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17 January 2019
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Trend game

In January, BIFM chair Ismena Clout took the reins for the third of the institute’s Leaders Forum events. The focus was on emerging trends likely to have an impact on the sector, from the continuing economic uncertainty through to IT, recruitment and legislation

8 April

With such a wide remit, this FM Leaders Forum could never be a definitive guide to everything that is happening in the sector.

However, it did provide a snapshot of some of the views. And for such a wide-ranging discussion, it was perhaps surprising that a strong theme at previous forums was again
a key issue here: the perception and value of FM within an organisation and at board level. Here are some highlights from the morning’s debate – the full version is available by contacting BIFM HQ.

Is FM a strategic player?

David Sharp:
We conducted a survey last year in support of ThinkFM, and a quarter of respondents said that their boards didn’t recognise the value that FM delivers. That statistic has probably improved over the years, but it’s still shockingly bad. The other part of the answer, for me, as a service provider, is that if we want to talk seriously about any large projects, we have to go in above facilities manager level to get strategic engagement. If you’re talking to the global director of facilities services, you’re going to get buy-in. If you’re talking to the facilities manager, they may be well briefed on the issues, but they don’t have the influence with the board.

Kevin Fitzpatrick: On the whole, I’d say FM isn’t really involved in major company strategy. Even the corporate real estate head may not be on the board. I’m not sure I’ve ever found a global FM leader, one that inputs significantly into strategy, who has the operational responsibility to execute it. When there are strategic decisions, I tend to see a turf war between HR, IT and FM.

Derrick Tate: Where we see more traditional FM models with a lot of in-house management delivery, they are not particularly influential on strategy. But where it can happen is where they’ve started to develop trusting relationships with senior people through the access they have to them, and demonstrate where they can add real value. Where it’s an outsourced contract, if it’s a typical just-services contract there’s not a particular influence, but where FM is procured and managed as a partnership, then it can be very influential because that partner can be responsible for a large chunk of the client’s organisation and spend.

What will the continuing economic uncertainty mean for the sector?

Derrick Tate: It will push more outsourcing. A lot of organisations have resisted major change for various reasons, but more and longer-term financial pressure will push them; they have no choice.

Peter Chambers: From an outsourced service-provider perspective, the continuing economic downturn has meant that we increasingly have to consider whether or not a client is a ‘good’ client. The due diligence we do on our potential clients is becoming just as important as the due diligence we do on our subcontractors and suppliers. We have to consider ability to pay and speed of payment.

Philip Leigh: We’ve had large blue-chip customers trying to force us into 90- and 120-day payment terms. We have to say no, because when you’ve got thousands of people to pay every week, you just can’t operate in that commercial framework.

Jason Gurd: Looking at the big deals with the big suppliers, they can drive a great deal when they’re offering several million pounds’ worth of business in one hit. But if you’re buying for a couple of thousand square foot, those bundled deals aren’t that great. There’s a sense that some people are moving away from the big bundled suppliers and looking more at those who specialise in one particular supply subject. So there’s opportunity at both ends of the scale.

Kevin Fitzpatrick: I think you’re right, the middle is being squeezed. People are going for the big companies, for their scalability, flexibility and breadth of services, or the niche; you don’t want to be a middle-sized retailer, you want to be a specialist delicatessen or Tesco because if you’re middle-sized you’re going to get killed. If you’re middle-sized you’re a bit nowhere: you can’t offer the economies of scale, but you also can’t say we’re the best at food or we know cleaning and we don’t pretend to know anything else.

How can FM attract new talent?

Aneysha Minocha:
I think it’s about selling the variety and multidisciplinary element. Part of it is about kids’ perception and awareness of FM when they leave school and come out of university. We need to say: ‘Have you thought about this as a really exciting career, using your mathematical and analytical degree to provide a workspace?’ There are many ways of applying the subjects that students do at school or university.

Greg Davies: I think this is one of the successes we should be celebrating. When we talk to FMs now, more people are vocational, they are trained in FM and FM is something they have chosen as a career path. That has been a dramatic change.

Philip Leigh: We run graduate programmes and it’s amazing the impact the graduates are having on the people who have been in the business for a long time. They are smart, highly motivated and highly resourceful, and they are really forcing the pace. I think that’s fantastic. 

Discussion highlights
  • FM has the opportunity to transcend the hierarchy within an organisation as it touches everyone in the workplace, built environment and beyond
  • Perceptions of FM and its strategic role depends on the size, culture and style of individual organisations
  • FM needs to find ways to demonstrate its value to the organisation
  • FM should develop a collaborative approach with other workplace functions, particularly HR and IT, to facilitate change and innovation
  • The ongoing economic crisis may pressure more organisations to outsource their facilities services
  • Tough operating conditions may favour large supplier organisations at one end of the scale and niche operators at the other, squeezing middle-sized companies
  • Developments in computer hardware, software and communications are benefiting FM, improving reporting and efficiency. However, improved analytical tools are needed to help manage the increased flow of information
  • FMs need to make greater use of the data available to them, transforming it into knowledge that can benefit the business
  • BIM represents an opportunity for FM to play a leading role in the life-cycle of a building – although for this to happen, FMs require a better understanding of the technology and how it can benefit FM
  • FM needs to focus on recruiting graduates to build on the progress that has been made towards professionalising the sector. Ways should be found to introduce potential candidates to ‘real-life FM’ through temporary placements

The panel

  • Peter Chambers, commercial manager, Emprise Services plc
  • Ismena Clout, chairman, BIFM
  • Greg Davies, head of service development, Assurity Consulting
  • Kevin Fitzpatrick, chief operating officer, NJW Ltd
  • Jason Gurd, BIFM Home Counties committee, BIFM
  • Philip Leigh, chief operating officer, ISS
  • Aneysha Minocha, associate director of energy services, GSH Group
  • Mark Mitchell, service delivery manager, UKI workplace, Accenture
  • Martin Read, managing editor, FM World
  • David Sharp, managing director, Workplace Law
  • Derrick Tate, assistant director, real estates advisory, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP