Alfred McAlpine client the Bank of Ireland, and the use of Concept at site

In the past decade the Republic of Ireland has undergone a massive transformation.  To get some idea of the change, just order a coffee in Dublin - nowadays you're just as likely to be served by someone who hails from Slovakia as Sligo, as for the first time in generations people are emigrating to, not from, Ireland.

The 'Celtic Tiger', as it's been named, now has a vibrant and dynamic business culture and a booming economy which has brought full employment to many parts of the country.  For the facilities management profession in Ireland these changes mark the beginning of a period of major transition.  While the Irish Property and Facility Management Association (IPFMA) acknowledges the benefits the growth of the RoI economy has brought to the FM profession in the country, it advised facilities professionals to gain a 'greater range of management and financial skills' if they are to meet the challenges ahead.

In an economy where the majority of FM departments are still in-house, and where outsourcing is viewed with much suspicion, the launch at the end of September of Alfred McAlpine's groundbreaking FM contract with the Bank of Ireland (BOI) is being watched with interest both in Ireland and further afield.

The contract, which is worth more than £80m and will run for an initial sever years, is the largest FM contract ever signed in Ireland, with McAlpine offering a total FM service for 350 properties, comprising retail and administration offices spread throughout the country.  McAlpine has elected to set up both a dedicated office in Dublin to run the contract and shortly will see the official opening of its Dublin headquarters at La Touche House in the centre of the capital, from which it aims to direct-resource its business within the Irish market.

The McAlpine won the BOI account came as something of a surprise.  Despite the contract its infrastructure services team has with the Electricity Supply Board in the RoI and a business services wing with a longstanding support-services presence in Northern Ireland, it hadn't made huge inroads into the Republic.  However, Noel Clancy, business development director for Alfred McAlpine's business services division reveals that the team saw the BOI contract as a long-term opportunity to penetrate the Irish marketplace.

'The Bank of Ireland was looking for a business partner which could manage a difficult and diverse portfolio, and national coverage was critical due to its retail buildings,' explains Clancy.  'Having carried out extensive research on the Irish marketplace, we discovered a huge gap, with no service providers appearing to have clear growth strategies.  The Irish-based providers appeared to have chased the Tiger but seemingly had no desire to invest in any real infrastructure.  This failure explains why no major blue chip had historically risked an outsource exercise.

'Our strategy was clear: we did not currently have an infrastructure, but we were prepared to invest a substantial sum in order to build an Irish business capable of leading the support services market.  The one condition being we needed the right client who was prepared to invest in us and work with us.'

Richard Sheridan, head of group services for BOI, admits that once the bank had made the decision to outsource its facilities services, it initially envisaged using a provider who already had a presence in the Irish market.  The bank was also cautious about how much of its facilities it should outsource.

'We first asked "what is the business case for outsourcing" and once that was determined we had to decide if it was worth the risk of doing it all in one go,' he says.

From the initial briefing process, the bidding process took 53 weeks, during which the bank whittled the 18 shortlisted bidders down to six, then four.  Sheridan says of the final choice: 'We had a good feeling that a number of companies could offer an FM service, but our view was that McAlpine stood head and shoulders above the competition.  Culturally, it fits with the bank's collaborative solution focus, speaking the language and working as a team.'

Clancy has been responsible for McAlpine's business in Northern Ireland since 2002.  Having an Irish heritage (his family home is Sligo), he understands the importance of establishing strong interpersonal relationships in Ireland.  He's also no stranger to setting up a local base for his company.

After starting out as a project manager for a heaving engineering services firm, he worked for a time with services provider Integral before joining in 2001 what was then Scottish-based business services operator Stiell.  Six months after joining it was bought by McAlpine.

'When I joined,' he explains, 'there wasn't even an office in London for Stiell.  I went about sourcing out offices, fitting them out and getting them running, which helped enormously in widening our exposure to clients.  I still have a national business development role, and developing the Irish market has been a major part of my job.

'The Irish marketplace is very fragmented in terms of the supply chain.  It's mainly local, small, service suppliers, and in the main they do a good job building solid relationships, but the bank are the first to say "let's look at the UK model and roll it out in Ireland."'

