What would happen, wondered our regular diarist Finbarr Murray, if all four of FM World's current columnists were to meet up? Turns out they'd offer an entertainingly upbeat assessment of FM's growing influence across their various sectors, as Martin Read reports.
3 June 2014
Since 2004, and throughout the course of our 237 print editions (FM World celebrated its tenth anniversary last month), this magazine has had regular diarists offering readers insight into the topical facilities management issues they've faced as the years, and their roles, have progressed.
Our first diarist was Gavin Ford, then the facilities manager at the University of Brighton.
In 2006, Ford was succeeded by Hallmark Cards' Ian Broadbent, before Broadbent himself moved on to take on the chairmanship of the BIFM.
Broadbent's successor was Dave Walker, facilities project manager for Northumbrian Water. Consultant Lionel Prodgers has also written in the diary spot, while over the past two years we've had a rotating roster of four regular diarists. Last month, we invited all four to come and meet up.
John Bowen is a global consultant and commentator on FM affairs, Roger Amos is head of property & HR shared services at the London Borough of Ealing, Simon Francis is senior facilities manager at the University of the Arts, London, and Finbarr Murray - who first started writing our diary columns when he was head of FM at the London Borough of Croydon - now writes in his capacity as director of estates, FM and procurement for East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust.
What did we get when we brought them under one roof? Some great insight into fast-changing attitudes within and towards facilities management, that's what.
Simon Francis: "The estate at the University of Arts comprises six different colleges. From an FM perspective we've moved from a federal structure and six different departments into one central department.
"Each of the colleges works so differently to each other that it's been very difficult for us in FM to have a common delivery of service - there being different contracts and staffing structures in place.
"Most of our services are provided in-house, although our PPM and out-of-hours security key holding is outsourced. We brought our help-desk back in-house a year ago.
"In terms of our properties, we're moving from having lease agreements with private sector organisations to building our own halls of residence.
"We're quite a specialist FM operation. We're not just dealing with academics - it's art, design, fashion; the people we provide services to all think that they're very important. There is no standard hierarchy, the academics are all leaders in their field, for example.
"So there's been a heavy focus on both customer service and the student experience over the past couple of years. Everything we do is gauged on its impact on the student - particularly now that those students are paying their £9,000 a year. The students really do see themselves as the customers now. It has all changed rapidly in the past few years."
Finbarr Murray: "I have worked in several completely different sectors, and this is my first NHS role. I work for a foundation trust, so we're effectively a corporate organisation - we generate our own profit and from that our capital. So in effect we're autonomous within the NHS - but management isn't really done by the executive team, it's done by consultants and doctors because we're increasingly moving towards their being the people who run the organisation.
"We're caught up in a time of massive change. From a facilities management perspective, a lot of hospital trusts have gone through PFI deals and have experience of outsourcing soft FM, albeit in some cases unsuccessfully.
"The pressure on the FM organisation to perform is huge because so much is checked now by quality measures - quality of cleaning, incidences of infection control. With catering, we have moved beyond whether the food tastes good - it is now all about calorific content and whether it is providing the right dietary mix.
"Using FM through the catering service to deliver better quality of care represents a massive opportunity. The catering organisation we're working with has had a lot of media exposure and won awards. But still, the challenge will be to do things cheaper every year.
"The other big thing is partnering - cross-border, cross-trust sharing of services. There are good examples of what can happen when you bring a Primary Care Trust, local authority, community and mental health units and others together to create a shared service opportunity. You can imagine just how much fragmentation goes on at moment, with everyone replicating the same thing - the opportunity here is massive. The NHS is such a huge buyer of services. Central government policy says we need to create collaborative procurement hubs. The big issue is in having local accountability but at the same time a more national approach to purchasing policies."
Roger Amos: "We're obviously constrained by the political cycle, and regardless of how the election goes this month (Labour retained control - Ed.), it goes without saying that there will be a continuing drive to save on costs. But there's also a big local government push on the social value agenda. We're working hard with our colleagues in the children and adults directorate to assist them where we can. Trying to capture what that is in terms of cost and potential saving is very difficult - but it is for the good of the FM organisation and the borough (see article, FM World 13 February 2014).
"Similar to Finn, we're looking to work with other local authorities - the West London Alliance is gathering momentum with other boroughs, and we're working more with other public agencies within the borough of Ealing. Whether through the sharing of accommodation to help rationalise our asset base, or the sharing of services such as FM, these opportunities will increasingly come to the fore.
"There's some internal education needed as to what we in facilities management are there to provide. We still need to push hard to get past the old 'bogs and boilers' tag."
SF: "We used to have colleges going off doing their own project work and there were mistakes made in past, problems with contractors not on our framework. That has changed.
There's more of a drive to force the control framework on the individual colleges so that they have to come through the centre to get projects approved, making sure any projects meet with the strategy of the university.
"There's a shift to us being trusted a Hell of a lot more. Compared with two years ago it's a completely different world. We have had faith placed in us.
