power to transform your facilities and premises management role. But for now, getting these simple steps right will go a long way towards avoiding unnecessary expense and ensuring that you are in control of your school’s contracts.

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