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WW2012: FM moves to the head of the table

1 November 2012 


The theme of World Workplace this year is ‘You have arrived at the head of the table’.


It is a great theme about the recognition now being received for facility management, which in addition to being a positive statement has the merit of not invoking sustainability (a topic which may be essential to us all, but definitely needs a rest from conference themes if its importance isn't to be diluted by overuse).


‘Smart FM drives Smart Business’ is part of the same theming, again making the connection between what we do as professionals and the benefits we deliver to our customers. There's a consistent and welcome change of message from the past in all this.

Rather shockingly for the few UK attendees, Wednesday's schedule at WW2012 begins at 7.00 a.m with breakfast meetings for IFMA's various Councils — the equivalent of BIFMs SIGs. Despite the unholy hour, the Consultant's Council meeting I attend was positive and spirited, with plenty of that ironic humour that Americans are typically supposed to lack.

I am always struck by the calibre and experience of IFMA leaders, and the way in which volunteers are used so extensively to improve services and create new solutions. It's always a pleasure working and learning with colleagues here, and one of the key paybacks for the time that is put in is the building of lasting friendships and the chance to learn and share. All of which may sound uncharacteristically uncynical of me, but I do enjoy these events!

So it's obvious that a there’s a change in the air in the self-perception of FM by our US colleagues. For too long the emphasis of FM has been on building operations (hence ‘facility’ rather than ‘facilities’ management, I am told). But in the welcome address from IFMA chair Marc Licciardello there were a series of clear statements about the contribution of FM to organisational success and employee productivity.

‘Smart FM drives innovation and productivity is unequivocally the message, and the linking of that with sustainability was key to Marc's wide ranging and bullish presentation, which should be compulsory viewing for the industry worldwide. And again, refreshingly, in several conversations I hear a recognition that in many aspects European FM practice is ahead of the US, and a genuine desire to learn and share across boundaries.

I've attended five World Workplace events over the last 10 years, and this is the first time I have heard that view so widely expressed, so there is an opportunity there which we should grasp quickly to explain and expand the UK and European model of FM.

The second event on the bill was Guy Kawasaki, the former Apple ‘thought leader,’ who spoke on the art of innovation. As you'd expect from a keynote speaker, he gave a highly entertaining and informative speech which ranged across 11 key points on the art of innovation, with lots of self deprecation and some good jokes — with, of course, the underlying theme, "buy my book!” I particularly enjoyed the idea that we shouldn't be ashamed to create innovative products that are still a bit crappy, provided that once they succeed we go back and fix the crap. And also the idea that we should not to be afraid to polarise people; let customers love or hate the product, because those who love it will evangelise about it (you can see why he worked for Apple!).

Bizarrely, the exhibition that accompanies the conference was opened by the delegates being marched in behind a Scottish pipe band playing "Scotland the Brave" — a quaintly surreal touch when we are so deep in the heart of Texas.

The are no hard figures yet for attendance, but it looks as though the impact of Super Storm Sandy has prevented around 1,200 people from getting to San Antonio, either because of travel problems or because they have to stay back to implement their business recovery plans. It looks as though there will "only" be around 4,500 attendees this year.

As an aside, Sandy looks like a lesson learned the hard way for the authorities and utilities, but the disciplines and practices that FM embraces in terms of emergency preparation and recovery would have been invaluable at a city and state level, even accepting the unprecedented nature of the storm. Despite the odd hiccup, it's clear that good FM planning has been instrumental in the surprisingly rapid recovery of some key facilities caught in the path of the storm.

On that theme, my friend Chris Hodges showed his own personal preparedness by surviving the storm on his Virginia farm despite the power outage. He has photographic evidence of being able to sit safe in his home with a log fire, a glass of wine and cable TV on, powered by his own generator — demonstrating that good FM practice begins at home.

After all that, the conference proper starts today, with over 60 educational sessions over two days. There should be lots to report from that in the next blog posting on Friday.

Dave Wilson is a director of specialist international FM consultancy Agents4RM. He is a former BIFM deputy chair and convenor of the CEN working group on benchmarking.


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