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Standard Definition

15 October 2006

In the first of two articles, Stan Mitchell explores why the development standards for FM is important both in the UK and internationally. This month he explains how standards are vital to developing best practice in FM and its status as a profession

STANDARDS EXIST IN A FORMAL OR INFORMAL WAY around everything we do whether it is personal, business or simply the way we wish to conduct ourselves and live our lives. They are sometimes enforced or simply reflective of the values that we hold as organisations or individuals. They are a fact of life whether we like it or not. They act as a 'benchmark' to who we are and how we wish to conduct ourselves in whatever context.

Since my involvement in the establishment of European standards in Facilities Management, I have been surprised that there are some within the FM community who seem to think it a waste of time. Without them, we will either have complete chaos as we all do our own thing (perhaps there are some hidden agendas here!) or we will disappear as a professional discipline or service sector without trace! Standards are fundamental to what I, and many others within the FM communities in the UK and elsewhere, have been striving to achieve over the past 20 years.

This article and its sequel next month in PFM, is designed to put what is currently being done in context and to elaborate about what is coming, particularly in terms of the European standards.

Without standards in FM does our 'profession' have any realistic focus or future? Law dictates some of the standards expected within our society, particularly in relation to our working environment. When you consider that today much of what does affect us in terms of the working environment emanates from Europe rather than our legislature then the establishment of common standards within a European context becomes even more relevant.

Facilities management has, since its emergence in the mid 1980s, been greatly influenced by some of these changes and to some extent the increase of legislation in terms of the built environment has had an influence upon the standing and importance of our sector. It is, therefore, incumbent upon us, if we believe we are a 'professional discipline' to not only adhere to and be aware of such standards, but to also take ownership and become proactive in terms of establishing standards against which we can raise the understanding, awareness and value that we bring to the primary organisation for whom we all provide our services. Failure to do so at best leaves you behind 'best practice' and the latest thinking, at worst potentially operating out with the law!

Without standards, whilst we could be doing everything extremely efficiently and effectively, no one can be sure how we are operating in terms of compliance or measurement. Lack of them can, of course, be a convenient place to hide, particularly if those around us are too busy to compare and review. However, I firmly believe that the vast majority of us within the FM and services communities see ourselves as a 21st century industry and profession and are committed to not just providing the best in call services and support but doing so in a manner that will clearly demonstrate our value and contribution to the primary organisations that we serve.

If we accept that FM is 'business critical' then we must approach it seriously otherwise we are merely a faction that will emerge and disappear as many have before us. In the past 20 years organisations, such as the BIFM, have done much to establish standards directly and indirectly. Caution is necessary when establishing standards. We don't add much value in yet again defining what it is that we actually do; we do, however, add value when we establish meaningful benchmark criteria that can be understood and utilised by all.

In context of the emerging FM and services communities there are, of course, other considerations. Whether all of us realise it or not, we are working in an ever shrinking world of instant communication with fewer and fewer recognisable boundaries in which more and more employers are global in reach and diversity. As a result, we have to consider that the one (UK) size might not fit all! Also some of our colleagues, who do not live or work in the UK, may have some good ideas about what best practice in facilities management might be!

Fortunately, many people have had the foresight to push ahead with the establishment of standards across our sector. Standards, in their widest sense, have already been established and indeed have influenced the progress of the FM market that is today a significant business support sector and growing profession. Where would we be if those who established the Association of Facilities Managers and the Institute of Facilities Management back in the mid 1980's hadn't bothered; what if those who developed the BIFM accreditation standards in the 1990's to which UK universities benchmark their degree courses hadn't bothered; and what if those who established the European standards which were a key to our achieving a Standard Industrial Classification (SIC code) hadn't bothered? On the latter, the Government would still not recognise that FM existed!!

Every FM in the country has gone some way to develop his or her own standards. When we organise ourselves, when we accept, develop or challenge the methodology within the organisations in which we work, we are developing standards. In any profession the need to establish clearly understood and universally acceptable standards is paramount. However, perhaps more importantly are the standards against which we will be judged by the outside world and it is in this context that we, as individuals, do not typically have the time or inclination to develop.

Currently the BIFM is reviewing its standards in terms of the core competencies that it considers to be reflective of facilities management. What has become apparent through the discussions regarding the European standards, as well as through the establishment of the Global Facility Management Association, is that there exist many variations of any such standards. This in turn has identified the need to establish a consensus that is meaningful internationally should we wish to establish a profession that can be recognised on such a platform.

