GM Shifts Facilities Management into HIGH GEAR

Jan. 1, 2001
General Motors Corp. revs up its facilities operations for the 21st century

Facilities operations at Detroit-based General Motors Corp. (GM) are as fine-tuned as the automobiles rolling off the company’s production lines. In fact, best practices, high-tech solutions, and a focus on internal customers have given GM more to be proud of than the cars and trucks it designs and manufactures.

Finding a Future in the Renaissance

GM has made a name for itself in Detroit, and has helped define the city as the automotive capital of the world. When the General Motors Building, built in the late ’20s and designed by architect Albert Kahn, reached its maximum capacity, the company decided to look toward the future and invest in real estate that would personify the power and success of the nearly 100-year-old company. Rising to the challenge, GM purchased what had previously been viewed as a failing commercial enterprise, the Renaissance Center. Designed by architect John Portman, the four 39-story buildings and central 73-story tower have been controversial since their completion in 1977. The RenCen, as it is affectionately called, did not come without its flaws; wayfinding was a nightmare, parking was a challenge, and battling the skyscraper’s reputation was a feat in and of itself.

The city’s only high-rise of note, this structure of glass, concrete, and steel stretches above the skyline and serves as a reminder of GM’s dominating presence in Detroit. “Talk about brand recognition. It’s recognized all over – even its silhouette. I think that’s got a lot of value,” says Theresa G. Olson, regional manager, NACG, facilities management. The numbers are staggering: 5,300 GM employees, 1,200 non-General Motors tenants, and 6,000 visitors pass through the RenCen each day. The migration of GM employees will be completed by the end of 2001, with the $500 million overhaul continuing through 2003. A circulation ring has alleviated problems with orientation and wayfinding; the removal of berms at street level will make the facility more inviting; and the addition of a 5-story winter garden will open up views to the Detroit Riverfront.

FM for Today, Tomorrow, and the Future

With a new global headquarters and the 21st century steadily approaching, GM’s facilities management team introduced ideas and goals of increased efficiency. By the mid-’90s, the company was operating each facility under individual management; strategies, practices, and processes were far from uniform. A transition took place that revolutionized the way buildings were maintained and operated. Under the leadership of David A. Skiven, executive director of the Worldwide Facilities Group (WFG), which was formed in 1995, and with the guidance of a common process group, facilities professionals began to work in sync under single-point management. The outcome? Increased efficiency, better communication, and measurable goals.

Keeping pace with advancements in technology, the WFG team relies on a number of micro and macro tools to work efficiently. Although it may not seem like a revolutionary way to conduct business, W.T. (Tom) Blakeslee, director, WFG, GM Tech Center and GM Truck Group facilities, explains that such tools as Nextel radios and palm pilots are an asset to facilitating instant communication. The Internet has taken the world, and GM, by storm. “You can’t do your job without it. It’s dramatically changing the way we do business,” says Blakeslee.

Anthony P. Wroblewski, director, facilities management, WFG, agrees, adding, “Technology is giving us the ability to further cut costs, be more effective, and do a better job delivering to our internal customers.” The company’s intranet website provides accounting, personnel, and financial information. Additionally, the site contains PB Views, a metrics reporting system that has become an essential tool for the management of facilities data. The program consolidates statistics and information from several GM databases into one easily accessible record, available in read-only format to every employee with a computer. PB Views places information (target head-counts, budget information, and safety reports for the company’s 140 nationwide sites) in the hands of those who need it most.

Serving the Internal Customer

Whether they are GM vehicle owners or building occupants, GM’s commitment to customer service is undeniable. Every duty and decision relays the “I care” message. “You just come in and get busy with what you’re doing – designing, building, or manufacturing great cars and trucks. We’ll worry about the rest,” says August Olivier, director, facilities management, WFG. There is a broad range of duties that falls under the umbrella of facilities management at GM – including administrative support. Yes, that’s right: Facilities employees will do anything, from setting up media equipment in a conference room, to making sure there are highlighters in the supply closet. Is your area too hot or too cold? GM employees have two ways to remedy this operational problem. “You call your FM rep or you call the help desk. Either one works,” says Olivier. Each on-site Facilities Management Rep (FM rep) serves as a contact person for employees when problems or concerns need to be addressed.

