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Opportunities for FM in the downturn

14 June 2008

Opening the debate at the European FM conference, EFMC2008 in Manchester last month, economist and futurist Hamish McRae provided an explanation of the pressures on the global economy and how these were likely to impact on businesses, the way they work and ultimately on FM services.

He described long term shifts in economic conditions affected by the ageing population in ‘western’ economies. He said working population levels will peak in Europe by 2017, and this combined with other factors such as the end of the oil era will come in our lifetime and see a power shift to energy producers such as Russia, Canada and Brazil.

He challenged the 380 FMs from Europe, Asia, US and Africa attending the conference to face these challenges that are happening now and in the next decade. “Your companies will be under pressure to use people more effectively to undertake the work it manages for others. You will have a really important role in helping companies and societies achieve a lower energy use world.”

He envisaged that high cost countries will have to ‘grind up’ productivity, be smarter - not just outsource to low cost countries - use technology better and reduce the number of people in offices by teleworking. “Technology creates surprising opportunities in the downturn,” he said.

He predicted that the “Global economic recovery will take time to mature.” He advised, “Be nimble, use the fact that the down part of the cycle is a commercial opportunity. It is a great time for the FM business sector to gain competitive advantage.”

Aessions on how two major multinationals are addressing their property and facilities costs in this economic environment were well attended. Maril can Waes, explained how the decision of the Dow Chemical Company to outsource its back office operations in India impacted on the occupancy of its European estate. It became the opportunity to reduce costs, introduce office and furniture standards, provide alternative workplaces such as hotelling and invest in IT tools for FM and RE management and reporting. The FM team became a unified unit and was aligned to the business goals. The result was a saving of $40m on reduced space and related costs, and brought the prospect of taking a similar approach in its laboratory activities.

At Norway’s StatoilHydro, a company merger necessitated a realignment of FM services to support its 31,000 employees in 40 countries including 39 gas and oil fields, 2,000 service stations, mostly in Scandinavia and a developing carbon capture business. The FM operation covered 21 locations in Norway and Scandinavia but it will soon take on responsibility for the international offices. As Svein Harald Storli of StatoiHydro explained, the FM operation aims to be a world class operation with a global delivery capability. A web portal for shared services has been developed that enables 70 per cent or work requests solved in the first two stages of the process. It has used the new European Standard as a baseline for benchmarking its activities.

In another well attended session, Chris Philips, head of National Counter Terrorism Security Office embedded in MI5 outlined the new threats to business and people from global terrorism. He explained that these new terrorists recorded the ‘success’ of their operations in mass casualties, and they detonated multiple devices without warning using a variety of weapons and bomb including suicide bombers. He said providing ‘safe rooms’ within buildings at their strongest point should be considered to protect staff

He urged FMs to reconsider their evacuation plans in the event of terrorist threats and incidents. “Your current evacuation plan could make it worse for your people. Evacuating people from your building onto the street to assemble in large groups makes them a potential target, “ he said.

He said businesses are in the front line and are the main target for electronic and chemical attack, and at risk of radicalised ‘insiders’. He explained that Project Argus is disseminating this information to businesses, architects and planners and providing training in how to keep people safe.

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