Working for standards
Equally important is the work currently being done by the BIFM, Asset Skills and others around the National Curriculum and higher education sectors to establish a clear path to standards achievement in a personal competency framework that all will understand.

ASSET SKILLS: Asset Skills is a relatively new organisation which has been established via Government through recognition of the need for standards to be established in education and competency of those individuals who work within the sector. This will help to show both what FM is and also how a career can be plotted within it. It is doing much to establish a 'bottom up' perspective (one that is badly needed) in order to structure the eeducationf of our sector and profession in a manner that will integrate in a meaningful way. It is creating National Occupational Standards upon which such development would be linked and based. Such standards being agreed statements of skills, knowledge and understanding required of individuals at work.

If the FM profession is to survive and grow, standards are the foundations upon which it must be built. The fact that Asset Skills, as a Government initiative, is doing so is a clear indication that we are building a sector and a profession that is being recognised for the value that it brings. www.assetskills.org

BRITISH STANDARDS INSTITUTE: Within the UK, standards associated with industry and commerce are formally delivered through the British Standards Institute (BSI). The BSI achieves this through the bringing together of experts representing all strands of opinion and expertise within any given subject area. In 2002 the BSI recognised the emergence of FM and established a facilities management committee. The BSI in turn belongs to two other organisations which raise the standards at European and International levels. These organisations are The European Committee for Standardisation Central European Normalisation (CEN), the umbrella body for the National Standards Bodies (NSBfs) of the EU, and the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) which as its name suggests is the body that considers and issues internationally recognised standards. The BSI is the National Standards Body which represents the UK perspective on both bodies. www.bsiglobal.com

OSCAR: OSCAR stands for Open Standards Consortium for Real Estate. Its equivalent organisation in the UK, Africa and Middle East is PISCES and is linked to OSCAR. In attempting to bring standards to the real estate sector, OSCAR has been established to bring some 'method to the madness' in order that benchmarking can ultimately take place in a standard format and approach. With its origins in the real estate community the work that it does has the potential to influence the FM community. Whether it actually does or not remains to be seen but the need for a standard approach to use a common language and terminology, measure in a common format against recognised criteria and ultimately benchmark across as wide a community as possible in a meaningful way has to be a desirable objective for the facilities management world.

With the ever increasing development of technology and the ability to communicate seamlessly in a global context, the opportunities to do so demand that a common format of data capture is used. The emergence of XML has formed the basis of the work being carried out through OSCAR establishing the data criteria that should enable seamless comparisons to be met. As with any standards there is required an incredible amount of work not just to establish standards but also to gain a consensus in doing so; OSCAR and PISCES have been established to do just that. Their progress to date and overview of what is being done can be seen at www.pisces.co.uk and www.oscre.org.

GLOBAL FM: A new aspect of standards development within the FM community is the recent emergence of the Global Facility Management Association (Global FM). It has been established to promote and enhance worldwide leadership and consistency in our growing profession and sector. Its intent is to create the worldwide community of organisations that provides leadership in FM. It will achieve this through the development and promotion of knowledge, standards and education in the FM profession. Using one voice, collaborate on the development and means to share the progress of FM, knowledge and standards internationally. In attempting to achieve such a consensus and establish standards, amongst other things, it intends to support the ongoing development and collaboration in building an International standards framework for FM and facilitate such initiatives where required. It will do so through its membership bodies that will primarily be national facilities management associations from around the world. www.globalfm.org

EUROPEAN STANDARDS: The initiative to establish European Standards in FM began 2002 will deliver the first two standards around the end of this year. European standards are developed through CEN and Technical Committee 348 is the committee that deals with all things FM-related. The NSB's (National Standards Bodies) entitled to participate through their membership of CEN and who, as members, are bound to implement these European Standard are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

CEN 348 has now established the first two standards which will belong to the FM 'family' designated prEN 15222. The first two of these 'Terms and Definitions' (prEN 15222-1) and 'Guidance on how to prepare Facility Management Agreements' (prEN 15222-2) are now complete and will be published late in 2006/ early 2007. Subsequent standards (of which more in the next article) will be issued in the sequence of the EN 15222 - family of standards.

The CEN approach to the creation of standards is a lengthy one but within that it is also a very robust process that establishes standards through consensus. Next month, I will explain how CEN 348 was developed and agreed.

....Stan Mitchell is CEO of Key Facilities Management (www.keyfm.co.uk), and a past Chairman of the BIFM,. He is Convenor of WG2 within the CEN348 Technical Committee which established the European Standard committee and chairman of Global FM (www.globalfm.org), a 'worldwide alliance of FM organisations, providing leadership in the advancement of the FM profession'.


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