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New Skills for Growth

18 March 2011

The FM sector has developed its own skilled and professional people to manage the facilities and services, but as it grows and changes, it needs to look further afield for the skills to continue to innovate, as James Flew explains

FACILITIES MANAGEMENT AS A PROFESSION has changed dramatically since the potential for increased use of electronic technology and in particular, networked PCs, in all areas of business management was recognised some 30 years ago. The very creation of Premises & Facilities
Management (PFM) magazine in 1986 was itself a recognition that the ex-serviceman in a hut near the factory gates, rejoicing in the title of caretaker and having his own radio and kettle, was no longer sufficient to secure, maintain and manage the services upon which anorganisation relied for its day-to-day operations.
Facilities management as we know it today was born. However, even then, FM was little more than an agglomeration of support services bundled together under a single management structure to provide greater cost-efficiency.
The pace of business software development, and of improvements in PC hardware’s ability to run new software packages and store large quantities of data was breathtaking in the 1980s, and even more so in the 1990s. By the late 1980s, improvements in technology were beginning to make PC-based building management systems (BMS) possible, although earlier BMS systems had existed in large organisations running on mainframes and mini computers. By the mid 1990s PC-based BMS was a major factor in FM strategies and management.
This greater reliance on technology required people with the training, innate ability and familiarity with the equipment and software that made it all possible – and selecting the right people for FM became as important a factor in achieving success as adopting the right technologies.
Increasingly, it was data generated by BMS, energy control systems and other software that enabled management to demonstrate their organisations’ compliance with ever more demanding environmental standards. In the UK and in the rest of the industrialised world, the built environment was becoming more sophisticated, producing data that was more transparent and meeting targets that governments and environmental groups were setting for the benefit of future generations.
Environmentally acceptable thinking became progressively more important as a management role, and FM became increasingly a boardroom responsibility. As such, FM issues were discussed at board level and financial management looked more closely at how FM objectives could be cost-effectively achieved.
Inevitably, private and public sector organisations began to look outside their own structure for specialised skills and experience. The increased complexity of FM requirements and systems created a major industry in the form of FM outsourcing organisations.
Companies that were originally contract cleaning or contract maintenance organisations have expanded vastly to be able to provide customers with the ultimate in FM capability. Customer organisations with large portfolios of industrial and/or commercial premises, seeking to control costs and gain the benefits of the newest FM developments without heavyweight capital expenditure, have increasingly turned to FM outsourcing. Facilities management has itself become big business.
All this considered, however, the growth of FM outsourcing has not been entirely without problems. The major FM organisations, by adopting similar approaches to the various key challenges of FM, have to some extent reduced the degree of innovation and scientific development that is available to advance FM skills and technology.
Their customers, like everybody else during the past two or three difficult years, look to buy the FM services that they need, with the data output that their financial management systems require, for the lowest possible cost. Inevitably, in this highly competitive market, the FM contractors tend to keep to familiar solutions with known reliability and costs. The result, equally inevitably, can be a lack of innovation and originality – a ‘me too’ approach.
The people in the FM industry, as in many other industries, tend either to remain with one company for many years, hoping for advancement either through their own achievements, or through the expectation of older managers’ retirements, or to move between the principal companies in the industry to seek new opportunities and challenges to build their range of experience and knowledge. Too often, moving from one organisation, whose margins are being squeezed by customers who seek constantly to reduce costs, to another rival company with a similar problem, fails to provide those new opportunities to innovate and shine.
The very fact that the growth of the FM industry has been linked to the constant need for new technologies, software and techniques to meet ever changing environmental, health, energy and maintenance targets, means that there are people outside the FM industry itself who have the experience, scientific understanding and grasp of political and environmental objectives and pressures that the FM industry needs if it is to be able to innovate and develop new approaches.
My company, Metzger Search & Selection, has been active in finding the people that the FM industry needs for some 16 years, and has seen many changes during that time. However, Metzger is also actively involved with a number of other specialised technologically orientated industries, including a major commitment to helping Britain’s energy companies locate the senior people that they need to develop and advance the use of new energy monitoring and total FM techniques in their own industries.
Metzger is also actively involved in finding key senior people for executive and management roles in the wider Business Service and Business Process Outsourcing industries, where innovation and change, and the search for new approaches to problems are everyday issues.
Inevitably, therefore, Metzger directors know bright people in industries complementary to FM, and whose experience will already include finding new ways through problems similar to those that FM contractors are experiencing now.
Some of those extremely experienced people could be the means by which the FM industry is provided with new sources of innovation, new thinking and new sales propositions.
There has for many years been a developing clash between the roles of asset managers and FMs. The asset managers are essentially there to protect, and, if possible, enhance the value of the building. They serve the interests of the investor, and have little direct interest in how the building functions. The FMs role is to make buildings function well in the interest of those who occupy, use and visit the building. Their objective is to make the tenants happy.
The asset managers tend to view the FMs as menials who organise the cleaning and get the lines in the car park repainted. The FMs have a way of characterising the asset managers as faceless financial manipulators, interested only in profit.
Broader skills
The facts are, of course, somewhat more complex than that. Both asset managers and FMs have skills and expertise that serve the objectives of the other. FMs have a major role in retaining the goodwill of tenants and ensuring that periodic rent reviews are more likely to be accepted, and since rents are the major part of the investor’s return on capital invested, that fulfils part of the asset manager’s objectives. Asset managers, in their reviews of revenue generated by the buildings in their portfolios, seek to identify ways in which revenue could be increased. That inevitably causes them to identify features of the building that are falling behind market requirements – it might be the speed of the lifts, the air quality delivered by the air conditioning or the appearance of the floor in the atrium – and to discuss how to improve the revenue potential of the property with the FM.
Working together, each can serve the objectives of the other. Which brings me back to the point that FM now needs a broader range of skills thanit did. FM contractors and organisations with inhouse FM teams should look beyond just people with FM experience when looking for new talent to take their organisations to the next level of efficiency and return.
The role of FM will continue to change as technologies advance and the demands of investors and their asset managers increase. The expectations and requirements of tenants and users of buildings are also constantly changing, and the FM must be authoritatively able to mediate between the requirements of the investor and the expectations of the user. That takes financial skills as well as technical knowledge.
James Flew is co-founder of Metzger.

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