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17 July 2019
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Three Q&A interviews on the challenges of ISO 41001, the value of standards, and the differences between Fitwell v WELL.


09 September 2018 Bradford Keen

1. Challenging ISO 41001 – an african perspective

David Khasebe is lead developer of South African FM Standard SANS 1752

You’ve written about ISO 41001 being reductionist of the FM practice. Can you elaborate on this? 

The genius of the most successful standard – ISO 9001 – was the assignment of its responsibility to the leadership of demand organisations. This embedded the quality function within organisations. ISO 41001 does the opposite: it assigns FM responsibility to the leadership of the functional organisation or outsourced provider. 

This does three things: it relegates FM to a lowly authority with reduced delegation; presents FM as a unitary, delivery-only function; and potentially pits in-house FM against outsourced.

Conversely, South Africa presents FM as a two-tier function, demand and delivery, as we believe this is the recipe for the much sought-after ‘vested FM’. Demand FM is the embedding of the function at the highest levels of organisations, starting at board level to achieve FM convergence. 

How might ISO 41001 pit in-house and outsourced FM against one another? 

41001 makes FM the responsibility of the functional / FM organisation – and this is either in-house or provider. This means this FM organisation has exactly the same responsibilities, regardless of whether it’s in-house or outsourced. 

This way, in-house FM views outsourced as competition and not collaborator. In the case of the SA standard, Demand FM has different responsibilities (converging with business to achieve business transformation) to Delivery FM, which focuses purely on delivering FM value. In SA’s case, competition is only limited to the second tier of FM, Delivery FM. 

You’ve mentioned that ISO standards define ‘the best way’ of doing things, but many stipulated requirements are purposefully generic to appeal to a broader audience. What are your thoughts on this?

I think the generic argument is a cop-out. I still remember the very first 9001 in the early 2000s: there was nothing generic about it. It was directive in areas where it needed to be precisely because at times ‘generic’ can degenerate into meaningless. 

Furthermore, for the developing world like us Africans, generic does everything but develop our industries. 

It is for this reason that the generic argument was pushed during ISO deliberations in 41001.

It is for this reason we pushed for specificity during ISO deliberations in 41001, albeit  to no avail. It was then we knew we would need a South 

African Standard – a standard that would indeed improve the FM practice and develop our industry.

If we use the current ISO 41001 as a basis – most companies are already delivering at that level. It is not extracting maximum facilities management value. 

It is our considered opinion in South Africa that our philosophy of two-tier FM calls for mindset change to the role of demand organisations in FM, the location of FM within these demand organisations and what should and shouldn’t be outsourced. 

We envision a future wherein FM recruitment will start at board level and the mandate is business transformation.

Emma Potter

2. The value of standards – from in-house and outsourced perspectives

Martin Frohock is head of facilities UK at Arm

Graham Davenport is business development director at Platinum Facilities Management Services

If not legally binding, why bother with standards?

MF: During tenders and sourcing partnerships, we adopt and include a requirement for the typical pre-qualification inclusion of basic standards. Examples of essential standards include ISO 9001:2015 (quality management), ISO 14001:2015 (environment), and, dependent upon the services, we would include additional requirements such as ISO 50001 (energy), ISO 45001 (safety).

The standards are not necessarily critical to the organisation; we are an IP business so these standards (relating to FM) are rarely attached to our customers, OEM’s, revenue or management system. 

That said, the principles behind these standards are essential to our governance model – being able to demonstrate our controls and supply chains alignment with how we operate is fundamental – and so a collaborative approach to facilities and workplace services is critical to my team.

Generally, the standards provide a reliable framework to translate into common processes. It’s not necessarily the standards that define the quality, but the principles of best practice, structure and governance that drive the standards themselves. 

GD: In the private sector, they’re almost a prerequisite to qualify, normally through a pre-qualification stage and if not, then at a tender stage. So it is a necessity for us to have those standards. 

In the public sector, it’s even more important that ISO standards, particularly 9001, 14001 (and OHASA 18001), are in place and, at least, externally audited every couple of years by a third party.

The actual ISO standards are absolutely a prerequisite for what we do and very much an important factor for the client side, particularly procurement or operations.

Do you foresee operational changes when adopting FM-specific standards?

GD: For any FM organisation that has endeavoured to keep up with changes in standards or ISO requirements, I don’t foresee it being a massive impact for them. 

In relation to ISO 41001 standard… as with our introduction of the ISO 55001 standard, we would complete a gap analysis of our existing systems and processes to identify if any changes are required to meet with the new standard.

The benefits are implementing and improving the effectiveness of our management system / standards to enhance customer satisfaction by meeting their business requirements.

