This topic has received a lot of attention over the past months.  I think it is important to revisit it from time to time.  Please let me know your thoughts and where you stand with it.

Operations and Maintenance (O&M) is an all-encompassing topic.  The term is used so often and without much thought, I wonder how many FM professionals really understand what it means, what it entails, and (most importantly) how to bring value through O&M.  That’s exactly what this post will cover.  Everything contained here should be your building blocks to mastering O&M activities.

About a week after I started my first full-time facility manager job with the Army, I accompanied my boss on a trip to National Guard Bureau to get the lay of the land.  National Guard Bureau is who controls all of the money for federal facilities in each of the individual states for the National Guard. After being introduced to one particular program manager, she looked at me and asked, “Are you going to be focusing on O&M?”

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I ever so eloquently replied, “uhhhhhhh……,” with what I can only imagine was a look of complete befuddlement.

My boss chuckled and said, “Yes. He will be focusing on Operations and Maintenance.”

As you can imagine, this was not my proudest moment.

I love that story for several reasons.  First, it humbles me.  Whenever I think I’ve learned a lot, I remember that story and it reminds me I’ve always got an incredible amount left to learn.  Second, I can’t believe they hired me as a facility manager!  Not even knowing what O&M was, I must have been an amazing interviewer (kidding).  To be fair, there were only six applicants.  Still, it reminds me how far I’ve come and that you don’t need to know everything to become a facility manager.  Third, it’s a real story I use to illustrate how all FM professionals start with zero knowledge and build upon it.  It’s easy to get overwhelmed in this profession with the never-ending types of assets, systems, regulations, and processes.  That said, everyone should get a firm foundational knowledge of the basics before concerning themselves with any advanced applications.  Here are the basics of O&M.


What it Means

The National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that successfully brings together representatives of government, the professions, industry, labor and consumer interests, and regulatory agencies to focus on the identification and resolution of problems and potential problems that hamper the construction of safe, affordable structures for housing, commerce, and industry throughout the United States. [1] As a program of the NIBS, the Whole Building Design Guide (WBDG) provides information on building-related guidance, criteria, and technology to practitioners in government and the industry.

According to the WBDG, operations and maintenance typically includes the day-to-day activities necessary for the building and its systems and equipment to perform their intended function. Operations and maintenance are combined into the common term O&M because a facility cannot operate at peak efficiency without being maintained; therefore, the two are discussed as one.[2]  The term “operations” implies that the facility’s infrastructure creates the environment it was built to create.

Thus, the built environment fulfills its intended purpose.  The term “maintenance” implies that we service the infrastructure so that it operates consistently and safely, enabling the operations to continue.  Thus, the built environment sustains the ability to fulfill its intended purpose.


What it Entails

Maintenance activities consist of two types: planned and unplanned.  Planned maintenance is any maintenance activity with a scheduled process.  In each planned process, all associated costs, materials, and tools are available prior to beginning.  Unplanned maintenance covers all other maintenance activities.  Unplanned maintenance is typically the result of repairing a failed component or improving poor service quality.  In FM, you will never completely eliminate unplanned maintenance.  However, the goal should be to incorporate a comprehensive planned maintenance strategy.  This strategy will reduce and limit repairs that occur at your facility over time.  Planned maintenance falls into two categories: preventative (or preventive) and predictive.

Preventative maintenance (PM) is planned maintenance conducted regularly on equipment still in working condition.  The goal with PM is to prevent equipment from failing unexpectedly.

Examples of preventative maintenance include anything from replacing filters in HVAC systems to lubricating components of larger systems.  If you are not familiar with how to set up a preventative maintenance system and your facility does not have one, a good place to start is with O&M manuals for each piece of equipment you maintain.  These manuals include recommended maintenance schedules from the manufacturer.  If you can’t find the O&M manuals, try getting the model number from the equipment’s data plate and searching it on the internet.  Most O&M manuals are digitized and available online.  If that doesn’t work call the manufacturer.  They will be able to point you in the right direction.

Predictive Maintenance (PdM) is the use of technology to determine the current operating condition of in-service systems to predict when maintenance should be scheduled.

PdM can save costs over PM because maintenance is only performed when it is needed.  However, the cost of technology used to evaluate the conditions must be considered as well as the cost to train staff in its use.  PdM has been used synonymously with condition-based maintenance (CBM) in the industry.  PdM activities include thermal analysis/IR imaging, oil analysis, etc.and is planned based on need.

To better understand the difference in the two, consider the car you drive.  Most people stick with the manufacturer’s recommendations and get an oil change every 5,000 miles.  This is performing PM by changing the oil at scheduled intervals (regardless of if it needs it or not, because sooner or later it will).  If, however, someone was to draw a sample of their oil every so often and evaluate its condition prior to performing an oil change, they would be performing PdM.  This is because they would only change the oil when required (regardless of the number of miles driven).


How to Be Effective in Bringing Value

Effectiveness in O&M brings a huge amount of value to your organization.  Maintenance strategies that alleviate threats to ongoing operations and prevent unnecessary repairs and replacements are key.  While we will talk in-depth on unplanned maintenance in later articles, getting rid of unnecessary down-time and expenses is how we build value through O&M.  As a facility manager, you will plan O&M strategies for both hard services and soft services.

Hard services are those for the fixed asset systems of the facility that cannot be removed or separated from it. These systems include utilities, HVAC systems, the building envelope, etc. Soft services are those that satisfy the needs of the occupants. These are things like housekeeping, waste management, pest control, security, and emergency preparedness.

To be clear, effectiveness is achieved through mastery of O&M processes.  There is no quick recipe for success.  You learn what to do, you implement a plan, and you master it.  As I write more articles, we will get increasingly specific on exactly how to develop this knowledge and implement the best plans for your O&M strategy.  If you can’t wait, however, I’ve laid out the first three things all facility managers should do when they get hired here: https://learningfm.com/facility-managers-must-do/.

Thanks so much for reading!  Please leave any feedback or comments below on how you learned O&M and what it means to you.  I can also always be reached at dan@learningfm.com.  Until next time…

[1] National Institute of Building Sciences. 2016. Accessed February 23, 2017. https://www.nibs.org/.

[2] Don Sapp. “Facilities Operation and Maintenance.” WBDG. October, 3, 2016. Accessed February 23, 2017. https://www.wbdg.org/facilities-operations-maintenance

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