Watts Sector

Are you making the most of your framework?

Could your framework agreement be working harder to increase the efficiency of your estates services delivery? Knowledge sharing could make all the difference.

In recent years, framework agreements have become a familiar part of the construction landscape and are now recognised as a key tool in delivering cost-efficient and effective property solutions. However, for university estates departments to establish frameworks is time consuming and expensive. The process involves universities reviewing and adapting how they operate and necessitates comprehensive consultation with key stake- and budget-holders such as department heads. Then, prospective workloads and requirements must be determined, objectives set, and internal procedures and protocols established for operating the agreement, including who will manage the framework. Key performance measures and periods over which they will be reviewed must also be determined if the university is to gain maximum benefit from this method of procurement. Legal advisers are commonly engaged to draft the agreement, terms and conditions, and associated scopes of service and, finally, the process of selection can begin. The average time for establishing a framework can be anywhere between six to twelve months and frequently costs in excess of £50,000 (source: CIPS).

In the current economic climate, this is a considerable undertaking and so before going down this route, it is vital that estates directors have a full understanding of the best ways to maximise the benefits that frameworks have to offer. These include:

  • no rebidding for each individual project;
  • continuous improvement by learning from one project to benefit the next;
  • improved working relationships;
  • continuous workflow; and
  • speed of procurement.

A framework, if used to its full potential, is a catalyst for promoting closer working relationships and crucially, achieving continuous performance improvement by embracing the concepts of knowledge management and knowledge sharing, But for many this is unfamiliar and difficult territory, which can result in a framework being nothing more than a pre-qualified list of firms and a short cut in procurement.

One way to ensure that universities reap the benefits of frameworks is to ensure that the knowledge gained by each of the parties to a contract, while undertaking a particular project, is shared between all those involved. For that knowledge to be retained and turned into a tool, it must be recorded and made available for use on projects further down the line. In other words, project teams need to learn from their mistakes as well as their successes, and not be afraid to make that knowledge a ‘public’ resource.

Knowledge sharing can be promoted within frameworks in a number of ways:

  • Via face-to-face contact between those responsible for the day-to-day delivery of projects.
    Running joint training seminars.
  • Establishing formal progress reporting – often a monthly update, in the form of an executive summary, on all commissions being delivered by a particular consultant.
  • Developing framework directors’ forums bringing all framework directors together to gain an overview of performance, projects completed and forthcoming workload.
  • By setting up focus groups comprising various experts from across the supply chain contributing to the development of a particular goal or objective set within the framework context.

By using one or more of these methods, estates teams are more likely to benefit from:

  • improved cost certainty;
  • improved interface between consultants and users;
  • new procedures;
  • new specifications; and
  • improved speed of response.

The capacity of framework agreements to deliver savings is not in doubt. But they have the capacity to deliver more than just competitive pricing and those managing frameworks cannot afford to be complacent.  The Higher Education sector is experiencing enormous change in the way universities are funded.  Property-related services are expected not only to operate more efficiently in cost terms but also to meet Higher Education Funding Council for England’s new environmental requirements. There are significant challenges ahead and framework agreements could have a vital role to play if they are used to their full potential. Key challenges for the future will be to:

  • Ensure total transparency within the terms of frameworks so that consultants are fully informed about the allocation of workload from the start. Openness will be crucial to ensure free and open dialogue between the parties thereby creating a culture of collaboration to drive costs down and efficiency up.
  • Establish a community of practice looking specifically at knowledge sharing in frameworks where experienced practitioners can share their knowledge with those who are less experienced.
  • Improve training and support for those managing frameworks on a day-to-day basis.

There is huge potential for improvement in estates services by both broadening the pool of external talent that universities can dip into and by ensuring that the knowledge held within that pool is shared, analysed and documented to the benefit of future projects. By so doing, estates directors and their teams could really maximise the potential of their frameworks, making them work harder and smarter to deliver genuine collaboration and drive efficiencies in time, cost and working practice.

For further information contacts Mark Few, Director in Watts’ London office on 020 7280 8000.

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