The roof over your head is an asset. Not only does it have a value, a life cycle and a function, but it also performs a vital service 24 hours a day, every day of the year. At the end of its useful life, it has a disposal cost. A roof's value lasts longer than a few quarters; it should be expected to hold value for decades.

Nevertheless, roofs often are treated as nothing more than an annoying expense, or worse, a "get-to-it-later" type of responsibility. And when they eventually fail or leak, they're often inadequately replaced or quickly patched until funds are available to "do something" about them.

It's no wonder businesses are reluctant to spend money on their roofs. Assets are supposed to produce more than they consume. How can a roof be considered a positive cash flow item when it merely depreciates? The analysis is tricky: It's based on a comparison between a roof that's been properly designed, tested, installed and maintained, and one that's been selected and installed solely on the basis of lowest first cost.

The solution requires taking a strategic, long-term approach to roofing expenditures and forming a working alliance with a vendor that minimizes problems and keeps costs in check.

Partnering with the right vendor Many companies -- from private enterprises to Fortune 500 industry leaders -- are doing an about-face on strategic partnerships. These partnerships are being used to achieve lower first costs, while also assuring that their facilities remain intact and capable of meeting future needs. Perhaps the greatest reason for this shift is due to increasing concern about contractor-related problems.

According to Norwood, Mass.-based Factory Mutual, the world leader in property-loss prevention, engineering, research and training, "Property losses caused by contractors are becoming quite alarming in terms of number and cost. In fact, the research organization's property loss studies reveal that contractors caused building owners more than 1,100 losses (incidents) totaling more than $700 million for the 10-year period from 1987 to 1997."

The reason most commonly cited by Factory Mutual: "Contractors are an inherent risk. They are less familiar with a facility and often know little about a company's requirements -- unless management tells them and enforces compliance."

Know what you're getting Companies can minimize risks and control exposure to the contractor problem by choosing a strategic partner that offers true "single-source" reliability and accountability. However, not all roofing companies that claim to offer these solutions can be viewed the same. Even some of the most recognizable names in the industry use independent contractors for installation of their roofing products, and often another entity gets involved in the long-term maintenance and warranting of the installed roof.

While more and more companies make the claim of being a single-source provider, in reality, few companies integrate system manufacturing, distribution, installation and warranting all within the control and operations of a single, cohesive company. That orchestrated advantage is what the single-source concept represents.

Single source means handling all four key elements of a roof's life cycle. Think of it like the graphic that appears on the top right of the following page :

Systems manufacturing, materials distribution, expert installation and permanent centralized service -- all emanating from a financially strong central corporate entity. The single-source concept symbolizes a logical, unified approach to your roof that results in exceptional efficiencies, as well as the financial strength, confidence and control you seek in a roofing partner.

Maximize life cycle, minimize headaches and expenses There are certain roles all competent roofing vendors should be able to supply, such as prompt responses to routine service calls and the capacity to perform quickly and effectively in response to a disaster call. By forming a true strategic alliance, businesses are realizing the difference between companies that say they offer single-source services and companies that can truly deliver on that commitment.

It is important to acknowledge the savings a consistent, long-term roof management program offers your business. It's equally important to see that forming a roof management alliance can help your company maximize its roof's life cycle and minimize total roofing expenditures. Today, the consistent, coordinated attention that a strategic, single-source roofing partner supplies can provide cost-effective solutions -- and considerable peace of mind -- throughout your roof's life.