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THE HOTEL ENGINEERING FUNCTION

THE HOTEL ENGINEERING FUNCTION: ORGANIZATION, PEOPLE, AND ISSUES IN THE MODERN ERA

INTRODUCTION TO THE ENGINEERING DEPARTMENT

History of Department

Historically, the functions and duties of the
chief engineer, his staff, and the engineering
department have been relegated to the subconscious
of hotel management and certainly
of the hotel guests. Their place in the organization
was roughly analogous to their place in
the building structure: toward the bottom and
basically out of sight. The only time the functions
of the engineering department became
noticeable was on those unhappy occasions
when something went wrong with one of the
building systems and guests and/or management
were inconvenienced.
Consequently, in the past, “out of sight,
out of mind” treatment evolved for the engineering
department, and as a result its relative
importance was diminished. Also, the
personnel of the engineering department
were craftspeople and semiskilled workers,
usually managed by one of their number who
through longevity and perseverance worked
their way up through the ranks to supervisory
status.
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By Hotelierr on 5-18-2009 00:45 last edited

Evolutionary Stimuli

There is now clear evidence that this department
is changing in many of the same ways
that other departments of a modern hotel
have had to change. The reasons for these
changes are many, but four can be highlighted
here. Several of them, of course, are closely
connected.
Competition. As more and more hotel
organizations seek the business of ever
more carefully segmented markets, many of
the mechanisms of competition manifest
themselves first in features of the physical
plant.These can range from building design,
landscaping, elevators, and in-room amenities
and facilities to the latest in traditional
fixtures and building systems such as plumbing,
kitchen equipment, elevators, heating,
ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC),
and the other behind-the-scenes paraphernalia
that make up the domain of the chief
engineer.
Sophistication. Many building systems in
today’s hotels are interconnected, managed in
conjunction with other departmental systems,
and monitored by computerized facilities.
This increased sophistication has mandated
more sophisticated and knowledgeable man-
agement in all departments, but perhaps the
most drastic and substantive changes will be
(and are) occurring in engineering.
Return on Investment. Many modern hotel
plants are the result of plans and investments
by a wide range of participants,
including (but not necessarily always) the
management firm that operates the hotel.
These investors expect a certain return on
their investment and subsequently expect the
hotel company will not only keep the hotel
filled with guests but keep the property in
such a state that the guests will continue to
want to come there. This also mandates
new dimensions of the engineer’s job. The
combination of increased competition and sophisticated
systems makes for more than a
traditional repair-and-maintenance approach
to providing engineering support in all areas
of the hotel.To keep the hotel positively contributing
to the investors’ return on their
money, the engineering staff must be considered
a major role player in the financial
health of the organization.
Energy. The cost, use, management, and
conservation of energy have added a new and
singular dimension to the job of the chief engineer—
one that did not exist in pre-1973 operations,
simply because energy was so cheap.
Since the OPEC oil embargo of 1973, energy
prices have undergone many changes, none of
them making it any cheaper. Prior to that,
buildings were neither engineered nor managed
to save energy.
Since then, most hotels and most modern
hotel companies have come to recognize energy
as one building expense in which significant
savings can be made. If accomplished
with care, engineering can provide for delivery
of hotel services without adverse or negative
effects on the guest.We want to avoid, for
instance, the extreme step of requesting
guests to take short showers while at the same
time asking them to pay $180 a night for their
room.
The residual effects of the embargo are
twofold. Hotels built prior to 1973 were not
constructed to be particularly energy efficient.
Engineers in those hotels have a more
difficult job with respect to managing energy.
On the other hand, hotels that were designed
and built after 1973–1974 exhibit increasingly
more sophisticated systems for
managing and conserving energy without adversely
affecting guests.
The first instance presents the managerial
problem of making do for the engineering
manager; the second presents the dilemma of
expanding one’s knowledge in a rapidly
changing technological environment. It
should be noted that energy remains a significant
management issue for the engineer in
the year 2005, and will for the foreseeable
future.
In no business system as complex as a hotel
is a mechanical or electronic system the
only answer. A tremendous amount of attention
must be given to training personnel to
overcome wasteful habits where energy is
concerned.A classic example is that of kitchen
employees who turn on every appliance in the
kitchen at 6:00 A.M. when maybe only 20 percent
of them are used for the preparation of
breakfast and most of the rest are not needed
until close to lunch. This is representative of
the sort of wasteful habit that is out of the engineer’s
control but that he or she is obligated
to point out to other department heads.
Clearly, the engineer now must have an active
presence as a full member of the management
staff and must be adept at interacting with
other department managers.
By Hotelierr on 5-18-2009 00:44 last edited

