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17 January 2019
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Musings on the role of FM

16 September 2013

It is almost 45 years since I left school and went to work, ironically in some ways, in what we might now call FM, as I was taken on as a trainee building surveyor for my first proper job in the back end of the sixties.

While most of what we dealt with was domestic property, it did give me an introduction to a range of commercial properties from shops through industrial buildings and on to farms, and through that a graphic understanding of the need to maintain the asset and the issues of prioritising expenditure, especially when money is scarce.

Understanding that linkage between the premises and the business should be at the heart of the debate over the future of the FM profession because there is always a driver there. At the simplest level this can be the the way an arable farmer will have different priorities to a livestock farmer, or the way that a shopkeeper will spend more on front of house than in their stockroom, but you can scale this principle up and apply it to FM as we now know it.

My career moved on from its surveying start and into the world of what we now call logistics. FM-type things that the landlord did just happened around us, but almost everything else that we would describe as FM we pretty much did, or arranged, ourselves and so it was integral to the job. Even health and safety, which in those days wasn’t recognised as it is now, was still very much built in to what we did because we understood the risks. Sure, we did things then that would not be acceptable now, but we knew that damaging product or self would hit us in the pocket and that an accident was our fault not anybody else’s.

In my retail years FM was again very central to the business. At branch level we had a number to ring if there was a problem and someone would arrive to fix it and we worked around it in the interim. Cleaning we did ourselves and took pride in, but that was about the limit of our FM involvement.

By the time I went back to running big sheds FM was still very central to what we did and was very much a boardroom topic, but it was seen as integral to operations rather that as a separate entity, and that is an important distinction.

Over the time that I subsequently worked in FM on the client side we had a seat at the top table, partly due to the way the organisation was structured, but also because we had the second biggest budget as corporate landlords; money talks.

Later, working on the supply side of FM, I began to see that there were some organisations that had not got a clue as to the significance of their estate, be that a single floor or multiple buildings, to their business strategy, but of those that did the estate aspects would be in the hands of another property profession, perhaps an architect or surveyor.

Whilst the technical qualification is recognised, such folks are not naturally operators of property in the way that FM people are and perhaps this is one of the barriers that FM needs to address. But the importance of FM is something that the other property professions have recognised and taken steps towards doing something about it.

When all is said and done the last thing that will help is for there to be a turf war between the professions, because the purpose of effective facilities management is to best serve the organisation’s strategy and help deliver its goals. That was all I ever sought to do when I represented FM at the top table, but I have always seen myself as a general manager and not as a specialist (despite qualifications in IT, purchasing and logistics).

If I have learned anything in the last 45 years, it is that you have to know what the organisation that employs you is trying to do and understand the part that you are expected to play. You may have a specialist skill, but you use it for the wider benefit and not for its own end.

Very few organisations would consider not having finance or HR represented at the top for they recognise the importance of money and the people that they employ, but both of those professionalisms have long understood the wider contribution that they make to success.

Perhaps FM also has to look at the wider picture if it is to gain wider acceptance?

John Bowen is an FM consultant