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Pages in History

15 March 2006

Searching for the first issue of PFM in 1986, Jane Fenwick discovers that the pace of technology that has transformed the last two decades shows no sign of slowing. In fact, it is facilities professionals who have most to gain by embracing it.

Welcome to the special 20th anniversary edition of PFM, the UK’s oldest specialist facilities management magazine. Twenty year’s ago this month, in March 1986, the first issue of ‘Premises Management’ was published by John Allen Publishing. As the then editor, Tony Glover, said in his first editorial, “Until now there has been no magazine which provides a regular source of relevant information as well as a forum for discussion and debate.” Over the next 20 years, PFM has achieved this - and much more.

In 1986 the term Premises Manager was preferred in the UK above the American term Facilities Manager. It took five years before the magazine first incorporated ‘Facilities Management’ into its title when in January 1990 – two years after being acquired by its current publisher, IML Group - it changed name to Premises & Facilities Management. On our 10th birthday, a re-design saw the birth of the acronym P&FM, a brand image that lasted until January 1999 when the ‘&’ was lost to create PFM in its current familiar design.

Every month, and now also fortnightly in FM Report and increasing on-line at www.pfmmagazine.co.uk, PFM has been the key source of information, advice, technical knowhow and debate for much of the growing FM business sector. We have always believed that a free exchange of knowledge is the only way for the growing facilities management sector to thrive, and now as in the past we rely on the expert articles from those who have ‘hands-on’ experience across a breadth of subjects.

This 20th anniversary issue contains the reflections on the past and predictions for the future of many people who have supported PFM over many years, for which we say a big THANKYOU.

Any comment on the last 20 years cannot ignore the technological revolution in business processes and communications all sectors have experienced. It has revolutionised the way we work, how and where the buildings we work in are arranged and located, and how and what services are managed.

It has been the same in publishing. When I joined the PFM team as an assistant editor in 1993, working with the then editor, Richard Byatt (now the BIFM’s Communications and External Affairs Manager), the fax machine was the height of office technology. Production techniques have changed, but publishing is still largely about putting ink on paper although digital alternatives are gaining ground.

There are few places where this clash of time and technology meet head on so dramatically than at The British Library at St Pancras, London. Copies of PFM are stored there together with some 260,000 journal titles, over 150 million books, maps, music scores, stamps, photographs, sound recordings, microfilms, papyri, and more.

When this magazine started in 1986, the British Library was still a building site, not fully occupied for another 10 years. As John de Lucy, the British Library’s Head of Estates and Facilities reminded me as he led me down to Level One of the building’s four basement levels, the building had to be designed for a 150 year life span to house the output of printing in all its forms past, present and future. However, even before it completes its first 10 years, it is has had to embrace the digital revolution – probably just the first of many technological changes in its lifetime.

Back copies of PFM are stored in boxes on long track-mounted filing units. They take up less than a metre of the 625km of shelving in the Library. Each year another 12km are added, mostly at the British Library’s repository at Boston Spa in Yorkshire, to house a further three million items a year. Had I not prevailed upon John de Lucy for the special trip into the whisper-silent bookstacks beneath the familiar red-brick building at St Pancras, London, (left) I could have registered as a Reader, found the magazine in the Library catalogue and requested it be delivered to me in one of the Library’s 13 reading rooms, or ordered it online ready to read the next day.

Once retrieved by hand, logged and barcoded, the item is placed into one of red plastic trays that whisk it unseen via the Mechanical Book Handling System to the correct reading room.

This much has not changed. However, the Library’s role as serving primarily the academic community is fast evolving as accessibility of information to a wider audience is realised.

Already London’s biggest wireless hotspot, the British Library is embracing technological change to make its contents more relevant to this wider audience. Academic Readers can now handle an original text in the Reading Room and research online by connecting their laptops to the wireless network. Meanwhile any casual visitor can read close up some of the world’s oldest manuscripts and documents using the Library’s ‘turning the page’ technology.

Last year the Library announced a strategic partnership with Microsoft to digitise around 100,000 books from the British Library out-ofcopyright books. The digitised contents will be made available on the library's website and through the new MSN Book Search service that will help people to find books. De Lucy is currently overseeing the installation of 10 scanning stations for the Microsoft team in the St Pancras building.

The Library has already proved itself to be a perfect meeting place in its cafes and meeting rooms, and now in a new venture starting this month, the Business and Intellectual Property Centre will bring entrepreneurs and new business start-up companies into its sphere. A new form of reading room has been created to provide research, meeting and networking space that links patented inventions and business potential.

According to de Lucy, this “facilities-led” revolution will ultimately result in a public environment at the British Library that in future will allow a visitor’s humble mobile phone to use wi-fi to ‘interact’ with exhibits in the collection. This is part of its radical rethinking of the search for and understanding of knowledge in which de Lucy sees the British Library as a test bed for new thinking on information and communications and how it operates as a national resource both within its buildings and beyond.

The outcomes may be different but the technological and business challenges facing every organisation in future will be as demanding as those of the past. As our review of the past 20 years demonstrates in this issue, facilities management is more than capable of adapting to change. The difference this time is that the outcomes can and must be led by facilities professionals.


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