The key to defining facilities management's keenly sought yet perennially liquid value proposition lies in ensuring that the true spectrum of FM's multiple impacts is visible, as Nick Martindale reports.
12 May 2017 | Nick Martindale
It's an established truism that while those working in the FM sector are keenly aware of the value they bring, it's an understanding that all too rarely permeates outside of the department.
Only in times of crisis or malfunction does the wider organisation appreciate the benefits that an effective facilities management team can bring. Yet there clearly is a broader underlying value, and there is a growing recognition of what it is.
The problem? The sheer breadth of FM's reach. One firm may appreciate a clean office, for example, while another focuses on the provision of high-quality concierge. Both may be important, but firms will differ in what weight they give to each. FM's overall value, as a result, can fall between the cracks.
Jane Bell is an independent FM consultant and the director of learning and development services at BIFM Training. She has worked in the sector for more than 30 years, and believes that any answer to the question of FM's value proposition needs to encompass the sheer variety of activities it can encompass.
"FM is very diverse in terms of its operations, and that makes it quite challenging to come up with a single, simple model to demonstrate its value."
In fact, Bell even questions whether the quest to define FM's value contribution - a constant refrain - is a healthy pursuit in the first place. "This search for a model has been a holy grail in the profession for as long as I have been involved," she says. "I don't think it can ever be achieved."
It's a complicated quest that's compounded by the trend by larger FM providers to move into other areas, suggests Dave Wilson, non-executive director of Morphose. "I'm one who argues strongly that FM can do lots of things and is not confined to offices," says the former BIFM deputy chair. "But there's a world of difference between running a facility and taking on social and healthcare, and those boundary-pushing measures that larger companies in particular seem to do can also muddy the water in terms of what we do."
Yet these great leaps in ambition have their place in the quest to earn FM's due 'respect'. For FM's role to be truly valued, the sector needs to be able to demonstrate benefits in other areas than just providing the basic essentials.
"If we're looking for ways of catching senior management attention and measuring value, the most positive direction for FM as a profession is to focus on the business itself, and aligning the way that it not only delivers services but measures impact and success or failure in line with those business objectives and the needs of customers," says Bell.
Which brings us to productivity - very much the intangible yet crucial concern to organisations of all types, although notoriously difficult to measure. As evidenced in The Workplace Advantage report published by the Stoddart Review earlier this year, herein lies FM's opportunity.
"No one can measure productivity any more," says Wilson. "We're not in a world where people are churning out widgets and you can count how many an hour they produce. You have elements like the Leesman Index, which is fairly scientific, but even that is constrained by the fact that it's about people's perceptions of what makes them more productive."
Wilson suggests that for commercial bodies the route to identifying FM's value may lie in looking at the specific metric of revenue as an indicator of per capita productivity. The key - and challenge - is to flesh out FM's role in such an indicator.
"No one in an organisation leaves all the levers alone and only pulls one to see what happens. They're constantly pushing all the buttons."
Risk = reward
Colin Kenton, managing director of FM services at service provider KBR, believes the environment is right for FM to focus on the value it brings in mitigating risk, an area of growing importance, given the heightened threat levels in Europe.
"FM's ability to manage risk and disruption is an opportunity to raise its strategic importance in the eyes of senior management, for example in how it supports business continuity through effective preparedness, crisis management and recovery - by people and building systems alike - when there's a threat to or interruption of operations," he says.
And, says Wilson, there are ways in which FM can help to create the conditions whereby the value it delivers is better understood. Making the case to senior managers and other stakeholders is an obvious starting point. "We're not clear enough that all the things we do are part of a pattern of delivery aimed at enabling people to work better or live their lives better. People care. Ultimately, they're the ones who will decide if you get your contract renewed or get additional budget, so let's focus on people."
Bruce Barclay, a facilities professional working for Dell Technologies and the author of BIFM's Good Practice Guide to Managing FM Teams Across Borders, believes the evidence to show the value FM brings in areas such as innovation, productivity and the broader employee experience is increasingly available through measurement and data analytics.
"Business leaders constantly seek better data to drive smarter decision-making. FM has access to a huge amount of untapped data which can be used to maximise our strategic value by meeting this C-suite need."
FM must get involved in more strategic discussions, says Smith, and that means ensuring practitioners have the skills in areas where it is easier to demonstrate value. "If you've not got the wider skillset to enable you to understand an asset strategy against properties, it's very difficult to then have strategic conversations around what to do with them.
"In many organisations we come across, the day-to-day FM is pretty good. But why are you sitting in that building at all? How could you get better use out of the space or drive through capital replacement projects a lower lifetime cost for the building?" There needs to be a shift here away from day-to-day thinking to more medium-term horizons, says Barclay.
Ultimately, the perception of FM in the wider organisation needs to change, too. The Stoddart Review has helped to make the link between the workplace experience and productivity, but there is a long way to go, says Barclay, and both in-house FM teams and suppliers need to change.
"Suppliers need to structure their teams and services in a way which aligns to the client's business need, focus remuneration on business outcomes and client satisfaction and not purely on transactional completions, constantly challenge their practices to develop new ways of working, consolidate services, and work with other supply lines," he says.
"Clients, for their part, must have a clear strategy and set of business objectives to meet when they contract with a supplier and focus their selection process on who best aligns to these, not simply on who has the lowest unit transaction cost."
And engagement is required at end-user level, says Adrian Powell, director of Active FM. "There is definitely a knowledge gap between FM and the end-user, but even if the wider business doesn't fully understand exactly what FM is, they know their bins will be emptied, broken lightbulbs will be replaced and facilities will be ready for each working day."
One service but multiple impacts - a good way to describe FM, but one which helps clarify why there remains no single way of capturing the value FM generates. It's likely that FM's myriad service lines will always make such a fixed, definable metric hard to pin down. Service providers can play their part by sensible contract tendering to prevent underperforming contracts; but of the solutions mentioned here, perhaps the coming of more visible and accessible analytics - and the broader use of IT to assess performance - will emerge as the likeliest driver of a more substantive definition of value for the sector.
David Smith, chief executive of Bellrock Consulting, thinks the FM sector should cleave to three practical areas through which it can demonstrate its value most clearly.
"There's a huge amount of value in just keeping employees safe and the business compliant with the regulations and laws that are out there. That's everything around gas, electrical and water testing. We take it for granted, but that's probably the most important way in which we add value."
"Provide services in a transparent and cost-effective way, so that value is seen to be delivered by ensuring your supply chain is kept honest, that prices are right, and that service levels are matched to what the customer wants. You can measure that quite easily in terms of the cost of the service you're providing relative to the benchmark of the market as
"There's a strategic piece around asset ownership and planning, then there's a piece about what goes on inside those buildings around rationalisation and workspace management. The final piece of the jigsaw is around the capital that is in those buildings; helping to plan for replacements and repair cycles, looking at the energy and usage of equipment to try and drive cost savings out over time through things such as predictive energy usage."