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interview

15 February 2006

As he stands down from chairmanship of EuroFM, Lionel Prodgers talks to Jane Fenwick about his plans for the future

FOR A MAN WHO DOES NOT regard himself as a ‘committee man’ by nature, Lionel Prodgers has found himself chairing some of the key ones in the world of facilities management at their most critical times. He was chairman of the BIFM and interim manager at the turn of the Millennium and he played a key role insteering it through to financial stability. Last month he handed over the reigns of EuroFM to Jose Garcia Cuartero after five vital years in which he has ensured that the organisation is grounded in reality. This month he takes up a new role heading IFMA’s Knowledge Management Working Group.

“I have a healthy impartial view,” he explained. “I understand deeply the issues and the fact that you have to tolerate so many different perspectives and views. This is particularly so in Europe. It has been a rewarding education to see a microcosm of what running the European Union must be like as we try to get decisions and make progress in EuroFM. Everyone has an opinion and a valid contribution to make.”

Prodgers became chairman of EuroFM at a time when interest and activity in FM was growing across more countries. A network initially of individuals in academic institutions and FM education sharing research and knowledge, EuroFM grew to embrace practising facilities managers, many of whom were working in emerging markets, often virtually alone and unsupported by a national FM organisation.

EuroFM operates as a virtual network of individuals and leaders of national institutions and organisations rather than a mass membership organisation, although its members do meet face-to-face annually at its European conference and exhibition, and at smaller Network Meetings at two other times each year. Prodgers role has been one of quiet diplomacy, treading carefully between disparate and strongly held national and international ambitions to reach conclusions that can be sustainable in the long term. He continues: “I try to play down the expectations of the EuroFM organisation. Its value as a network has been immense and people should be content with what it has done. It is good to have a healthy idea of being bigger and better but the uniqueness of EuroFM is that it has exchanged and advanced knowledge, and created education and research Network Groups. As a federation of leaders of organisations it works at that
level.”

EuroFM does not exist to promote cross-border FM, he explained, but rather to investigate and understand the cultural and national differences and nuances that exist between countries and regions across the enlarged Europe. Nowhere has this been demonstrated more than the detailed negotiations to establish the CEN standard, TC348 for Facilities Management, that EuroFM has been observing closely. Defining terms and definitions has proved to be particularly arduous and lengthy as 28 countries individually translated their separate understanding of the vocabulary of FM into a common meaning.

One of Prodgers key contributions over the last two years has been to ensure that the European FM conference has a secure financial basis on which to build for the future. Previously organised by the local and often small national EuroFM organisation, Prodgers chairmanship has seen it merged with IFMA's European event to create EFMC, and the 2005 and 2006 events organised professionally by the German exhibition organiser, Mesago, alongside a large German national FM exhibition in Frankfurt. Next year it moves to Zurich.

Prodgers would have been sorely missed by EuroFM had he not also deliberately provided for his own replacement by developing a succession plan for the organisation. Relying on the voluntarily efforts of busy professionals, EuroFM has occasionally ‘run out of steam’ through lack of personnel able devote time to its activities. Over the last two years, Prodgers has reformed its constitution to allow for clear succession of its key roles by establishing vice chairmen for each office in the organisation. The first handover took place last month at the EuroFM network meeting in Delft when not only did Prodgers hand over to the next chairman, Jose Garcia Cuartero (Spain), but also treasurer Hans Braat (Netherlands) was succeeded by Ole Emil Malstrom (Denmark), and Suvi Nenonen (Finland) was replaced as chair of the Education Network Group by Thomas Madritsch (Austria). (See report and photograph on page 10)

Not one to stand still for long, Prodgers has already taken up a new role heading IFMA’s Knowledge Management Working Group. This new group will, he explained, have the brief to look at the whole issue of information in the form of knowledge, where it resides in the IFMA organisation and how it can be used for its members as well as for the FM industry as a whole.

His group has two and a half years to develop IFMA’s knowledge management policies and objectives and establish some initiatives. He explained, “I am personally convinced that information management has to be at the root of how we manage things in the future. I can’t contemplate management processes without information being at the heart of it. This is the future and most people are beginning to see that management processes must be seen from an information perspective. How is the information needed for decisions to be made being recorded and passed on, and how is information used at the beginning of the process fit for use at the end of the life cycle? It’s a challenge.”

Information and knowledge management has been his mantra since 2000 when he teamed up with Professor Matthew Bacon who had similar ideas to his but from a technical perspective. Ark was established to develop a solution. He explained, “Everyone is familiar with being overloaded with emails and attachments. Every organisation has the same dilemma. All this information is residing outside what used to be a conventional structured database, and as a result ‘corporate knowledge’ is leaking out of the organisation. Suppliers also have ‘knowledge’ that through outsourcing has gone from the client organisation to the supplier organisation. In any project, information is held all over the place rather than in a neat server that contains it all. We used to have librarians who knew where everything was and filed information according to known conventions. Some people have tried to do that with filing protocols but the real issue is attachments to emails that sit on email servers and not within the organisation but on laptops and PCs anywhere.

“Our challenge and solution,” he continued, “is to look at it from another perspective. We need to establish what information is critical and find ways of tagging it as it moves around the organisation so that it informs the ‘repository’ of where it is being held. We should not try to classify everything but treat the repository as more of a register of where information is residing. Then you can go and get it because it you know where it is.”

Knowledge management solutions can work for any information, in any business sector and anywhere in the world, he explained. The solution that Ark has devised is an information process engine which mirrors businesses so that it knows where information is and then tracks activity around it to discover and record who is looking at it, who is using it, what they are doing to it for version control.

Interest has already come from those engaged in large construction projects where the volumes and complexity of information is the greatest and where ‘version control’ is most critical. It could also have potential for PFI projects and even construction of Olympic Games facilities. He sees particular relevance to large public sector projects that are often criticised for not working properly or not being ‘value for money’. He sees a gap there between management needs and the technology available. He explained: “Ark is in the neutral world with no proprietary systems showing what is possible with these new technologies, and mixing XML and web based HTML and internet as part of the software process to read and accept information. There are no territorial boundaries. Enquiries come from anywhere and can be delivered anywhere. I give demonstrations of the system to people in Hong Kong, Spain and Canada all on line and in real time.”

This is far removed from his life as a commercial agent just two decades ago when he purchased farmland in Marlow on which the corporate HQ for Xerox was built. This building was featured in the first issue of PFM in March 1986. At that time he expected his career as a commercial agency to continue, but following moves into the emerging world of facilities management and heading the FM arm of Chesterton, he is now once again ploughing new furrows, this time in the world of knowledge management. “I had no grand plan. I take life as it comes,” he concluded.

“It has been a rewarding education to see a microcosm of what running the European Union must be like as we try to get decisions and make progress in EuroFM. Everyone has an opinion and a valid contribution to make.”

“I am personally convinced that information management has to be at the root of how we manage things in the future. I can’t contemplate management processes without information being at the heart of it.”


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