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The age old SLAs of FM contracts

We look into the evolution of SLAs, and its age-old protocols

Alan K. Millin is noted FM consultant and thinkerbased in Dubai.
Alan K. Millin is noted FM consultant and thinkerbased in Dubai.

There seems to have been a flurry of activity over the last few years to standardise FM. We have standards for this, new drafts for that, but have these publications made a real difference and, if so, will they continue to do so, and is the effect positive or negative? I’m sure we would all like to think the outcome from new FM standards is positive, but that may not necessarily be the case.

Consider the standards for FM agreements. They provide guidance in a domain that is seemingly desperate for it. They introduce the concepts of service level agreements and performance indicators, along with the penalties that may be applied for sub-par performance. A real step forward you might think, but is it?

Current FM literature reveals evidence of a Roman-era contract that includes service levels and associated penalties for the management of baths. Interesting, isn’t it? It has taken around 2000 years for us to formalise the structure of a service agreement that the Romans had already formalised. Granted, our present-day contracts should be much finer and much more robust. But our reliance on penalties shows we haven’t really moved on much. In fact, the Romans may have been ahead of us.

The Romans did have alternatives at their disposal, they could throw people to the lions. So, we now have a baths attendant who could either perform well, be penalised financially, or provide the weekend entertainment for the local crowd. Of course, we might expect our hapless FM provider to just take the hit of the financial pain when the client shouts ‘penalty!’.

Enter Androcles, the runaway slave. In modern times, we might consider Androcles to be more of an absconding soft services operative. Let’s imagine he is happy at work but finds himself under threat of penalty on his contract. Faced with the choice of financial penalty or being cast away, Androcles weighs his options. He evaluates the risks and opportunities, without any documented reference to a Roman version of ISO 31000, and then takes the risk and seizes the opportunity. The lion lovingly licks Androcles’ face, and then sweeps the amphitheatre with his tail on the way out. Having demonstrated his proficiency with landscaping, pest control and event management, Androcles then collects in full on his monthly invoice for baths management. So impressed are his bosses that they promote him to VP of soft services (hospitality and leisure).

Fast forward a couple of thousand years and what’s changed? Well, big cats are under threat, perhaps because of lack of sufficient protein and skinny bones to chew on stretching back to Roman times, and we are not really allowed to throw our team members to the lions these days either.

But when we look at FM agreements, many people seem to focus only on the penalties. What one person sees as a risk another might see, like Androcles, as a real opportunity.

Standards can provide the framework for our FM operations and risk management, but can they persuade us to change our mindset and generate collaborative business relationships between supply chain actors? Androcles in FM would have been a thinker. Have we, in turn, become slaves? Slaves to documents which, at best, only provide a foundation on which we can build, rather than a target to be aimed for. What did the Romans ever do for us...?

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