Reflecting on 15 years in FM, Ian Broadbent marvels at the rapid pace of change and the expanding range of benefits brought
16 June 2006
Late last year I attended the BIFM North region conference and exhibition, the theme of which was "Back to the Future". Looking through my notes from the event recently got me thinking about how much technology has changed and advanced in the 15 years I've been in FM - and the impact this has on my home life too.
Probably the biggest change has been the mobile phone. If, in 1991, someone had told me that I would have a phone capable of receiving email, taking photographs, broadcasting the cup final and accessing the internet I would've laughed. My first mobile was a heavy as a brick, held its charge for just a couple of hours and only worked in certain areas.
Looking at other telecom features, fixed systems have a myriad benefits. Our system at Hallmark has allowed us to centralise a switchboard for several UK sites, provided voicemail, forwarding and diverting calls and recently fully integrated with our mobile users which has allowed the latter to become an extension of the Hallmark Switch.
Last week we suffered quite a serious flood at our HQ building causing damage to our restaurant, conference area and shop. With the firm's owner due in from the US the following day to address the UK business, it couldn't have happened at a worse time. The humble mobile phone played a big part in resolving the problem and ensuring we were fully operational again within 24 hours. Our security team was able to brief me without me leaving home.
I was then able to mobilise key staff and contractors and when the American visitors arrived to use the facilities they were unaware that anything untoward had occurred.
The worst piece of advice I ever received at school was not to take computer studies among my exam options: "They probably won't catch on," I was told. I wouldn't confess to be a computer wizard but my laptop allows me to move my office around all Hallmarks sites, work at home, deliver training, monitor systems remotely and work at times convenient to myself. For example a trip to London by train now gives me 4-5 hours of quality work time with little fear of being interrupted.
Of course technology has played a big part in the advance of FM from stand-alone BMS systems through to full Cafm systems. For me these changes have been positive allowing greater flexibility in the way I work and the ability to provide more and varied services yet there have been a few challenges along the way. At Hallmark for example we have recognised the dangers of using mobiles while driving and the misuse of camera phones. And the increase in homeworkers has created a new set of issues. IT faces many of the same challenges as the FM team and it's rare that a project at Hallmark doesn't involve us working together.
It's often said that we are reluctant to change, but if comparing the workplace of today to that of 15 years ago tells a different story. It is important, though, that we still recognise the human touch. A five-minute conversation is often much quicker than batting emails to and fro and our customers like to see the "human" side of us.
I wonder what the next technology to work and home life might be. But if I knew I suppose I'd be a rich man.
Ian Broadbent is group facilities manager at Hallmark Cards