When you scale things up, even the simplest tasks can start to become complex. It’s a truth that is immediately recognised by any successful property manager, and especially apparent in grounds maintenance. With multiple sites to manage, everyday tasks such as keeping lawns cut, hedges trimmed or trees regularly inspected to ensure safety cascade into a substantial management challenge. As a result, this is an area where the traditional craft of caring for landscapes is now benefiting from some of the most modern business disciplines and even the application of data-driven technologies.
There’s a tipping point very early on when property managers realise that the task of grounds maintenance starts to exceed their in-house ability to manage it. Although maintenance teams can usually take care of basics such as work orders and regular site management services, many essential grounds services usually require operators with specialist equipment, materials, training and skills. For most individual sites, it’s simply uneconomical to budget for this in-house, and hence the focus is usually on the procurement of external contractors.
From a practical and economic point of view, bringing on board local gardeners and contractors can be an affordable and straightforward way to offload the burden of grounds maintenance responsibilities. Yet, this approach can prove problematic when scaled up. The larger the property portfolio becomes, the larger the administrative challenge of dealing with multiple local contractors becomes. Inefficiency breeds cost, but more seriously it can also create blind spots in which risks can proliferate.
The risk management challenge
Property owners and managers have a legal duty of care to maintain a safe environment for all occupiers, visitors and employees. Neglected grounds present many risks to property and people, from costly damage to property resulting from invasive roots or species to potentially fatal incidents involving falling limbs or trees. In an increasingly litigious environment and with increasingly stringent (criminal) enforcement of Health and Safety Act breaches, these risks are not to be taken lightly. There are even security issues that can arise; site security is also compromised if overgrown shrubs, bushes and trees obstruct CCTV views and provide cover for intruders, while trees growing adjacent to fences could provide an easy way of scaling protective measures.
Hence, when managing multiple contractors the responsibilities still lie with you. With regards to ensuring the right professional standards and insurance, you’ll still have the administrative overhead of supervising contractors and checking that services have been delivered properly. Even leaving aside the risk management dimension, it’s always vital to consider the impact on relationships with tenants of poorly maintained properties.
How to outsource it all without losing visibility
The challenges of managing multiple local contractors leads many property managers with larger portfolios to bring on board larger (often national) grounds maintenance providers who can deliver everything from grass cutting and tree surgery to car park cleaning, often within a single contract. This is the model we offer at GritIt, and we find that customers enjoy the budget certainty, economies of scale advantages and simplicity of an all-in grounds maintenance offering.
Outsourcing all your grounds maintenance and management to a single provider means that fewer internal resources are consumed by project management and administration. However, that’s not to say that the ‘outsource everything’ approach is itself free of risk. Indeed, many of the larger facilities management providers often achieve this customer-facing simplicity by simply taking on the burden of managing a ‘mish-mash’ of grounds maintenance contractors. This extended chain of contractors and subcontractors can therefore be the cause of further challenges, particularly regarding visibility through that supply chain and accountability when things go wrong.
Technology is changing the game
While many of the tasks associated with grounds maintenance and landscaping remain steeped in traditional, age-old craftsmanship, technology is now starting to change the game. The ability to track, record and manage service delivery via mobile technology and enterprise-grade ERP and CRM systems is helping to close the visibility gaps, while retaining legally robust records that can be key in demonstrating that an organisation is fulfilling its duty of care.
On the face of it, having the teams cutting the grass connected via the cloud to a database could appear to be overkill. Indeed, that’s why it’s still rare for many traditional grounds maintenance contractors to have invested in technology at all. Yet as a company with roots in the high risk, high liability field of winter maintenance, GritIt has been able to import best practices from managing a fleet of gritting trucks to also manage our grounds maintenance teams.
Thanks to mobile technology, it’s possible for teams to quickly create reports on every job – when it’s due to be done, when operatives arrive on site and when the job is completed. With customer web portals and mobile apps, that same information can be immediately accessed by customers. Hence, no matter how many sites you manage, you can still stay connected to what’s happening on the ground and have a full audit trail. Should a tenant call up with queries, you also have exactly the information you need to engage more effectively and constructively.
Just like virtually every other field of modern business, even grounds maintenance is starting to become smarter and more data driven. Yet when delivered right, none of this should make the job of property management more complex. Indeed, thanks to technology, you can now scale up while increasing the simplicity of your business.
Jason Petsch is CEO of GritIt.