Facilities Management for Cable Ops

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By Greg Allshouse

As the cable industry's physical networks and equipment have become more complex over the years, so has the need for our headend and hub site buildings to provide a clean, temperature controlled, reliably powered environment for that equipment. This is where good facilities management (FM) practices come into play. FM can best be characterized as work order management and tech metrics: work order management from the concept of prioritizing, scheduling, and assigning work; and the use of metrics to track your costs, productivity, vendors and assets down to a site level.

Just as a cable network needs to be tested, monitored and maintained, a building's systems' should get the same attention via a preventive maintenance (PM) program. By "building systems" I mean equipment such as HVAC, generators, UPS, DC plant and fire suppression. You might ask why a PM program is important. Without a PM program in place, this equipment is more likely to operate less efficiently, which costs more money to operate. It also breaks down more frequently, in the worst case failing when it is needed most. Lack of PM also shortens the life expectancy of the equipment , which adds unnecessary cost for premature replacement. A good PM program goes beyond just changing the filters in an HVAC unit or seeing if the generator has fuel; belts should be checked, bearings lubricated, safety limits checked, and so on. PM should be performed by trained and certified technicians.

Beyond preventive maintenance, an FM program starts with the use of a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS). The CMMS is a database similar to a cable operator's billing system for creating work orders and dispatching them. This includes the creation of a preset PM program that includes the frequency and work to be completed with each visit. The CMMS is also used to track assets, costs, documents, inventory, contractors, and has the ability to provide reports on these items. Costs can include items such as utilities, landscaping, snow removal, generator fuel costs, and others. Many companies have CMMS programs. Three of the most common are Mainstream Software, NETFacilities, and Maintenance Connection.

If your organization currently has an FM department, it should be viewed as a strategic partner with the engineering and technical operations departments. This partnership allows engineering and tech ops teams to focus on their main objectives -- providing great customer service, maintaining a 99.999% up time and deploying new services -- while the FM department can focus on the structure, grounds and building systems, thus ensuring that they are properly maintained and repaired in a prompt and timely manner.

An alternative to an internal FM staff is the use of a third-party vendor to set up your FM program and manage it to your specifications. This is not a new concept; it has been used for years in commercial real estate. There are many companies that can provide these services, three of which are Alpha Technologies, Maicom Construction Services, and Electronic Environments Corp.

Greg Allshouse is an independent consultant and 32-year cable veteran. Reach him at greg.allshouse@comcast.net.

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