GM employees looking for a faster means to communicate important work orders can call the help desk through either a 1-800 number or the HELP extension. This call center of 50-plus employees has been up and running since February 1998 and is operational 24/7. Ninety percent of the administrative sites that GM occupies and 10 manufacturing plants are set up to use the help desk (about 100 million square feet of space, collectively), with another 40 manufacturing sites eligible for the service in the near future. When this goal is achieved, the call center will be responsible for generating work orders for approximately 280 million square feet of space. “We take about 50,000 calls a month right now on that system, and we’re probably headed for 80,000 to 90,000 next year,” says Wroblewski.

How does the call center operate? Every group of buildings has an assigned customer service rep, or region lead. These individuals “become the single point of contact between the help desk and about 4 to 6 million square feet of property,” explains Josh Cohen, vice president, Corporate Property Services, Jones Lang LaSalle, Detroit. The database of work orders must be detailed enough to note the type of work needed in order to be routed to the most appropriate individual for the job. If he/she is not available, the next person on the list is contacted.

One of the most popular uses for the help desk has become resource scheduling. “We didn’t realize how popular that was going to be, but it makes up over half of our call volume. We estimate that over 900 conference rooms were scheduled today,” explains Scott Hemphill, process owner, WFG, facilities management. The information gleaned from this database includes:
• Number of repairs conducted and services provided by location and service area.
• Amount of time in which work orders were completed.
• Utilization rates for conference room facilities.

Protecting GM's Most Precious Assets

The same commitment of safety that GM mandates for the vehicles it manufactures is evident throughout its facilities as well. “The overriding priority for General Motors is the health and safety of our employees. General Motors is the benchmark in the auto industry,” says Skiven. Perimeter security, gated entrances, access cardreaders and badges, turnstiles, and a number of security personnel are strategically positioned at points of entry to check in visitors and staff. All necessary fire and life safety systems are in place. WFG takes health and safety seriously, and provides each employee with an Emergency and Safety Procedures pamphlet to be kept desk side at all times.

“We could talk about it all day because we mean business,” says Blakeslee, on the company’s emphasis on healthy and safe environments. The most recent safety initiative by the WFG is the implementation of a system that activates all company telephones to ring for the nearest emergency response provider when “911#” is dialed. GM staff members are then able to access fire and medical services from all the locations occupied by the company. GM’s effort to provide a healthy and productive workplace is just one example of its commitment to the company’s success.

As awareness rises, so too do the concerns about indoor air quality (IAQ). GM’s WFG addresses these questions and worries with frequent assessments, working to ensure employees occupy spaces that are conducive to healthy living. According to David E. Oliver, health and safety, WFG, facilities management, “I do some very in-depth testing to make sure the environment is truly safe. We have validated our baseline test data to show that we have a healthy environment from an IAQ perspective.”

Thomas C. Cook, facilities area manager, Pontiac/Troy region, WFG, knows firsthand how far GM will go to investigate employee claims of poor IAQ. Following one employee’s complaint, an outside firm was contacted to perform micro-biological testing of air intake and distribution systems. “What was discovered,” says Cook, “was that not only did we have cleaner air than what you would probably find in an office building, we found that the air outside contained more contaminates than the air inside.” Industrial hygienists on GM’s staff work closely with WFG professionals as well.

Environmental Stewardship

The list of General Motors Corp.’s efforts to preserve and restore the environment is long and worthy of recognition. Environmental Principles are clearly defined and guide the activities and decisions made by the WFG, as well as other departments within the company. When, for whatever reason, a previous non-manufacturing or manufacturing site becomes unoccupied, GM stays involved with the property, ensuring that the building or area is redeveloped before relinquishing ownership. GM does not turn its back on these brownfields, but rather seeks to renew and restore the locations with new construction or renovation projects.

