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Knowing You Knowing Me - the Secret to Great M&E

11 January 2016 | Updated 01 January 1970

An interview with Ian George-Purvey, Technical Director, Ocean, the integrated services company.

Mechanical and Electrical or as most of us know it in the industry - M&E - is the hard services, man or woman with tools and a van, get your hands dirty side of the FM business. But it would also be true to say it is the knowledge part of the business - where the man or woman in that van needs to know a lot about different systems to do his job. And where the backroom staff need to be able to provide technical back-up; spares; stock holding; service records; estimates on when something might fail; scheduling for planned visits; and route tracking and staff capability for emergencies - so that you send the right man or woman with the right skills in the shortest journey time. The list goes on but I think you get the picture.

Many of those in the FM sector have shied away from M&E - leaving it to sub-contractors while they focussed on the soft services such as cleaning, security and front of house. Others have acquired specialist M&E firms and  bolted them in and branded them up - there are successful examples...and those not so successful.

Others, such as national operator Ocean, did it the hard way by employing its own direct mobile regional M&E service teams. Ian George-Purvey joined Ocean in 2013 as Technical Director following a career spanning 30 years as a technical, mechanical and electrical engineer at Cunard, teaching hospitals and for the Land Securities estate. He has moulded the M&E side of what is a SME integrated FM business.

He told ThisWeekinFM: “There is never a dull day in my side of the business and you have to be able to work under pressure. M&E issues are in a different league to our soft services business - often when something goes wrong, it is mission critical to the client. Sorting out a dirty carpet or carpark litter as we do in our cleaning business doesn't have the same urgency - but like any good integrated FM company, we take the lessons learned in one part of the business and apply them to the others. So for example, someone reporting a broken boiler will use the same mechanisms to report that dirty carpet and we will agree an action and a response time. When something goes seriously wrong employees and visitors experience it, so we have to move fast and get one of our own mobile service engineers on site as soon as possible.”


The air con conundrum

George-Purvey believes that air conditioning always fails on the hottest day of the year and heating pumps on the coldest; lighting blows in winter evenings and store lifts break down during the Christmas shopping period.

To cope with the peaks, Ocean has its own national team of mobile M&E staff. Engineers are assigned to specific sites so they get to know the layouts, where the fuse board or boiler is located and can get on with a job immediately on arrival. George-Purvey said: "Some firms send the first available engineer or someone from a third party sub-contractor company with no knowledge of the site or it’s past service history. This frequently results in a delay and necessitates a second visit because the engineers do not have the right spares - this adds cost. A procurement person might think they are doing well to buy at £n per hour. What they don't realise is that it the job takes two or three visits to resolve, that potentially doubles or trebles to real price."


Right from the outset

“The most vital ingredient to our service offer is to listen to the brief, understand the business risks and the objectives of the customer and be in a position to deliver and support clients whenever required 24/7, 365 – that’s reality and why so many FM contractors don’t want to get into this arena,” continued George-Purvey.


Understanding the trade

M&E has to obey the same health and safety regulations, HR laws, insurance etc. as cleaning and other FM services.  There is however a raft of regulations and guidance notes that too often operations staff and in house managers do not understand. Said George-Purvey: “Our approach is very different to many in the M&E sphere. We not only look at the risks in the client’s site but in that specific industry.  For example one of our clients runs a data centre so we need a plan to cope with power failure and have a contingency back up ready to kick in.   For one of our supermarket clients we are working on an out of hours emergency power solution for freezers and chilled cabinets.”


Taking on risk management

Identifying hazards waiting to happen is an important task too. Recently a retail park client was heating a number of premises from one boiler. That may have been a cash saving initiative at the build stage but it had failed, several retailers would suffer. "We advised that investment needed to be made in buying at least one back-up system - or investment made in planned maintenance with emergency call-out cover," said George-Purvey.


Nobody knows

One big problem with M&E services is that most people take them for granted and presume that everything will work with little or no servicing," continued George-Purvey.   "There is often no back up support, power generator or other solution for emergencies. Due to the lack of attention paid to M&E very few people have basic information such as location of the heating pump or fuse board?

"Identifying client service level expectation is important too because you can put your top electrician on a call but if he does not know what the client perceives as service level, he may not deliver expectations."


The Great Outdoors

The Great Outdoors retail chain, regards the Ocean team as its facilitator of all things FM – Ocean acts as its eyes and ears – its trouble-shooter, advisor on looming issues or breakdowns and overall advisor on health and safety.  It has put a team of specialists on these issues as part of its M&E service package.

George-Purvey believes his mission is ‘to supply and maintain efficient plant and equipment that meets the requirements of the building space and to maintain it at the optimum level of performance'. "Once installed and running correctly, the contractor must organise a schedule of regular checks and service procedure to keep it operating efficiently and safely."


Lifecycle costing

Necessitated partly by legislation, the FM profession has brought M&E alive.  It is now recognised and discussed at board level. Clients understand the importance of preventative maintenance and regular checks.

Financial Directors are now accepting ‘lifecycle costing’ as they can see value in investing in the right equipment and regular service schedules, rather than the head in the sand approach which ends with an emergency breakdown team being called in at top hourly rates.

George-Purvey concluded: "Maintenance of hard services and keeping them in continuous working order is not difficult to appreciate.  It involves installing the right equipment to do the job, identify possibly causes of breakdown and finding ways of minimising them. It includes carrying out preventative maintenance, regular servicing and keeping spare parts on site ready for installation at short notice. Like many things, you appreciate them when they are made to look simple - the graceful swan with the legs going like the clappers below the surface.

Picture: Ian George-Purvey, Technical Director, Ocean, the integrated services company

Article written by Brian Shillibeer | Published 11 January 2016


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