Open-access content Thursday 24th July 2008
Each of us is at the centre of our own world. The needs of the individual, rather than of homogeneous groups or the undifferentiated mass of 'customers', are increasingly important to providers of products and services
25 September 2008Each of us is at the centre of our own world. That may sound like a rather philosophical statement for the comment column in a magazine devoted to such a relentlessly practical subject as facilities management.
However, the needs of the individual, rather than of homogeneous groups or the undifferentiated mass of 'customers', are increasingly important to providers of products and services.
An economic downturn might slow the pace but the trend is in one direction only, increasing personalisation. Henry Ford famously offered his customers "any colour so long as it's black"; buyers of the current Mini can combine options in thousands of ways to create a car "exactly how you want it". Organisations such as the BIFM must also think about how to respond. The traditional model for professional associations has been the central delivery of a package of services, but things are changing.
Many organisations, including the BIFM, have introduced formal structures for member input and consultation, as well as informal channels such as forums, surveys, blogs and roundtables. Members can already seek advice directly from their peers and the institute is actively considering 'user-generated content', enabling members to upload documents which others may find useful.
The rise of social networking offers a more radical alternative. At the recent Associations, Societies and Institutes conference in London (ASIC08), delegates heard from those who are using open source software to create professional networks, placing the individual at the centre. Members of these networks can choose the links and resources they value most. The role of the host organisation (if there is one) changes from control and mediation to access and facilitation.
There is, of course, a downside to excessive personalisation. In the 1970s (long before it was technically possible) Nicholas Negroponte, founder of MIT's Media Lab, coined the term "The Daily Me" for a virtual newspaper customised for individual tastes. Although attractive, the idea could insulate people from opinions which will challenge their own and deprive them of the wild card of serendipity which can spark new ideas. Recently, US commentator and political advisor David Weinberger defined the echo chamber effect as "those internet spaces where like-minded people listen only to those people who already agree with them."
The BIFM has put a toe in the waters of social networking with a presence on Facebook and is currently exploring options for bringing professional networking, online learning and information together as part of a learning network.