PERSONNEL

Manager of Engineering Function

Variously referred to as the chief engineer, director
of building operations, building superintendent,
or some combination of those
terms, this is the individual responsible for the
management of the building’s systems and its
maintenance, repair, and upkeep (Figure 5.3).
As stated earlier, in the past, chief engineers
typically were people who had worked
their way up through the ranks from either
one of the crafts or as an engineering employee
specializing in one of the building systems.
They may have been in hotels all of their
professional career or may have come to a hotel
company from engineering positions in organizations
as diverse as shipping lines,
manufacturing companies, office buildings,
university settings, and hospitals.
Research evidence, however, suggests this
trend may be changing (Rutherford 1987).
Chief engineers responding to this survey describe
themselves collectively according to
the data set forth in Table 5.2. Over 25 percent
of those responding to this nationwide survey
indicated they have a university degree.
Three-quarters of those degrees were in some
area of engineering.This suggests that the sophistication
of modern hotel building operations
may be mandating management by
those whose formal education is more extensive
than that required in the past.
In this study, the typical engineer was 44.5
years old and had been in the hospitality business
about 11 years. This suggests that this
“typical engineer” probably had significant
on-the-job experience or training in his field
in other industries and only recently came
into the hospitality industry. After entering
the hospitality industry, however, it appears
they moved rapidly into management and
were fairly stable in their careers, as evi-
denced by the congruence of average years in
present position and average years at present
hotel.
Figure 5.3 Engineering Department Organization

Engineering Department Organization

Engineering Department Organization.jpg
5-18-2009 00:43
Chief Engineer Demographics

Chief Engineer Demographics

Chief Engineer Demographics.jpg
5-18-2009 00:43
Commenting on these data, one chief engineer
said that, in his experience, more and
more industry engineering managers in the
larger or international hotel firms are being
recruited from among those people who have
had at least some college education, if not actually
holding a college or university degree
in engineering. He suggested that in his company
this does not necessarily reflect a preference
for academic training over practical
experience but rather recognizes the realities
of doing business in today’s competitive environment.
Having completed college study
also suggests that the candidate will understand
and be able to manage the sophisticated
building systems that the company anticipates
installing and being developed for new hotels
into the next century.
In that comment lies one key to understanding
the future of the chief engineer’s job.
The most successful engineers of the future
will very likely be those whose training and
education prepares them to think strategically,
to recognize trends, and do their part to
help the hotel and its owners meet and deal
with the evolutionary issues discussed earlier.
Other Departmental Management Staff

Refer again to Figure 5.3. Depending, of
course, on the size of the hotel and the extent
and sophistication of its engineering functions,
the chief engineer may enjoy the services of a
staff of administrators, including assistant
managers.These people help carry out the administrative
details of operating an increasingly
complicated hotel department. Related
tasks include secretarial support, which may
be combined with a clerical function.
Among the most important administrative
functions of the engineering department
are:
• Helping other department heads make
purchasing decisions.
• Keeping an inventory of spare parts and
building equipment.
• Arranging for the performance of preventive
maintenance on all building
systems.
• Administering contract services such as
pest control, window washing, landscaping,
swimming pool maintenance, groundskeeping,
and construction projects.
As the department grows in size and
scope, a major administrative function involves
scheduling equipment and personnel
to accomplish the tasks of the department.
While scheduling may benefit greatly from
technological advances such as microcomputers
or the hotel’s mainframe computer system,
in a building whose systems are as
complicated and interrelated as those of a hotel,
part of the engineering function must be
the ability to react to nonscheduled events
ranging from overflowing toilets to stuck elevators,
gas leaks, and so forth.
A final administrative function is setting
the groundwork and maintaining the basis for
managerial and administrative decisions that
affect the long-term operation of the engineering
department and, by extrapolation, the
hotel itself. This involves keeping accurate
and up-to-date records regarding the various
building systems and the installation of
capital equipment for which the engineer is
responsible.
These sorts of administrative details
complicate the job of any manager but may
be particularly troubling to the engineer. One
of the main reasons is that while the engineering
department is responsible for the
maintenance and repair of sophisticated and
complicated building systems, under most
circumstances these systems, or their components,
are often operated by (and perhaps
misused by) non-engineering employees and
guests. Particularly in the case of guests, the
engineer has little or no control over the way
in which they treat guest room equipment
and fixtures for which the engineer is responsible.
Engineers who have the luxury of a
well-developed administrative staff find their
job in managing the building and its systems
and the attendant problems much easier if
complete, accurate, and up-to-date records
are available to formulate the basis for planning,
purchasing, budgeting, and control.
Technical Specialists

