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27 January 2012

The heat is on for facilities managers to rise to the challenges of their business. Gordon Moody discusses

In 2010 the UK facilities management was worth an estimated £85 billion. Covering a plethora of sectors spanning both the private and public world, facilities management professionals in all these industries are facing increasingly complex and tricky demands from the business, many of which are space related.

Whether space problems arise from relocation, redundancies, downsizing, archiving, the paper trail or refurbishment, facilities managers are increasingly under pressure to engage strategically with the business or organisation they work for with regards to solving the problems they face on a day to day basis. And all this while trying to keep costs buckled down.

Space – the lack of it or having to maximise it - is a common challenge for facilities management professionals, in all industries, each and every sector facing their own specific issues which need thought and precision when coming up with a solution. An additional challenge is for facilities management professionals to have a strategic approach to space management, as opposed to the firefighting many have to do when the business comes up against different and often unexpected problems.

Take the retail sector. This January sales season is set to be a bumper one. With an austerity Christmas approach being adopted by many UK families, many high street retailers across the country are anticipating a much larger sales stock than they usually cope with, having been unable to sell much of their winter stock. For the retail facilities management function, this presents a significant number of problems.

In the first instance, where do they store this stock? Retailers will have a certain amount of warehouse floor space at strategic locations around the country. However, this needs to scale up at certain times of year, specifically at sales times. For facilities managers, this can cause problems particularly when they are unable to ascertain exactly how much storage space they need in advance. The space also needs to be close to key retail outlets to aid ease of replenishment. So how do retail facilities managers cope with this solution? Many deal with the space they have, increasing the number of deliveries to stores. More are starting to look at self storage as a way to increase their capacity at key seasonal times, having easily scaleable warehouse space close to key stores, ensuring that stores can have timely access and deliveries to keep stock to the requisite levels.

Public sector facilities managers are also embroiled in the race for space. The scope for facilities management in the public sector is enormous, covering everything from schools, council buildings, leisure centres, nursing homes and hospitals. In fact, the NHS estate is the largest and most complex estate in Europe with buildings ranging from state of the art healthcare facilities, to hospitals that were built decades ago. It currently comprises 25 million m2 of occupied floor area and has a value of £36 billion for buildings and equipment.

For the NHS and every other public sector department, one of the principle challenges facing facilities management is the issue of austerity measures and budget cuts. Not only are they having to deal with the same problems, but they need to do so on a considerably smaller budget. When you take space into consideration, public sector redundancies are causing a headache in facilities management terms. Public sector facilities managers are under the kosh, having to deal with departments that are shedding head count and equipment and may even be closing. This means public sector facilities management professionals need to find housing for documents, office furniture and IT equipment pretty rapidly.

So how do they tend to deal with these types of problems? More often than not it is a “make do and mend” approach, having to resort to leaving items where they stand until they either sell, dispose or eventually reuse them. In the meantime, they are holding up valuable real estate. How can facility managers tackle these problems more strategically and ensure maximum availability of floor space, minimal clutter and security for the items they need to clear away? Building a space and storage strategy that meets requirements and maximises the budget is becoming increasingly key. Again, self storage, where public sector organisations can use flexible, secure storage facilities which they can expand and contract in line with their requirements could be part of the solution.

London 2012 is another major factor causing space and storage headaches for the facilities management industry. As the capital gears up for the Olympics, facilities managers involved in events, security, building management, waste management and all the other myriad services associated with the world’s largest sporting event, are busy trying to anticipate all potential problems and plan accordingly.

Take the sheer number of events and marketing initiatives that will be run in and around the Olympics. Countless business and organisations will be running hospitality and sponsorship activities to support different sporting events – most if not all of these will have a storage requirement. Being able to store equipment and goods safely and securely in a location which enables companies to have round the clock access will be key for their Olympics programme.

Traffic will also be a major factor for facilities managers during the Games. With nine million spectators pouring into London for the 16 day period, the artery roads in and around London will be clogged up, making deliveries and pick ups to and from venues a veritable nightmare.
The Transport Commissioner has recently warned businesses about the problems of taking big lorries into central London for the duration of the Olympics, so facilities managers are having to think more laterally about how they can circumvent this issue. Having smaller storage locations around London and using smaller vehicles to distribute goods could be the solution.

For any facilities management function involved in planning around the Olympics, the advice on space is to plan well in advance, making an estimate of your space and storage requirements and if needs be, getting the right partner on board.

It’s clearly apparent that as private and public sector organisations operate in an increasingly tough environment and come up against very specific challenges, so the role of facilities management becomes a more strategic and vital function for the business. With regards to space management, having a clearly defined, business-wide space strategy will help facilities managers to be on the front foot when dealing with the different challenges the business throws up, free up valuable real estate, keep the business running as smoothly and efficiently as possible and help them keep a tight reign on costs. The space challenge is a tough one for the facilities management professional, whatever the sector, but getting a handle on it sooner rather than later, will help them stay ahead of the curve.

Gordon Moody is head of national accounts at Safestore

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