This is the first time the Bank of Ireland has outsourced its facilities management requirements and it hasn't done it by half.  The estate alone comprises 29 administration buildings - 27 of which are in the Dublin region - and 335 retail buildings spread throughout Ireland.  McAlpine has taken on the management and delivery of all its building services.

Gordon Rowen, McAlpine account director responsible for launching the new service, explains that the contract encompasses:

  • Management services
  • Helpdesk provision
  • Building engineering services
  • Fabric maintenance
  • Porterage/mail services
  • Reception services
  • Space and move management
  • Waste management
  • Health, safety and environmental services
  • Cleaning and pest control
  • Project management
  • Security services

A big issue, he adds, is that the bank has 11 different business divisions that produce 14 different business units.  'All the FM provision was siloed into these divisions,' he says, 'with not a lot of detail on costs and no formal space management process.  That is up until now - we've already been asked to organise a move of 65 desks!'

Rowen has also been charged with carrying out the business services staffing needs.  'Approximately 170 staff have been transferred over from the bank,' he says 'and we're recruiting the remainder.  The bank, for instance, had no technical operations delivery people so we're recruiting 33 technical staff in areas such as M&E, gas fitting, heating and ventilation.'

It was the issue of staffing that was the major concern for both the bank and McAlpine.  As soon as the deal was struck in June of this year, moves were made to get the existing staff together with their new bosses.  All of the staff affected were invited into sessions with the McAlpine team where the new structure could be explained and their questions answered.

'The people aspect was the most challenging,' says Clancy.  'We were after all, transferring a large group of people, from a solid banking base to a relatively unknown contracting company.  And bear in mind that everything we've done on this deal has been ground breaking - TUPE, the union interaction, health and safety… it's all new in Ireland.'

Added to this, he explains, was the fact that many Irish people associate Alfred McAlpine with the 'bad old days' when the Irish economy forced people to go to England to work in construction.  And in a country where not only the majority of FM provision is performed in-house and outsourcing is viewed with suspicion, so the incoming team had their work cut out reassuring the staff.  'The resentment surrounding outsource was not merely property or industry related,' says Clancy.  'It is a national fear of returning to difficult times, and we have already had to really work hard on winning the hearts and minds of the bank's staff who, after all, will play such a crucial role for us going forward.

'People here don't move around so much so in terms of skills; it's a very mixed picture, but we're taking on some first-class people.'

There are two main clusters for soft services: Dublin, where a soft-services partner, Noonan Cleaning Services, is being utilised, and the rest of Ireland, which will be self-delivering for cleaning.  But aside from calling on Group 4 for security and Greenstar for waste management, McAlpine intends to self-deliver the rest of the services, with a new company helpdesk.

'The helpdesk is using Concept SQL CAFM software,' says Rowen, 'and every technician will have a PDA for the allocation of jobs.'

Clancy adds: 'What's missing from a lot of the organisations over here is a property division with a major helpdesk, and a structured supply chain.  The structure is often multi-departmental, so you'll have an FM for the finance department, another for HR and so on.  This is why what we're doing here is so revolutionary, because what Bank of Ireland said was "You're the experts, so come in and manage things and we can take a back seat."'

The helpdesk, agrees Sheridan, will help the bank see where its money is being spent and how, though he expects the bank staff to have some resistance to change the introduction of the helpdesk.  'That's always the way,' he says, 'but I'll expect we'll see it settle down after a month or two, and if we can crack that, we're laughing.'

For McAlpine, this contract spells the beginning of a major push into what is, in many ways, the still-virgin territory of Irish business services outsourcing.

'We are putting in the structure now that will take us through the next five years,' says Clancy.  'There are around 30 direct resource personnel now based primarily in Ireland, covering tax, finance, legislation and the new back-office groups, so we're doing everything for the first time here.

'The Bank of Ireland recognises that it has benefited from a mobilisation resourced to achieve a new business build, as opposed to a standalone key account/  And equally Alfred McAlpine recognised that without the bank, our business case would not have flown.

'I believe we've now got the platform in place to be number one in Ireland.'