Discover strategies in facility management outsourcing.

Why is there less and less time in your day? (Don't tell me your day hasn't been shortened by the rise of electronic marketplaces, virtual storefronts, desktop analysis applications, customer relationship management techniques, network convergence, and web enablement?)

Seriously, doesn't anyone feel a little over "information-managed"? Haven't we moved as far away from "MBWA" (Management By Walking Around) as a business community possibly could?

We e-mail, teleconference and voice mail. Continuously, we're interrupted at previously essential moments of truth by vibrating pagers and ringing cell phones. The rest of the time, it seems, we're incessantly redesigning and reengineering, booting up our laptop presentations, accessing information on personal digital assistants, and the like.

We claim that the rationale behind all these programs, processes, and progressions is customer- and market-driven need. Sounds logical. Certainly what customers want today has changed so significantly that we must keep up with the latest developments to stay in the game.

Let's look at some consumer attitudes revealed by a recent retail industry survey. The survey found that "clean neat stores," "courteous, friendly employees," "low prices" and "convenient locations" are the major reasons consumers select a store. This reflects a new archetype? Not unless we just time-warped back to the 1950s. Hold on, though, I did get home from work yesterday and see my son riding a scooter down the street. He called it a "razor." I just nodded.

This perspective is not meant to denigrate technology or innovation. I would simply suggest that with all the challenges facing professionals in our related industries that we would, whenever possible, summon up the straightforward, tried-and-true management techniques that helped shape the corporations we now strive to perfect.

How can you then evaluate the so-called "advancements" in an area such as facility maintenance? Why not move away from all the jargon and focus on the basic building blocks of the activities and services in question?

My first suggestion is to take outsourcing vendors up on their offers to visit current customer facilities, call center locations and technology headquarters. Don't let the sales pitch dictate your response. Don't listen only to features. Go look, ask, inquire, and demand to see the benefits current customers are receiving.

Next is to thoroughly evaluate how well the vendor really communicates, no matter what the level of technology. Demand to see and hear the examples of daily quality assurance communication, problem solving, conflict resolution, and employee management and supervision. Meet and interview staff at all levels in the environments in which they work. These individuals are performing fundamental services. Can you imagine them performing those services for your facilities?

Continue the evaluation process by having the potential vendors outline the needs assessment tools and strategies that they would suggest for your facility. Have them perform such an assessment on a model facility. Can their strategies actually uncover the critical need areas? Do they have the expertise and human resources to perform within time constraints and cost profiles?

By now you will begin to develop a reasonable assessment of the vendor's corporate personality and principles. This is crucial. The most effective relationships are those born of honest communication and realistic expectations. Is this a vendor that maintains long-term relationships with its customers? Does this vendor consistently meet expectations on all deliverables? Does its corporate philosophy fit with your organization?

You're now selecting vendors based on their performance and taking advantage of technology and innovation only when affordable and necessary. If you're diligent, you'll soon be managing by walking around. For now, though, I really have to go because my voice recognition software on my palm computer just fatally crashed, and the power surge will prohibit the server from synchronizing tonight. I also made the mistake of linking the server timers to our company's primary coffee machine. Next month I'm getting redundant workflow automation for sure!

By adding Fort Lee, N.J.-based Toys `R' Us, and Cincinnati-based Federated Department Stores Inc. to its roster of clients, Service Resources Inc. (SRI) is quietly making a name for itself. Those companies have joined more than 70 others making SRI one of Dun & Broadstreet's "Hot 100" fastest-growing new businesses in the United States.

Robert Dickhaus, president of Atlanta-based SRI, started the company in 1997. Since then, the company has quickly become one of the nation's leading integrated facility management providers, currently managing more than 194 million sq. ft. of commercial real estate, 80% of which is retail related. By the end of this year, SRI plans to have a total of more than 400 million sq. ft. of commercial real estate in its portfolio. SRI has 84 geographic zones, which are divided into eight areas in three regions nationwide.

"We are a different type of facility management company," says Dickhaus. "Our goal is to help lower costs for retailers and to apply modern technology to automate and streamline the process."

SRI is able to save clients money by negotiating and securing all natural gas and electricity contracts for its retail clients. It monitors total energy usage and expenditures and centralizes the payment of utility invoices by providing national strategic recommendations for energy efficiency. SRI also manages janitorial and waste management services.

Those efforts are made more efficient by SRI's National Operations Center (NOC) in Greenville, S.C., where retail clients can report any problems they might be experiencing. Using two-way pagers, SRI technicians can receive service orders and notify the NOC upon a job's completion. The efficiencies gained allow SRI to provide round-the-clock service for its clients nationwide.

SRI's future appears bright. Dickhaus says SRI does plan to go public, although he is not sure when. He adds that SRI would like to eventually partner with shopping center developers such as The Mills Corp. or Simon Property Group.