NB Real Estate

By early 2007, NB Real Estate was actively looking, through its property operator subsidiary NB Entrust – a joint venture with asset management outsourcing specialist The Asset Factor, to establish a managed help desk and automated support infrastructure that could collect and correlate property information across the portfolio in real time. This would give building tenants a single, 24-hour point of contact for maintenance calls, call handling staff the ability to track job progress in real time, ensure that all stakeholders could operate from a common data and instruction set, and provide a resilient framework for performance management.

In order to re-engineer this complex Facilities Management (FM) delivery infrastructure, NB Entrust explored the development of a new model that would enable the delivery of vital management information to decision makers across the company and its clients, reducing the administrative burden on facilities and building managers, and helping service partners to streamline their interaction with the business.

With its software partner FSI, developer and supplier of the top flight CAFM (computer aided facilities management) platform Concept™, The Asset Factor created a hosted proposition to deliver the requirement to NB Entrust – branded as Asset OnCall – to be tightly integrated with a management model focused on a complete understanding of contract delivery in the investment property management sector.

Built around Concept's™ Help Desk, the model is based on the principle that clients have 24 hour access to a manned support service which, in turn, has the support of a comprehensive, integrated and fully automated management platform. Each call triggers a sequence of measurable events, ensuring that the right service partners are alerted to maintenance jobs as they arise and auditing progress until the job is complete, based on a common data and instruction set collated by Concept™ from relevant information systems.

Automating information delivery and management with this degree of granularity was a significant challenge for the joint development team, and marks the first time that Concept™ has been implemented across an environment of multi-tenanted buildings in this way.

The development curve was steep, explains Oliver Jones, Chief Executive at The Asset Factor:

"Consultants from FSI and The Asset Factor worked closely with NB Entrust business process analysts to model key decisions and capture the manner in which service requirements arise across the portfolio.

"There were around five months of joint development on the project, and that was partly down to the need to develop a whole new management set of protocols," says Oliver.

"We also had significant interface challenges;
NB Entrust has as its client, NB Real Estate who support their clients, the building owners, so access to all building information is through their systems.

"This is further complicated by the dynamic character of the various property portfolios. The investment and pension funds served by NB Real Estate trade their buildings, so the portfolios can change on a daily basis.  That meant that it was vital to have an accurate update feed from NB Real Estate's property management systems to ensure that Concept™ was always up to date with the latest buildings bought and sold. There is a real time requirement to deal with high transactional values."

"We spent a lot of time working with the client to see how to integrate Concept™ with their systems at the most appropriate level," explains Matthew Punshon, who led the mobilisation project and is Chief Operating Officer at The Asset Factor. "Data integrity is vital. We have a single platform, but the clients have myriad of systems and some of them insist that we have to work with their own platforms. We had to find a way to flag up new property information when it is uploaded to our platform at midnight, so that we and the client's systems are reading the same information."

Matthew says the high quality of software engineering from FSI in addressing these challenges was an essential aspect of the project's success. "From Asset OnCall's perspective, The Asset Factor and FSI have been so closely integrated that you can virtually read one for the other," he says. "Often with software vendors, they are simply required to set it up and walk away. It might work or it might not, and the requirements will almost certainly change. The real benefit of this approach is that the system doesn't work unless it works for all of us. We're all integral to it."

As Matthew explains, "There are two main call criteria: planned maintenance and reactive maintenance. Each is commonly managed by service level agreements (SLAs). Reactive requirements are often, by definition, more complex and may depend on responses from several service partners. For example, if a call about water pouring through the ceiling comes in, it is assigned to a set of predefined conditions and measurement of the response begins, from the initial fix – stopping the water - to job completion (identification of the source
and appropriate repairs).

"Once the call is registered by the Help Desk, it's essential that the system alerts the right set of contractors – based on the information it holds. They will then pick up the work order, send an engineer, receive the job completion docket and close the work order. The system logs all activities associated with the call, including follow-up client enquiries, so that a complete picture of the job – including costs and measurement against the SLA – is generated."

The business benefits for NB Entrust have already been considerable. The ability to measure service delivery so precisely means that a very significant standard of property management can be achieved, according to Richard Wilson, Managing Director of NB Entrust. Exaggeration of the number of chaseup calls by tenants, for example, can easily be laid to rest.

"It's common in Facilities Management for rumour and anecdotes to be the prevailing form of communication about service quality," Richard says. "Associated call logging means that Asset OnCall can carry out exact inbound phone call analysis alongside the response time and job completion time, so we, as NB Entrust, can provide a completely objective assessment of service provision, whether it's good or bad.

"With all stakeholders – facilities managers, service partners, client portfolios and planned maintenance groups – using the same system, relative management of service teams can be measured more efficiently. Asset OnCall has effectively become an external knowledge partner for NB Entrust, providing tailored information management services for the property operator and its clients."

"Asset OnCall is becoming a natural tool of management, the central management system", says Oliver Jones. "To that end, contractors need to be using it themselves to close out work orders so they can be paid. It has sometimes been a challenge for them, and some use it better than others. But they have come to trust it because it is so transparent and open, and allows you to drop right down through the stages of a call to service provider level. "The system now presents empirical data in relation to the complex and diverse portfolios managed by NB Entrust."

Beyond its value as a means of capturing works and maintenance requirements, Asset OnCall has also allowed NB Entrust to rationalise the number of service partners it works with based on the data it has collected. Previously, the company was spending some £70 million each year on FM services and minor works, and some 3,000 contractors were charged with delivering these services across the portfolio. These have now been substantially reduced to a number of top-tier service partners.

"Thanks to the quality of the reporting, we are now able to work with trend analysis on a month by month basis," says Richard Wilson. "This means that we can identify which service partners are working well, and which are failing. It makes it easy to distinguish between a blip and a steady decline in service quality.

"Stakeholders can see the information that's relevant to them. And with staff mobilisation increasingly important, we are now rolling out web-enabled access to the database across all of NB Entrust's stakeholders."

Having developed Asset OnCall and implemented it for NB Entrust, The Asset Factor and FSI are also realising the hosted model's benefits as a dynamic sales and marketing tool. Oliver Jones says use of the system is still in the foothills, and there is ample scope to capitalise on its potential capacity and capability.

"Clients within NB Entrust have been impressed
by the ability to see actual metrics that will allow them to measure improvements or declines in service quality where they previously had no specific means of objective assessment. And Asset OnCall is also providing an increasingly important volume of information to assist with NB Entrust's new business pitches and bids for contract renewal.

"It's a fundamental tool for business and a huge leap forward in the application of CAFM technology in the property management sector," says Oliver.