Typical building functions, which are the responsibility
of the engineering department,
are listed in Figure 5.3. Each has its own place
in providing for the comfort of the guest and
participating in the delivery of the hotel’s
services to the guests. Each has attendant
complications that provide challenges for the
management and staff of the engineering
department.
Heating, ventilating, and air conditioning
(collectively known as HVAC) is concerned
with supplying the production, public, and
guest room areas of the hotel with a clean,
controlled, and comfortable indoor environment.
Modern building HVAC systems provide
for heating or cooling the air, adding or
deleting moisture from the air to adjust for
optimum relative humidity, filtering or cleaning
the air, and moving the air from place to
place within the hotel to provide for a number
of complete changes of air in a room per hour,
depending on local codes and activities within
that particular area of the hotel.
Among the complicating factors here that
challenge the engineering department are
that different areas of the hotel have different
requirements for air. It is easy to see that
kitchens and guest rooms place different demands
on the HVAC system. Lobbies have
different requirements than do other public
areas such as bars, restaurants, and housekeeping
laundry facilities. Engineers call this
job of meeting diverse air needs “providing
the system with balance,” and it is a major
function of the individuals in charge of the
HVAC to deliver the optimum environment
to each area of the hotel.
The plumbing system in a modern hotel
must also perform a number of balancing
functions. First and foremost in the mind of
management, of course, is the delivery of
high-quality water service to guest room areas.
Guests want high-quality water that is
free from visual defects such as dirt and rust,
does not carry odors, and tastes clean and
fresh. Guests also want water that is hot
enough to shave, bathe, and wash in without
the danger of scalding themselves, and they
also want that water in generous supply.
Nothing is more frustrating to a hotel guest
who is paying over $200 a night for a room to
find that the hotel has run out of hot water in
the middle of a morning shave or shower.At
the same time, the engineering department is
expected to deliver production hot and cold
water to the kitchen areas, the housekeeping
and laundry areas, and the food service areas.
Providing for the delivery of high-quality water
service to the various user groups in the
hotel is a major part of the engineering function—
one that, of course, is noticed only
when the system is malfunctioning.
A similar case may be made for the delivery
of electricity.The electrical systems of the
hotel, like the plumbing systems, must be designed
and maintained to serve various user
groups. Again, like plumbing, there is no substitute
for electricity. The engineering staff
must provide the hotel with electrical service
that meets the needs of individual departments
and the needs of guests.
Refrigeration, food production equipment,
and computer systems are examples of
other building system functions for which the
engineering department may be responsible
for repairing, maintaining, replacing, or managing.
While the maintenance of many of
these systems may be contracted to outside
agencies such as the supplier, the engineering
department nonetheless is the first line of defense
in keeping them operating efficiently.
In most modern hotels, the installation
and service of elevator systems are generally
the province of the elevator manufacturer,
and hotels typically have extended maintenance
agreements for the elevators. Most engineering
departments, however, closely
monitor the operation of the elevator systems.
In modern high-rise hotels with highspeed
elevator service, the slightest problem
with that service should be quickly and easily
identified and reported to the contractors. It
is generally the responsibility of the engineering
department to monitor these services and
their contracts closely and carefully.
The crafts represented in Figure 5.3 illustrate
the sorts of specialized skills required by
most hotel engineering departments. Depending
on the size of the hotel and complexity of
its services, an engineering department may
employ on a full-time basis one or more carpenters
and cabinetmakers to maintain, repair,
and build fixtures and furniture for the
hotel’s guests and staff. Similarly, if the service
is not contracted out, hotels may employ an
upholsterer whose major task is to maintain
the high-quality appearance of the vast collection
of furniture in a typical hotel.
Painting, upkeep of the hotel’s grounds,
and landscaping are additional ongoing functions
that require constant attention. These
services may be contracted to outside agencies
or suppliers but are included here to suggest
the range of functions for which the
engineering department is responsible.
ISSUES

In the Rutherford study (1987), the engineers
surveyed were asked to judge the relative importance
of the items on a list of 58 statements
relating to the operation of a modern
hotel engineering department. A statistical
procedure was applied to rank-order the
statements in terms of their rated importance.
The ten most important facets of an engineer’s
job, as derived from this list, are reproduced
in Table 5.3 and serve as the basis for
suggesting the most pressing issues facing hotel
engineering managers at this time. While
these data are 20 years old, they still represent
important concerns of the modern maintenance
chief. An informal telephone survey of
15 CEs, utilizing the same items found little
change in the hierarchy. “Knowledge of maintenance
of equipment” became secondary to
energy-related items and “relations with top
mangement,” but they were all bunched
closely at the top.
Departmental ManagementItems #4, 6, 7, and 8 of Table 5.3 suggest thatmodern hotel engineers deem activities relatingto management of their departments ofhigh importance to success. Communicatingwith employees; providing a safe environment;being able to organize the tasks, activities, andpersonnel in the department; and providingleadership all suggest that the foremost issuesfacing the chief engineer today call for managerialskills rather than the traditional technicalskills.

Table 5.3 Importance of This Item to Operation of My Department

Importance of This Item to Operation of My Department

Importance of This Item to Operation of My Department.jpg
5-18-2009 00:54
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