26 February 2015
Consultant Mike Cant struck a well-received chord at the recent Workplace Futures conference. His theme?
What he perceives as a missed opportunity for FM providers to identify clients' "point of expertise" - and to then provide the entire operational environment necessary to support it.
Cant appeared to be making a more clinical distinction between supporting a client's core business and its core activity; between operational activities in general and the client's single defining function. He used the example of an operating theatre, with the 'point of expertise' being literally that - a scalpel, and the surgeon wielding it. Everything else, moving outwards from that point of expertise, is where FM comes in: from the support personnel and equipment in the operating theatre, right through to the car park and calling at all points in between.
FM in this context is the provision of the entire operational environment around a client's single, defining operational distinctiveness. Once that point of expertise is established, everything necessary to ensure its effective delivery can be codified. Now, these sound like healthy conversations to be having with clients, both parties working to agree on what constitutes the operational 'scalpel' - but can existing FM providers offer this comprehensive blanket of operational support? At present, says Cant, the answer is no - but the industry should certainly be working towards it.
In fact, perhaps healthcare is where FM providers can make the breakthrough. Cant spoke of one organisation in Toronto, Canada, that specialises in hernia operations. The medical environment surrounding this single-focus service is streamlined, as is its operational support. It's highly efficient in terms of both cost and clinical outcomes.
This is what NHS consultant Roy Lilley was alluding to when he told last year's ThinkFM conference how the future of the NHS lies in just this sort of facility - smaller units dedicated to single medical specialisms; units for geriatricians to support the ageing population, units to treat heart conditions, and so on.
Healthcare, perhaps, represents a golden opportunity for FM to get in at the ground level and define itself as the complete operational shell supporting specific forms of surgery. Not that Cant's vision cannot be defined for other verticals, but it would be easier to start when defining a facility from the ground up.
Thinking of FM in this way has significant implications for how FM providers are structured, and for the discussions they have with clients. And as Cant also argued, getting FM's 'brand' message across is important - what is it that FM does?
Not too long ago, one way of explaining the difference between hard and soft FM went thus: turn a building upside down and what falls out is soft FM (people and their services), while anything left is fixed to the building, requires maintenance, and is thus hard FM.
In support of Cant's vision, perhaps what we should be saying is that FM is everything in an organisation that moves - both people and equipment - in order to support an organisation's point of expertise. It defines FM as being beyond property (which of course doesn't move) and principally operational. Just a thought
Martin Read is managing editor at FM World