In New Jersey, the company invested in turning a closed manufacturing plant into a golf course. Homeside in Detroit, the company revitalized a decaying area of town – which previously contained nothing more than a vacated and deserted GM facility – into a thriving commercial success. The facilities currently owned and operated by the company are renovated when possible, enabling continued use, often for a new function or purpose. A perfect example of this initiative is The Truck Product Center, Pontiac, MI. The 1.1 million-square-foot building was previously a 3.3 million-square-foot truck manufacturing plant. Recently renovated and now the home of 4,000 engineers and support staff, the site has also seen impressive commercial growth with the construction of several hotels, restaurants, and other retail and commercial enterprises.

Stripping the buildings down to their shell, the Warren, MI, Technical Center renovation began in 1999 and will be completed by 2002. This is no small undertaking. This site contains 41 buildings, the majority of which were designed by renowned architect, Eero Saarinan, and dedicated by President Eisenhower to GM via a live radio broadcast in 1953. Scrap metal, carpet, and ceiling tile from the existing facilities have been recycled, reducing the amount of landfill waste that can typically result from large modernization projects.

In addition to the renovation of these facilities into Class A office space, an 8-story tower will expand the Vehicle Engineering Center on the east side of campus; two parking ramps are being constructed; 500,000 square feet of asphalt parking lot will be eliminated and replaced by green space; and 6,000 trees will be planted before the project is in its final phases. Ever environmentally focused, GM contacted the Department of Natural Reources when new construction on the tower required drainage of a lake on the property. As a result, the existing fish were spared and transported to regional lakes and local waterways.

Managing Size and Space

Space planning is no easy task for a company with as much square footage and as many employees as GM. However, computer-aided facilities management (CAFM) software has been utilized to form a facilities location database in which all non-manufacturing sites are broken down by individual workstations, copy areas, as well as conference and break rooms. Hatch marks indicate which offices are occupied (name and phone number provided), unoccupied (in which an office has been assigned to a department but not in use), or vacant (whereby a workstation is unassigned and not in use). Paul S. Drotar, manager, WFG, regional engineering center, non-manufacturing, explains the beauty of the software: “Once you put the information into the system, you don’t continually have to go out and count noses.” Another benefit of the system is the ability to calculate maximum building capacity.

Information from the database is available on request and can be turned into a DWF (drawing in web format) file. Sent via e-mail, the file can be opened in Netscape or Internet Explorer, enabling users to zoom, pan, and selectively view layers of the drawing. GM employs an outside service to maintain and collect the information for this database, and uses only the best benchmarks in the industry as a guide. “We are trying to benchmark ourselves against the rest of the industry, so we’re using BOMA standards,” says Drotar.

Part of the company’s initiative to increase operational efficiencies and maximize productivity includes a plan to consolidate all non-manufacturing space into six major sites in southeast Michigan. According to August Olivier, “Based on the size of our business, we think we probably have a few million square feet more than we need.” This consolidation will allow the company to discontinue lease agreements with buildings located on the 75, 96, and I-696 corridors. “A number of people in the facilities group feel that a space itself is a big enabler for how work gets done,” notes Wroblewski. “If you get the right people in the right place doing their work, it’s a heck of a lot better as far as the process, than having them scattered all over creation in southeast Michigan.”

Transformed into modern office environments for the 21st century, GM’s non-manufacturing spaces reflect the rising trend toward standardization. Prior to open-plan offices, extensive renovations were common, as group sizes and needs expanded and contracted. Now, through the use of CAFM software and standardized open-plan environments, the WFG has saved insurmountable time and money by simplifying moves, adds, and changes. “We’ve really reduced the cost of moving a person from in the thousands to a few hundred dollars,” says Wroblewski. The help desk has revolutionized the way in which transfers take place as well: coordinating efforts to get approvals; working with IT support and regional facilities professionals. Consequently, an employee is assigned a date without having to coordinate his/her own move. Standardized workstation sizes eliminate hierarchical workplace politics and facilitate quick and easy employee relocations.

Embraced by its tenants and Detroit citizens, General Motors has breathed life into the once-architectural failure of the RenCen, as well as other facilities nationwide. It took the legacy, commitment, and success of this automotive giant to recognize the potential of these diamonds in the rough. When people ask “What’s on the horizon for GM?,” the answer is clear: innovative facilities management and, of course, the Renaissance Center.

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