The challenge will always be a little tougher for SMEs with fewer financial and human resources. A senior staff member at an SME could be in charge of compliance, H&S and operations with limited time to devote to standards compliance. That’s why many opt for third-party companies to guide them through the process.

What is the value of performance-based or proprietary standards?

GD: In connection with the RICS guidance – generally it is thought this has been recently produced by RICS to somehow plug a perceived gap in guidance and training / support offered by BIFM. 

We’re aware of the RICS guidance but are members of BIFM and adopt their service principles. In the current private sector market place, we’ve not seen any client requirement for the adoption of the RICS guidance process / systems although we can foresee that this may be requested in the future by some managing agents.

MF: The diversity of our industry should not be underestimated, there is a place for every standard. At Arm, we put a high value on the adaptability, ‘refresh rate’ and value add of these standards. 

We would typically look to adopt WELL building on a complex, high-value green-field construction project. Whereas for an existing operation with a dynamic internal environment, we might opt for Fitwel.

How ubiquitous do you foresee other standards bodies becoming?

MF: The adoption is largely driven by clients, building users / owners / operators and FMs – so if we as an industry can promote and encourage the principles behind these and many more of the workplace relevant standards, I can certainly see more widespread adoption.  


3. Fitwel v WELL Building

Georgia Elliott-Smith is head of well-being at 360 Workplace

Thirteen UK projects have already achieved Fitwel certification whereas, despite its release in 2014 – a full three years prior to Fitwel – there are still only four WELL-certified projects in the UK.

I’m a WELL-accredited professional and I deliver WELL consultancy to my clients so it definitely has a place in the market, but it is a robust and complex standard, requiring compliance with a strict set of quantitative targets around light, air quality, water quality and materials.

Fitwel is cheaper, quicker and applicable to all buildings no matter their age and it doesn’t require major investments in upgrades in plans. Certification costs $6,500 regardless of project size and certification takes around four months once all evidence is submitted for approval. 

Unlike WELL, Fitwel does not have any ‘preconditions’. All strategies are voluntary, but a minimum number of points must be achieved to gain one, two or three stars. Where those points are achieved is up to you. For example, where an out-of-town site may lose points for lack of public transport links, they can be made up by focusing on access to parks and sports equipment.

Fitwel meets you where you are and helps you improve. It doesn’t require a base minimum standard, which I think is very attractive. I believe Fitwel will grow in popularity. It just feels much more pragmatic in approach rather than something that requires a massive investment in time and energy and money. 

No performance verification stage

Fitwel, unlike WELL, does not have the performance verification stage where an auditor comes on site from places such as BRE or the International WELL Building Institute to carry out tests in your building. 

You may still fail to achieve certification if the building in use does not meet the approval of a third-party auditor when they visit and take measurements one-month post-occupation.

You can design the building as perfectly as can be, but when they come to site and they read your formaldehyde levels, for example, are above 27 parts per billion (the limit) and it reads 28 parts per billion, then you fail.

That is such a massive risk, but risk that can be managed through specification materials, the way the FMs manage the space, and the cleaning contractors and the chemicals they use. 

As with all standards, there is an element of being able to fudge Fitwel. You can write a green purchasing policy or integrated pest management plan (two areas outlined by Fitwel) and never look at it again. 

But the whole point of Fitwel is to engage with the system because you believe in it and you agree with what it is trying to achieve, and it helps you look at your business in a different way. 

Changes to WELL

Now some advocates of WELL, in certain circumstances would say a standard is toothless unless you have a third party coming to check that you’ve done what you’ve said you would do. But I find that level of cost and risk turns people off the standard and, in the commercial environment we are in, it makes them say, ‘Why am I going to spend that money if ultimately I might fail? I can’t make that business case to my board because they are not going to get behind it.’

The WELL Institute has now developed a design and operations level of certification, which is a bit like the BREEAM design stage certification. You can get a certificate from WELL to say you have designed the building and operations to comply with WELL but you haven’t proceeded to do the verification stage. 

They’ve called that a Design and Operations Certification and that’s an acknowledgement that so many people are turning away from WELL because the don’t want to go through the cost and risk of the final PVS. 

I think that will help to drive more interest in WELL. I am a WELL and Fitwel assessor and there are clearly benefits to businesses for each, but it very much has to be going in with your eyes open about the costs and risks, and being honest about yourself as a business, asking: ‘What are we trying to achieve and what are we willing to invest?’ 

But people need to be aware that Fitwel exists. The more we can educate people the more we can engage in a system that is applicable to loads more businesses and people that want to do something but don’t have deep pockets to invest in this sort of thing.