"We've found students have become far more militant in the past couple of years - they are pushing us hard, and I think that is beneficial to the organisation as a whole."
John Bowen: "The thing to do is demonstrate that we in FM are proactive. There are times when you can make everybody's lives easier and that's when you can develop a sort of fan club. Making those little success stories happen can have long-term effects.
"I remember in one organisation where we were under pressure to provide cycling facilities. So we got the local bike manufacturers to lend us bikes for our three offices. We had a pool of bikes, and through that got involved with the local council and sponsored a cycle route map. It cost virtually nothing, but created interest in the local press and was picked up by our in-house magazine. It's about raising profile - all of a sudden, you get invited into other things and it just snowballs."
Sustainability and energy
SF: "Although students are more militant, they haven't really become so as regards sustainability. The real driver of energy management is the sheer cost of energy. We've introduced heating/cooling policies, telling people that we will not heat above 21 degrees or cool below 24 degrees. Also, all our new buildings in future we will aim to have naturally ventilated.
"It's been difficult when we've said we're not cooling any more - it has not gone down well. We've had battles, but because of energy costs hard decisions need to be taken."
RA: "There's a desire to be seen to be green, but we lack an appetite from staff, frankly.
We put recycling bins in the office but people can't even be bothered to take the plastic lid off their coffee cups."
JB: "Interestingly, one of the products in the BIFM Awards was a hand dryer. It was cheaper on electricity and much quieter, but the company wasn't marketing it as a hand dryer - their whole strategy was based on it being an energy-saving device.
"I think retail is probably leading the way here, partly because of logistics. This is where FM scores heavily - if you take the typical superstore, they want to use as much of their floor space for sales as they can. They recognise the importance of the building and how it works to generate money. They also recognise the environmental aspect of it. Compare that with a lot of corporate environments. They really don't care. They don't even know their own recycling policies."
The value of FM
SF: "Success for us has come down to a real focus on people. Investing in those delivering the service. We've given more autonomy and accountability to facilities managers, but there's a real focus on getting the frontline staff to deliver a quality service. My frontline staff are the first people that students see in the morning; getting them to be that welcoming face, to have a good relationship with students, has been highly significant in the changing the perception of our service."
RA: "We've also worked hard to change that perception. When we in-sourced our service I was quick to point out that this was not a case of going back to the days of DLOs (direct labour organisations), that we'd be even better than the outsourced option in terms of an efficient FM service.
"It's about changing that perception of those on the very front line - but in order to do that it's not just their training and what they do, it's also about how they are made to feel within the FM business. Our FMs, where before they just had control over soft services, now have control over hard services too. They're now in charge of that service, and in control of instructing contractors."
FM: "I think you get really good facilities management when you allow that autonomy. We're slightly moving the other way; we like the autonomy, but we're keen to create a framework within which those people work. Because in our trust's 20 buildings and five acute hospitals, standardising our approach is a challenge."
FM: "I don't know about you guys, but I struggle to get enough new talent coming through. We're raising the standard of our recruitment, so we're not happy to accept what we possibly used to accept.
"Today it's all about the customer, not your technical ability in terms of being a mechanic, electrician or whatever - it's in how you are able to bring your skills into the customer environment.
"The newer apprentices understand that, but there's still a real shortage of people who do. We struggle to get people with the relevant experience and training to match our requirements. I don't know if there are enough people entering the sector at the right level."
JB: "There's an increasing number of people taking training courses. Classes are getting bigger - and younger. We've got people now making the choice to get into facilites management, and that's really encouraging. And people are even paying their own course fees - they can't get the funding, but they personally recognise the benefit of the training. That's a very fundamental shift."
SF: "We just don't have money to put all of our lower level staff through training, but we do have a handful of people who have done so off their own back. The standard we expect has gone up. Some new recruits, and even some who've been in FM for years, have had their perception of FM changed. They're thinking now that maybe they won't just be a janitor, that instead they can have a real input."
FM: "The thing about FM is that it's a global career - not only can you go all over world but you can also work across a lot of different sectors. It used to be that just HR and IT fitted that description. If you were HR-qualified it didn't matter where you were, you brought expertise of HR to whatever the organisation. And I think FM has moved that way. All of us in this room could swap sectors quite easily without really that making much of a change to how we perform. The only thing I think FM still has a problem with is the public's perception of it. It actually is a really attractive profession."
Fab Four to become Great Eight
We're looking to double the number of our regular diary columnists, so that each print edition will have two diary columns. Could you become a member of our expanded diary team?
We're looking to ensure that we cover FM in as wide a cross-section of its activity as possible, so if you're involved in delivering FM in a manufacturing, retail or corporate environment and would be happy to share you experiences on average six times a year, we'd be particularly interested in talking to you. Similarly, if you're under 25 and keen to share your experiences as a new FM finding your way in the sector, you too could be just who we're looking for.
One final note: Even our diarists readily concede that while their roles may be varied, their ethnicity and gender certainly aren't. Applications from women in FM would be most welcome. Contact us via [email protected]