Why is Facilities Management Struggling to be Strategic?

Dan Weiss
The industry is pushing for facilities management (FM) to be viewed as a strategic business function; adding value and contributing to business success.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has published its first edition guidance note on strategic facilities management, and has followed this up with other initiatives in its Think Strategic campaign, including the recently published set of best practice case-studies. Industry social media is also alive with reports of FM strategy groups, conferences and round-table events.

In what way is facilities management a strategic organisational function?

FM activity incurs large costs and most organisations see and manage FM as just that; a cost. FM budgets therefore inevitably attract pressure to save money and produce ‘more-for-less’. For most organisations, space (property and FM) is only surpassed on the balance sheet by ICT and people costs. ICT, people and space combine to deliver business success or failure. People are usually the most costly factor, and their workspace is an integral contributor to the maximisation of their value. If FM (as part of ‘delivering space’) is an important strategic ingredient, why is it struggling to make the case? Let’s consider how the FM industry approaches the argument.

Definition and identity

The RICS strategic FM guidance note cites seven definitions before settling on, the effective management of place and space, integrating an organisation's support infrastructure to deliver services to staff and customers at best value whilst enhancing overall organisational performance.

FM is about managing the facility – where the facility is space within which an organisation's activities take place.

Many definitions over-complicate FM and read more as a justification for FM, rather than a definition by which organisations and FM teams can identify the value they create. FM is about managing the facility – where the facility is space within which an organisation's activities take place. It is about maximising how space contributes to productivity and to people's engagement with the organisation and its goals. Keeping definition and identify simple is important if strategic recognition is to be achieved. 

Industry approach

Phrases like, 'FM was denied access to the boardroom', and, 'businesses failing to see the strategic value of FM', are common. But FM has to earn its place in the boardroom and prove it has a strategic role in meeting the organisation's objectives. So how can FM earn its place at the strategy table? Many factors will influence this but here are four simple steps:

1. Maturity assessment – deliver the basics and meet expectations

  • Is the environment safe?

  • Is asset maintenance compliant with legislation and standards?

  • Is the catering offer fit for purpose

  • Is the front-of-house experience aligned to the organisation’s proposition?

  • Is the FM service accessible and responsive?

  • Are the controls, procedures and data in place to make informed FM decisions?

  • Is there effective management information to prove performance and progress?

Honest answers to these questions will determine whether the model, systems, interfaces, processes, supply chain and people are the right ones to deliver effectively and create the foundations to push into the strategic space. 

2. Integration

Push FM into other functions to create organisational value. FM is only strategic when it aligns, complements and integrates. This demands vertical integration (procurement-to-purchase-to-pay) with supply chains and horizontal integration with real estate, construction (projects), HR and ICT.    

3. Proving facilities management contributes to organisational productivity

Make the link between FM, employee engagement and productivity. This is not easy. The RICS report, Raising the Bar: City Roundtables Report (Phase II), calls for, 'innovative new dimensions of measurement', to prove FM’s effectiveness and its impact on productivity and profitability. All facilities managers can and should contribute to this.

4. Take the long-term view and innovate

Make decisions based on the property life-cycle. Take a five, 10 and 20 year view and create an environment which fosters, drives and embraces innovation and change.

Facilities management needs to:

  • Link with asset management and make better use of life cycle costing (LCC) and whole life value (WLV) techniques.
  • Inform and make investment and maintenance decisions with confidence.
  • Project itself forward and influence strategic organisational planning. Use this influence to drive innovation into the use, management and delivery of space.   

The British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM) and RICS are doing excellent work to promote FM’s role in organisational success. Convincing the CEO that FM should be on their agenda will be a long and challenging process which is predicated by the industry attracting, developing and retaining the best technical and business talent - a different challenge for the industry altogether.