Hotel engineers aren't accountants

Give them the software needed to manage financials and energy savings

Markus Oberlin is the CEO of integrated facilities management company and sustainability specialist Farnek Avireal
Markus Oberlin is the CEO of integrated facilities management company and sustainability specialist Farnek Avireal

Hotel engineers are not accountants; give them the software they need to record energy savings and manage their financials

It may be stating the blindingly obvious, but what is not measured cannot be managed. Common sense as I’m sure you’ll agree.

But what sounds so very simple is becoming increasingly important — and potentially frustrating — for chief engineers across the region’s hospitality industry, in particular as utility prices continue to soar and energy becomes more and more expensive.

Hotel chief engineers and financial controllers are effectively caught in a vicious cycle where guest demand is played off against forecast usage and budget, with the (green) elephant in the corner of the room also trumpeting about sustainability.

For financial controllers, the formula is apparent. Have a clearly defined budget, follow it, monitor it, keep cost centres in line, make departmental adjustments and improvements where necessary, and achieve revenues.

But it’s seemingly not such a cut-and-dried process for engineering teams who, with budget responsibility often running into millions of dirhams, are often struggling to adapt, innovate and deliver on their departmental goals.

It still surprises me to see that some chief engineers are bogged down with formulating complicated Excel spreadsheet and spending their days hunched over a keyboard, tapping in endless columns of figures in an attempt to get a handle on the financials, while advanced accounting software is a basic for even the most simple hospitality operation – just ask any sage, sorry I mean accountant.

One solution is to invest in internet-based energy management tools such as Hotel Optimiser. Simple to implement and easy to use, this is software designed to give engineers the information they need to identify potential savings while still keeping the hotel fully operational.

By personalising software, engineers can add a host of valuable features. So, if investment is the first step, once energy saving initiatives are translated into action its vital not to lose focus, remember the ROI objectives and track the energy and water consumption — 20% of the consumers or installations are responsible for 80% of energy consumed.

For example, air-conditioning is responsible for almost 60% of a hotel’s electricity bill and significant cost savings can be realised by installing simple energy saving chiller devices, or by optimising cooling tower performance.

Best practice is also a fundamental part of the equation and, for larger hotels, an independent third-party energy audit carried out every second year is a useful exercise.

Operational efficiency
One grey, and often, unresolved area, is the overall operational efficiency of the hotel’s engineering department. Some are models of efficiency with a well-structured department, established preventive maintenance programmes and exemplary asset management.

Poorly managed properties are those with engineering departments that suffer from chronic overstaffing, a ‘firefighting’ rather than pre-emptive approach to problem solving and absence of a clear strategy or guidelines.

With (potentially) hordes of subcontractors coming through the engineering department each year, careful control and management of these external resources can result in substantial cost savings and a spike in efficiency.

The recent growth in hotel chains embracing the idea that a professional facilities management (FM) approach is the only way forward is key to effecting positive change.

It’s not a quick fix approach however, and requires time and collaboration between the different internal departments, such as housekeeping or food and beverage, through the implementation of clear Service Level Agreements (SLAs) with measurable Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), in order to be able to guarantee a transparent and efficient operation.

The bottom line is that huge cost savings can be achieved by re-engineering the way departments operate. Today’s chief engineer is no longer the guy in the basement, wearing blue overalls, oily rag in hand, who just makes sure that guests have hot water and that the kitchens are working to capacity.

Nor is he ‘Scotty’ Star Trek’s engineer, repairing ‘dilithium crystals’ which regulated the ‘warp drive’ allowing Scotty to beam people aboard, although I’m sure that some hotel engineers have been asked to perform equally miraculous tasks by their GMs during their careers.

He has to be an FM expert with technical skills, a multi-tasking manager with hands-on HR, financial and asset management knowledge, providing an unbreakable link in the stakeholder service chain between guest, operator and owner.

Engineering sustainability is a long-term commitment and the onset of operational efficiency may be a small step for a hotel, but it’s a giant leap for environmental awareness. So, given that, who’s running your basement?

About the Author:
Markus Oberlin is the CEO of integrated facilities management company and sustainability specialist Farnek Avireal. For details: www.farnek.com

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