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Fact or fiction?

Author : Tim Fryer

28 February 2012

I was sitting in a conference the other day listening to negativity. During the course of the day I heard that the industry was moving into decline, that single service providers would die, as would the exciting technology of telepresence, and that the industry had to redefine itself if it is to exist.

All of which may be true, but I seriously doubt it.

Is the industry in decline? I will accept that growth is declining at the moment, but actual industry revenue? There is a standard industry model that shows when a market reaches maturity then the double digit growth levels out dramatically. However, for all that it has taken 25 years for the outsourced FM model to mature, there is a general acceptance that there are still large swathes of the public sector yet to embrace outsourced services and further growth is inevitable. Two surveys I have run in PFM recently, one from the Business Services Association and the other from Barclays, indicate that the UK business services sector is a real success story. For all that 2012 may not be our finest hour the predictions for further in the future are positive. So where did the ‘decline’ come from?

Suggestions (and I admit this wasn’t presented as a fact) of the death of single service providers set a few people shifting uncomfortably in their seats, as there were several present. However, I would have thought there is more evidence to suggest that any provider that continues to add value will have their place. Total FM providers are happy to pull in third parties rather than self-deliver if it makes business sense. While I concede in this case that the single service providers will have to be good to survive, I suspect most of them would take this as a challenge that sits pretty well into their business plans anyway.

I have seen some of the latest telepresence systems in practice, in fact at last year’s xSolutions show there were many examples of how stunning, and progressive, this sort of technology can be. What is more is that it is increasingly being used to replicate large meetings and conferences in such a slick manner that they will be used more and more to reduce corporate travel bills and better utilise employees time. What I suspect was at the core of this argument was perhaps that video conferencing, very much low-end technology compared to telepresence, was being superceded by the capabilities within our laptop PCs and communication methods such as Skype, and I am sure that this is the case.

And the industry needs to redefine itself if it is to survive? Why? Managing a building basically involves making sure that certain functions are performed to ensure that the occupants of the building are as productive and as happy as possible. Some will manage this well and some will manage it badly as in any walk of life, but there is no need for a re-invention as far as I can see.

What I have done above is fall into he trap I am about to describe – headline grabbing! The conference itself was largely excellent and the speakers entertaining and informative. Yet the trouble in any such environment is that the speaker feels a need to say something controversial – something that justifies their billing as an interesting speaker and industry guru. Consultants, who have particular interest in promoting their guru status, are particularly guilty of this. Rather sadly I confess it is also often true of journalists. So when a consultant comes up with an uncomfortable statement concerning the impending demise of the world as we know it, I think it is fair to ask ourselves if this can be backed up with fact or is he or she just ensuring their place on this season’s speaking circuit.

My real point then is not to start boycotting conferences, they are a great place to learn, meet people and exchange ideas - but keep an open and questioning mind throughout!

As always, I would be delighted to get your feedback on any of my thoughts above. Send them to me at tim.fryer@imlgroup.co.uk and I will add relevant comments to this blog.


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