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Mon 1 Jan 2007 06:42 PM

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Careful cleaning

Cleaning was one of the first soft services to be out-sourced to FM companies. But what are the deciding factors when choosing a cleaning contractor? FM Middle East reports.

Most people now accept that the business case for outsourcing cannot be disputed. According to a study of 786 facility managers by the International Facility Management Association, in-house cleaning costs are around 25% higher than using a contract cleaning service.

What is important though, and what will determine whether the whole outsourcing process is a success is, one, you need to know why you are outsourcing and two, you need to make sure you get the process right.

Zanda Zeitbote, soft services manager, EMCOR Facilities Services says getting the process right relies on a number of factors. Starting with the client giving the prospective contractors a clear ‘scope of works.'

"This exercise should be carried out well in advance of the expiry date of the current contract or when thinking of outsourcing for the first time, to ensure that the contractor and the client have a clear well structured idea of exactly what the contract will involve."

Most contractors specialise in one type of facility and Zeibote believes the client can improve its chances by selecting a contractor that cleans similar properties.

"Also, a contractor may not be comfortable telling you if the property is too large or too small for them, so ask directly if the size of the job is right.Many contractors only clean office buildings, so their whole focus is on night work. For daytime cleaning, such as apartment buildings, they simply may not have the manpower or supervision available."

Zeibote also believes that it is essential you take the time to meet each prospective contractor personally to determine if you can establish a good working relationship with them. "The personal chemistry is important," she says.

Other factors that you may want to consider include: how easy it is to communicate and interact with the contractor. The strength and experience of their senior managers and supervisors; their training programs and staff development initiatives; their cleaning methods and their attitude to technology over manpower issues and finally, but importantly, their health and safety policy.

There are a number of reasons why companies choose to outsource their cleaning. However, what is important for one company may not be as important for another and therefore senior management must prioritise these factors. For instance, is cost more important than efficiency? Are scalability and flexibility overriding issues?

Stuart Thomas, director of Gresco Facilities Management, identifies five reasons why outsourcing cleaning services is preferable to keeping them in-house:

• Economies of scale. Large cleaning contractors have superior buying power and therefore cleaning products and equipment will probably be cheaper. This will reduce buying costs. Also, if you need to increase the cleaning for a short period of time, you can do this by calling the contractor instead of having to go through the hassle of the recruitment process;

• Cost. As already established, outsourcing can cut costs by around 25%. When appointing a contractor and signing the contract, you are given a price up front and guaranteed a set cost. If there are any additional costs throughout the year, it is the contractor's responsibility to deal with these. Also, costs like staff accommodation and training are something you will not have to incur;

• Efficiency. Cleaning contractors are dealing with the same service day-in, day-out. Their years of experience allow them to run the outsourced service more efficiently and effectively;

• Saves management time internally. Outsourcing the services means managers can concentrate on other areas of the business. As long as KPIs (key performance indicators) and SLAs (service level agreements) are in place for the cleaning contractor to adhere to, the contract should take the ‘headache' out of you having to deal with multiple paychecks, training, liability etc. Plus, cleaning contractors are always keeping an eye on the latest products, equipment and methods to hit the market so you don't have to;

• Monitoring. Again, with one contract to manage, it is easier to monitor the level at which your service is being provided by the cleaning contractor. They should be meeting KPIs and SLAs.

Traditionally, cleaning was either done in-house or outsourced as a single service. Today, the Middle East is seeing the job being outsourced as part of an Integrated Facilities Management (IFM) approach.

Even though the Middle East is wise to these cost savings, the mentality and mind-set companies have adopted when thinking about outsourcing - cheapest is best - is still causing many problems. Thomas echoes this statement.

"There is currently a prevalence to ‘go for cheap' and in the long term it will lead to poorer results."

Zeibote agrees with Thomas and says: "There's a quick way to do things and there's the best way. Do not look for the cheapest option.

"Look for excellent value more in terms of achieving the high quality results you require. The cleaning contractor's price structure should be cost effective."

Whether it's cleaning the floors, walls, toilets, windows (internal and external) or kitchen areas, to name but a few, it's important to remember that keeping the interior and exterior clean is one factor that adds to the sustainability, image, appearance and value of the building.

True, there are many cleaning contractors in the region who can offer the sort of services you require for your facility.But the general consensus is that the client prefers their cleaning to be part of an integrated approach provided by the facility management company. Many companies offering IFM will then sub-contract certain service areas, of which cleaning is one.

Zeibote adds: "Do not look for just another cleaning contracto'. Choose the company who will provide a high quality service with additional benefits - pro-active management, improving reliability and quality of service while placing huge emphasis on customer care.

"One that will ensure that all your support and cleaning needs are dealt with efficiently and allied with comprehensive supervision, management and quality control structures means, they will deliver great service solutions too."

With the cleaning industry being perceived as a poorly skilled workforce and one that has an extremely high staff turnover, KPIs and SLAs are vital to measure performance. This enables the client to receive the level of service they require and the contractor to achieve a higher level of cleaning. Advancements in technology have improved the quality of cleaning and the speed at which it can now be done. It has also increased professionalism within the cleaning industry.

Mary Salamat, facility coordinator, Reliance FM, says that KPIs can include things like:

• The response time to emergency call-outs, for example, with a two hour timeframe;

• Recording and keeping a log of all reactive and planned maintenance;

• Making sure cleaning products and equipment are kept safe and secure;

• Staff are appropriately dressed. For day time cleaning this is highly important due to cleaning staff being in regular contact with the clients and their customers.

Zeibote adds that if the client can get answers to the following questions from the benchmarking of the contract, it is designed correctly and both parties will benefit:

• Am I getting the cleanliness I am paying for?

• How can I improve cleanliness performance and customer satisfaction with cleaning services?

• How can I help my contractor improve their operations to gain better performance?

• How do I rate in comparison to local and international benchmarks for performance?

• Should I re-bid my cleaning contract?

• What should I expect to pay for cleaning services, given the market today? Am I paying too much?

• Do I have too many (or too few) cleaning people?

Currently, many companies are complying with European legislation in order to control their services and ensure the health and safety of their employees.

This is all very commendable by the companies actually abiding by these laws, but the Government's in the Middle East need to start imposing standards in the region, forcing companies who don't enforce health and safety to abide by law and look after their workforce.

There are many reasons people outsource and what may work for one company, may not work for another.

Therefore, if you do want to outsource, look into the reasons why and find the right type of contractor that is suited to your requirements.

“In-house cleaning costs are around 25% higher than outsourcing”
“Do not look for the cheapest option, look for excellent value in terms of quality”
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