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22 March 2019
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Bradford Keen investigates why FM’s influence on the design and performance of construction projects has fallen short of the level it should have reached.

Construction ©iStock

2 July 2018 Bradford Keen

FM’s perpetual struggle to get involved at the beginning of construction design projects is a bit like the kid who’s chosen last for five-a-side. Except in this scenario, FM isn’t a gangly asthmatic with two left feet but, as most FMs would surely agree, Diego Maradona in his pomp – and thus a criminal exclusion from the team.

If you’ll forgive the expression, the arguments for FM’s inclusion in any discussion about new construction projects have always had strong foundations. So why – given the many well-rehearsed arguments about a building’s lifetime Opex – does such a disconnect persist?

“FM doesn’t speak construction, construction doesn’t speak FM – and neither of them speak business,” explains Mike Packham, managing director at BWA. “We have these three parties involved in the overall delivery process and they’re not talking to each other in the same language.”

Yet in recent years, and particularly since 2012, the triggers for FM’s earliest possible involvement have been in place. First, with the Royal Institute of British Architects’ (RIBA) revised Plan of Works (PoW), making the effects of operational use a key initial determinant of subsequent construction planning, and second, with the introduction (and central government mandating) of building information modelling and its associated supercharged end-user evaluation concept, soft landings (see previous feature).

Yet change has remained pitifully slow. 

The revised RIBA PoW, Packham says, is what “we were preaching to clients back in the 1980s” about how a knowledgeable FM’s input can positively impact building design and project outcomes. Soft landings, according to Deborah Rowland, director of public sector affairs at Sodexo, still requires a “huge amount of work”.

“FMs have got to be a bit braver,” says Rowland, but suggests that all stakeholders, including the client, need to be better educated about the logic that soft landings introduces.

“It’s really making sure they get involved in Stage 0 Strategic Definition, and what we need is RIBA to start articulating that in their design phases. At the moment, it doesn’t say that,” says Rowland.

“I don’t think the client is fully educated about the whole BIM and soft landings issue at the moment. They don’t really know enough about it to ask for it,” she adds.

It’s not just a lack of awareness of value, it is also cost, says Emma Bailey, director at Interim FM Solutions. The current disconnect between the SL framework and FM’s understanding of it comes down to the “cost implications of sending individuals on courses and, once ‘qualified’, the number of projects that are likely to occur to allow the individuals to bed in this new knowledge”.

Packham also highlights cost, as it is the client that will have to pay upfront for their own FM soft landings champion. The problem is that “we don’t have the evidence to show that saves money over time”.

“If you were given all the data in a BIM, you probably wouldn’t need 99 per cent of it”

From anecdotes to hard solutions

Whatever the mechanism, FMs still need to know what to say when joining the construction conversation – and James Warne, co-founding director of the design engineering consultancy BOOM Collective, thinks that too many FMs rely on anecdotal rather than actual evidence when proposing solutions.

He tells of a laboratory project where scientists said they didn’t want a specific type of lift that brought goods from the basement to their workstation, as it was too slow. The result was that the design came back without any lift at all. 

“Bringing anecdotal information to a project needs to be balanced with what a successful outcome would be to resolving the problem,” explains Warne.

An example of this in action would be to articulate the solution in terms of service time. So a fan-cooling unit might need to be serviced within four hours to reduce impact on the business. 

“Putting that into the brief is really powerful,” says Warne, as an engineer designing would understand the need for architecturally serviceable equipment.

Warne, a mechanical engineer, says he often returns to the topics such as overheating, lighting and air quality, and how they are becoming more linked to the WELL Building standards. “Those things are easier to manage if there is more feedback.”

Standards approach 

Deborah Rowland advises FMs seeking to be taken seriously to focus on existing standards, in particular:

ISO 41001 

Facility management – Management systems – Requirements with guidance for use, which sets a benchmark for formulating FM’s strategic, tactical and operational role.

PAS 1192.3

which aids in writing the asset information model for the operational phase using BIM.

BS 8536-1:2015

which guides design and construction briefings to help designers consider building performance.

BS 8536-2

which gives recommendations for design and operational performance of infrastructure assets. 

Modelling the future

As our previous feature establishes, building information models (BIM) may be an effective vehicle to carry information from design through to construction and handover, but they can act “rather like a big bin liner that collects a lot of information along the way”, suggests Warne. At handover, FM has to sift through it all for the necessary information. 

