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Signposts for the Future

12 February 2008

Has the FM sector got the vision, skills, capability and innovative thinking to cope with the changes ahead? Last month’s Workplace Futures conference found that FMs need to look to a future that is radically different for business, the built environment and FM from the past. Jane Fenwick reports

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO, FM emerged in a national economy undergoing structural change and developed support services for the public and private sectors. Now, there is a sense that in the future ‘change’ is going to be on altogether different scale that will bring high levels of uncertainty about when, where and how much change is about to descend on the FM sector.

The purpose of the Workplace Futures conference last month, organized by PFM, and the FMA, was to identify what future is facing the FM sector. Delegates views were tested in straw polls throughout the day. Straw Poll: 85 per cent were concerned that the current economic turmoil, and 95 per cent that environmental concerns, will affect their businesses, however, only one third thought that their organisations were ready to respond effectively to the demands of the future.

Setting the scene Nigel Hambly, Director the Asset Factor described how change has been a constant since the 1980’s but he claimed, “It is an uncertain road then as now. Today is about what we need to do to address challenges as companies and as an industry.”

He proposed the formation of an ‘FM Think Tank’ comprising people experienced in the industry in diverse areas, charged with looking at the forward agenda over the next 4-5 years, and giving guidance on how to take the industry forward.

“The Zero Carbon debate is a prelude to a fundamental way of thinking, “said Paul King, chief executive of UK Green Building Council. Buildings services expert, Ant Wilson, Faber Maunsell, concurred saying, “We need to have a different way of looking at buildings. It is no longer enough to stick ‘brise soleil’ on the
outside of glass buildings. We need to consider different materials and ways of storing store solar thermal energy. FMs need to get up to speed with the change in all building systems – how they work, how they perform and how they need to be maintained.”

Straw Poll: Asked whether delegate’s organisations understood the climate change challenge, 85 per cent said most had ‘got the message’ but were perhaps not taking it seriously enough, and 70 per cent said more legislation would help business tackle climate change effectively.

Expectations on FMs to deliver change and innovative support services in both the public and private sectors will be high. Shadow spokesman for Enterprise, Deregulation and Competition Mark Prisk, said two key issues for the FM sector were how to balance environmental and sustainability issues with business competitiveness, and how to deliver improved public services using the private sector.”

He said: “We need to reach into the private sector to enhance the quality of skills for services that people demand. This means that the private sector has to take on more risk , respond to the need for flexibility in delivering services and facilities, and deliver more services better for less money.”

‘More for less’ was a theme picked up by Rob Harris, Principal, Ramidus Consulting , who pointed out that there will be a growth in employment but not in the space people occupy. This compares to the past when the FM industry has benefitted from a growing economy generating more and more floorspace to manage.

He said, “In future there will be a convergence of interests between business, people, technology and place. This trend needs a newapproach to workplace productivity measurement that is a robust, business centric framework that is not related to property.

“Clients are living in a new world; the workplace must adapt – rapidly,” he said. “The speed and unpredictable nature of change is having a profound impact. Workplace management is now less about property, more about work enablement. Business change means new approaches to the workplace and new outsourcing models and services will emerge.”

Straw Poll: Only 27 percent of delegates said property and facilities issues were well understood at board level with some 63 per cent saying that either the board was not interested in support issues or just ‘not speaking the same language’.

Some corporates are already operating in this future space and their actions provide some pointers to current corporate decisions about their property and facilities futures. Paul Harrington, Property Director, PWC, described his role as “a ‘Regus’ providing space as and where the business needs it”. A global occupier, PWC has 766 offices, spends $1bn on occupancy costs annually for 147,000 people. “In the last 2-3 years I have taken 30 per cent of real estate out of the UK, invested £20m in improved space, technology and FM services, and saved £55m,” he said. “Occupancy levels are 70 per cent - we are working smarter and harder.”

He predicted that other corporates would be following a similar path in future and said “The challenge to the market is to create the right products.”

Shell has been undergoing a similar radical change in its property and FM services provision as Ron Edwards, Global RE Category Manager, explained. Shell’s Global FM platform valued at $1.8bn annually focused on the need for standardized service delivery from a reduced the number of service providers. Given the prize, Edwards said he was surprised that he did not get the innovation expected from outsourcing. “Service providers were not coming up with innovation above the norm but we are working with them to lead them towards innovative thinking.”

For the largest global outsourcing contracts from the biggest corporates, the solution presented by Paul Yearly, CEO Jones Lang LaSalle EMEA IFM must look attractive. Real estate-lead outsourcing of entire global estates in five-year partnerships can reap savings of 15- 25 per cent, claimed Yearly. There is no shortage in potential takers. “The demand for global outsourcing deals covers 150m sq ft” he claimed. “That’s the size of the business districts of London and Paris together.”

Is the FM sector capable of looking face enough ahead, beyond the needs of today to face the challenges of the future? Can their business models bear growing risk transfer while maintaining performance across for increasingly global and critical business functions?

Straw Poll: When asked what where their main concerns for the FM sector are now and in five years, overwhelmingly the response was to ‘improve performance’ in both timescales.

Given a future promising radical change from providing services to organisations in fixed locations within one country, in a temperate climate, in a growing global-leading economy, how will the UK FM sector live up to its aspirations to improve its service performance to clients who are demanding more flexible and responsive services anywhere in the world, or in facilities unsuited to the changing climate, demanding real innovation, risk transfer and more for less?

Workplace Futures exposed a future that presents considerable challenges for the FM sector which has a limited awareness and is not currently capable meeting new demands. The signpost is up and pointing in new directions. However, it is on a high hill and the FM community needs to climb that hill to see the where it needs to go next.

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