A Comprehensive Strategic Facilities Plan for Austin, TX
by Mike Lyner, Principal, RSP i_SPACE
Austin, Texas is a unique place. The second fastest growing city in the U.S., Austin is a music and arts mecca, with the charming unofficial slogan “Keep Austin Weird”. There’s nothing really average or typical about Austin, Texas, including the City’s facilities and its aspiration to be “The Best Managed City in America” (They did it, too).
The City currently operates more than 250 facilities scattered across 296 square miles. Issues facing the city’s immediate and long-term future include:
- Continued double-digit growth
- Projected high City employee turnover due to growth and retirement
- Overcrowded, outdated and de-centralized departments and workspaces
- An increasingly stressed facilities budget
City officials knew they had to proactively manage the real estate portfolio to make smart, defendable, long-term decisions in order to attract and retain talented City employees and better serve their citizens, while balancing a budget. But their strategic decision-making capabilities were hampered by a lack of reliable, centralized, easily accessible information. It all came to a head when the City of Austin Building Services Department had to decide between remodeling the largest administrative building versus making urgent repairs in other facilities versus expanding much-needed space for growing departments versus any number of valid requests. To their credit, City officials stepped back from making yet another short-term decision and asked, “Do we have the right buildings, of the right type, in the right condition and location to serve the city for the next 15 years?” To help answer this question, the City of Austin hired RSP i_SPACE to complete a strategic facilities and logistics roadmap. The study addressed how:
- Facilities could align with the City’s comprehensive, 30-year growth plan. Entitled Imagine Austin, the plan outlines progressive goals for Austin to be a sustainable, mobile and connected, livable, creative, educated city that values and respects people
- Decisions can be made logically and easily by utilizing a standardized database of all City facilities
- Facilities can become a proactive, collaborative, risk-reducing investment versus a reactive expense
- Facilities can impact employee productivity, efficiency, retention and happiness
- Facilities can improve City-provided services as well as the City itself
Over eighteen months, RSP i_SPACE worked with City of Austin officials to arrive at a comprehensive Strategic Facilities Plan. Emphasis was placed on improving the workplace primarily because City officials were projecting the potential of 56 percent employee turnover over the next decade. To understand the underlying issues, RSP i_SPACE surveyed 8,000 city employees and conducted in-depth interviews with department leaders. The results indicated that workplace flexibility, alignment with the City’s values, and creating a work environment that encouraged and rewarded innovation ranked as the top three most desired attributes of all city employees, regardless of generation. The study also revealed city employees spent nearly half their time away from their desks, a trend that is consistent with national workplace surveys. Ultimately, the City’s workspaces were revealed to be outdated, inefficient and decentralized. The effect on City employees was negatively impacting productivity and well-being.
Armed with this insight, RSP’s design team recommended a new portfolio and operations strategy that, if implemented, could position the city with a flexible, efficient portfolio and best practices ready to respond to the way work will be performed in the future. Success hinges in great part on the evaluation and identification of facilities that have exceeded their useful life functionally or operationally and implementing a disposition strategy that maximizes the ROI while improving operating costs and efficiency through the implementation of the portfolio strategy.
Thinking literally “outside the box” RSP also conducted a logistics study of the almost 300 service crews, and determined that by crew realignment and building consolidations, it could save the City $2.6 million and reduce carbon emissions by 500 million metric tonnes annually.
Real Estate management deliverables:
- Creation of the customized Intelligent Facility Forecasting tool that allows city officials to compare and contrast city-wide scenarios to analyze the physical and financial implications of decisions across the entire portfolio
- Establishment of a web-based Integrated Workplace Management System where facility information such as building information, floor plans, square footage, occupant details, and department use can be tracked for all 250+ buildings.
The complete strategic facilities plan and recommendation was presented to City of Austin City Council in October 2012. City Manager Mark Ott instantly understood the long-term value of the study and stated that he believes it provides and supports a fundamental shift in the way Austin approaches facility management. “This presents us with so many opportunities,” he said after the City Council meeting. “We have to view facilities in a totally different light. It’s no longer just about buildings, it’s about the people.” Most importantly, the City of Austin now has the necessary framework and tools to proactively manage their entire real estate portfolio and make smart, defendable decisions whether for the immediate budget cycle or long-term while also having the agility to react to change quickly.
Originally published in the IFMA Exchange Newsletter, December 2012