Design and construction don’t know what FM needs or FM doesn’t articulate what is required – so they receive “everything or nothing”, says Warne. Successful implementation happens when FM makes requests based on information it uses, such as implementing a specific asset numbering system. At the handover stage, the FM team sees in the BIM model how to access the assets for maintenance.

“If you were given all the data in a BIM, you probably wouldn’t need 99 per cent of it,” says Rowland, who calls for better “data definition” to determine important information and the ability to receive it. CAFM systems and BIMs need to talk to each other, and better data definition would help that information flow back and forth. 

Packham warns that this is easier said than done, and doubts whether some of the CAFM suppliers that claim to be able to connect with BIM are able to do so.

Finding a formula

The emerging Internet of Things, with its abundance of status-reporting equipment would, you might think, add actual evidence to operational performance claims. So far there is much potential, but few are seeing it in action. 

“You’ve got to look at the broader sense,” explains Rowland. “All of these things like IoT or BIM and smart buildings produce a huge amount of data and how that data is going to be managed and processed is absolutely critical. 

FM has the technology, frameworks and standards at hand, says Rowland (see Standards approach) – but it has not grasped the bounty that should have followed.

It goes back to a familiar refrain. “FM can often still only be seen as an expense, rather than an influencer, which can result in some organisations not investing in individuals and departments as much as others,” Bailey laments.

Packham agrees, and highlights what is surely the core of the issue. Until there is a financial formula showing how a client’s upfront investment will lead to significant savings in the long-term, this debate will struggle to evolve from its current humdrum state. 

 The industry needs “genuine case studies” otherwise this will remain a “hard sell”, says Packham. Even then, building owners may just be looking to sell, with landlords passing the cost on to tenants so those that invest in operational costing upfront will find their investment’s value reduced over the building’s lifetime. “It’s kind of a circular argument, really,” says Packham.

Consider also that the bulk of the market is made up of SMEs and the upfront investment becomes an even harder sell, seeing they could only have the lease for five to 10 years.

Wealthy companies in the financial or tech sectors are able to design with FM’s input because they have the money to pay for it and the corporate culture that puts a focus on an employee’s workplace experience. One only need look to Google in King’s Cross or the UBS building in Blackfriars to see it can be achieved.

An ability to influence

As much as this is an economic resourcing issue, it’s also about professional expertise. Warne says there needs to be upskilling of FMs, as well as guidance on what FMs should be asking when contributing to new projects. A lot of FMs would not realise how soon design decisions are made and that their input on light fittings, for example, will need to come a lot sooner than assumed.

Such skills will come with time, says Rowland. The next generations of FMs will, inevitably, be “more challenging and more educated” about using technology and able to handle large volumes of data and data flow processes. 

As a sector, FM grasps the challenges it faces, but solutions move us forward. Packham argues the case for a centralised BIM drive, as previously championed by David Philp, the former head of BIM implementation for the Cabinet Office. The government started well, says Packham, but passed development of the idea to the industry, which lacked the money or will to continue.

This centralised approach would compensate for the “diluted initiatives” that organisations including BIFM, RICS and RIBA are running, he says. “Nobody out there has grasped it and you can understand why; it’s a big beast…”

Rowland acknowledges “a lot of work being done” by BIFM and the wider sector to make FMs more aware, but clients continue to lag behind. It is up to FMs to “articulate the benefits of being involved at stage 0, listing the achievable outcomes with FM’s operational knowledge and arguing for operational budgets to be discussed early on”.

It sounds simple, but Rowland still speaks to architects who have tried to get FM involved, only to find that they weren’t interested.

Indeed, fostering a “willingness to collaborate at both ends of the scale” is essential, says Warne, with design welcoming input from FMs and, after handover, FM working with the design team to “understand what the original ethos was”.

The methods, processes and tools are available to FM, yet much work is still required. Educating clients and FMs about the value of early input remains key, but without a solid financial formula proving FM’s worth upfront, we will languish on the sidelines with Maradona’s boots slung over our shoulders. 

The impossible sum? 

Of the eight stages in the RIBA Plan of Works, the connection between the operational in-use stage (7) and the project strategy stage (0) is easily the most important on paper. Yet  it remains the most difficult flow of information and activity to introduce.

Emma Potter