Wider View on FM Brings Benefits

Dale Potts
The future of Facilities management and the ability to achieve further bottom line benefits, may well lie in a more holistic approach.

Facilities management (FM) has evolved as a substantially stand-alone specialism over recent years, with dedicated in house functions or consultancies delivering a range of management services. This approach has undoubtedly served commerce and industry well. However, the future of FM – and the ability to achieve further bottom line benefits – may well lie in a more holistic approach.

It is precisely the tendency for FM to be viewed as a 'separate' function that potentially militates against its better integration with business objectives. By contrast, looking at facilities management as part of a wider view of building design, environmental performance and life cycle costs has the potential to transform delivery, create better working environments and save money.

In this regard, the private sector has much to learn from the approach taken on PFI projects which, almost by definition, demand greater integration of FM approaches from the outset if the partners are to be able to achieve realistic profits over the 25 to 35 year concession periods typically involved.

All too often a building is designed and built before discussions with those best equipped to advise on facilities management get underway. Instead FM specialists should have direct input to the design process at the earliest opportunity. Their views on issues such as design requirements, access, ease of maintenance, life expectancy, space planning/utilisation, interior finishes and preferred equipment suppliers, for example, may be crucial in ensuring the completed property is functional and cost effective to operate in all regards.

Going a stage further and obtaining a view not simply on mainstream FM issues but on key areas such as environmental contamination, sustainability, acoustics and whole life values offers still greater potential for savings. Maintenance, refurbishment and lifecycle replacement regimes are all fundamental to establishing the Whole Life Cost of an asset.

Of course, such principles cannot so easily be applied to existing premises but 'taking a wider view' can again deliver real benefits.

The development of a co-ordinated FM strategy that aligns with core organisational objectives is critical to the ongoing success of a business. A good start point for any organisation – and particularly those which have not previously sought third party input on FM management – is to undertake a strategic FM review, preferably by a third party.

Key elements of any such review will be study of current strategy, audit and review, procurement, performance measurement and benchmarking against similar properties or property portfolios to obtain an indication of performance levels relative to industry best practice.

Such benchmarking needs to be undertaken in conjunction with a careful audit not merely of systems and procedures but also of business drivers, procurement methods and people.

Frequently concepts which appear to work well on paper are found to be rather less efficient with the benefit of feedback from building occupants. A willingness to question everything and challenge 'the comfort zone' can quickly yield results.

A simple and useful example is to be found in a common scenario – the creation of space within premises as businesses evolve and find they need fewer people. In such circumstances there is a natural tendency to re-design space to allow employees to 'spread out', allocating more floor area than is strictly necessary to each person. However if this means each person ends up with an allocation of 15 M2 instead of being in line with minimum guidelines there is a considerable overhead premium per head for space, lighting and heating etc.

Similarly it is critical to implement systems and contract approaches which encourage innovation and continual improvement rather than maintenance of the status quo.

Traditional regimes require cleaning to be undertaken at a set time each day. However, this 'input' strategy does nothing to encourage improvement and everything to maintain current operational procedures and costs.

A more thoughtful 'output' based approach, which recognises the required standard to be achieved, but is less prescriptive in terms of how it is achieved, can often lead to the development of new ways of tackling a particular problem – frequently with attendant cost and operational savings. On this, more proactive, model it also becomes practicable to build in penalties for non-achievement and incentives to ensure agreed targets are met.

These processes are critical in both new construction projects and in the management and development of existing premises. Just how critical is underlined by the sobering fact that, over the life of a property, the facilities management cost of any substantial building will typically be between three and five times the original capital cost.

The implication for property owners and operators is the need to raise FM issues up the priority list and to seek a wider viewpoint at an earlier stage. Depending on requirements, this may be delivered by a 'traditional' FM provider or by a consultancy with a more all embracing skills set, covering architectural design, project management, whole life values and FM expertise. The potential implication for the facilities management industry itself is the requirement to work ever more closely with other construction-related disciplines at the earliest opportunity.

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