Martin Read and Bradford Keen find out why the four individual winners of the 2018 BIFM Awards stood out in the judges' eyes.
05 November 2018 | Martin Read
Given the rigour of the judging process, it is perhaps to be expected that the winners in the individual categories are those initially nominated for displaying an unusually potent mix of skills and behaviours. And yet this year's winners demonstrate something else in common - the coupling of an innate enthusiasm for FM's potential with a natural curiosity about what should come next for themselves and the wider sector. What can I do to change how my colleagues report, and how can that improve our performance? What can I do to address a fundamental misconception about what FM is and does? How can I take my profession's message to the decision-makers and politicians? And how can I set up entirely new organisations that challenge the existing facilities service paradigm?
All four can show how at different times they have challenged the status quo. Paul McNally, who took time to observe ("like an FM psychologist") before introducing his IT solution. Laura Birnbaum, a surveyor specialising in occupier solutions who, as well as her own IT solutions, has implemented communication plans in her successful bid to highlight the significance and technical complexity of the FM discipline to the HMCTS Board. Then there's David Carr, CEO of Bouygues Energies & Services, who rather than focus on his own corporate concerns, has gone out of his way to take his message about the importance of avoiding low-cost - and thus higher risk - contract procurement to government. And then there's Oliver Jones, who has made his mark in each of the decades during which FM has been a recognised business sector, doing more than most to help shape that sector.
Between them, they send a message to future awards entrants and the wider sector. And it's one that resonates in the month that the British Institute of Facilities Management becomes the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management: challenge what's gone before, make plain the value of your contribution to the corporate whole; and be bold in your actions. Over the coming pages you'll find out about our winners (detailed biographies are on the new IWFM website).
Bold mover: FM's true entrepreneurial original
Perhaps the most entrepreneurial facilities management professional of his generation, Oliver Jones sports a vibrant CV. It details a life of bold decision-making and an unerring ability to identify and make the most of emerging forms of service. Helping literally to shape the outsourced FM service sector we see today, the former head of judges for the BIFM Awards is an instantly identifiable figure on the FM scene at home and abroad.
In the 1990s, Jones's aptitude for business finance was married to nascent FM opportunity as he helped set up some of the country's first outsourced FM service businesses, taking on work from both public and private sectors.
He helped government shape the PFI outsourcing model, involved himself early in the serviced office market, and continues to plug service gaps, most recently setting up an electric vehicle-charging business.
Having spoken of how the fusing of property and IT-related outsourcing companies is the future, Jones today is chief executive of Chayora, the Hong Kong-based data centre infrastructure company about to make operational the first of seven major data centre facilities near Beijing, with more planned across China.
Jones has always sought to develop the FM sector more broadly, to which end he spent close to a decade judging the BIFM Awards. And it's through quality of service provision that Jones sees most opportunity for those seeking to emulate his story.
"The more I travel and the older I get, the more selective and critical I am of the service I receive," he explains. "That's due to having more reference points against which to make comparisons - but also because I've become more confident at identifying unacceptable service levels."
As BIFM goes through its transition to IWFM, Jones speaks of the need not to lose sight on such a service-first mentality.
"Workplace is a really important label, but FMs also run world places - everything from resorts through to shopping malls, airports, leisure complexes, and of course, the environments in which people live. They're places where people work, for sure, but the common denominator is that they are places in which service is delivered. For me, the truly great leaders in FM are those able to take a diverse range of technical, professional and service staff and conjure up the magic of a team that is totally aware of what each member is doing, effortlessly able to reshape itself to meet the myriad challenges each customer presents us with.
"That, to me, should always be the apex of our individual ambition: to be truly great facilities leaders able, through the bringing together of a workplace and the hard-working team servicing it, to create moments of truly exceptional service. It's just like the crescendo brought about by a great conductor and their orchestra. I think we're really good at doing that in FM, and it's one of the areas I would like to support IWFM with as it moves forward."
A seasoned market watcher through his brokerage business Morphose, Jones predicts a 'reformation' of the sector, in part a response to Carillion's collapse, with smaller and vertically oriented providers likely to emerge as larger providers divest their specialist divisions. The wider choice in scale and capability of service provider will address issues of shareholder value and see higher margin, better service solutions.
Jones hopes BIFM's move to become IWFM will see "bigger comparisons" made to prove the sector's worth. He ends by asking FMs to act boldly.
"If you're to be the great leaders of tomorrow, you need to be prepared to take the skills you've acquired in one sector and test yourself in another. By doing so you'll find a real inner strength while also adding value to the wider industry as well as the organisations you work with. It's about being clever and confident enough to apply your skills in a variety of areas."
Newcomer of the Year
Bold initiative: Impatience is a virtue
Paul McNally loathes meetings in which too many tech-based acronyms are bandied about as mere possibilities and aspirations. He wants action.
"My energy comes from the impact of my actions. I gain enthusiasm by seeing things having an immediate effect," McNally explains.
While McNally acknowledges big-picture ideas of where technology can take us are essential, he prefers focusing on a technology's core element that will yield immediate results.
That's why McNally is unimpressed, for example, by building information modelling (BIM). "I've worked with some of the best BIM consultancies in the UK and I'm trying to understand how could it really affect FM? OK, so we've got a 3D model of a building? Fantastic, but who's got time to explore it and say what impact that can have."
That's not to say McNally isn't making use of existing technology. He won Newcomer of the Year by revamping roughly 25-year-old Excel software for contemporary needs.
In what became known as VINCI's Interactive Computer Controlled Indicator (VICCI), McNally created a sophisticated frontend display to broadcast the status of work tasks on a 65-inch monitor in the FM office at the NHS facility Whiston Hospital.
"My whole philosophy is looking at how you could enhance something without throwing a lot of money at it," McNally says.
VICCI, through customisable, real-time, automated displays with visual and auditory alerts, has cut SLA-related fines at VINCI Facilities' St Helens Hospital and Whiston Hospital contract by 93 per cent and brought up ratings for customer satisfaction to 95 per cent and patient care to 99 per cent.
Client and provider are also benefiting from the transparency even if McNally had to convince a "mixed bag of generations" to embrace it.
"When I first began on this project, I'd locate myself in the corner of a room and observe - like an FM psychologist - and then speak directly to people to get feedback," McNally says.
With a big success to his name, next on McNally's agenda is learning more about Power BI, "the new glossy Excel", to bring together multiple data streams - not just from CAFM systems.
"Data is key," McNally argues. "It's not so much how you interrogate it, it's what you do with it. Let's not store it. Let's use it. Data is the fuel for AI."
And AI and machine learning is where McNally is ultimately heading, but he wants to use it to restore the work-life balance for the labouring masses by automating tasks such as responding to emails and producing meeting minutes. He says: "Let's push technologies but let's not lose ourselves; let's not lose our identity."
Manager of the Year
Bold planner: Civil servant leads the change
An Oxford University graduate, chartered surveyor, mother of three and deputy director at Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), Laura Birnbaum is even more enthusiastic about FM than you'd expect from a Manager of the Year.
And she wants others to feel it too: "Go to Kidzania; you have kids climbing through air-conditioning units. Now my kids say, 'I want to be an air-conditioning engineer.' It's not as hard as you think to inspire people to get involved in what makes their everyday lives tick."
Birnbaum started at HMCTS leading the transactions and project management teams, but seized the role to head the newly organised FM department agency.
"I thought I have some transferable skills that can add value and I was keen to learn the technical details. So I put myself forward," Birnbaum says. She confesses to being fearless in certain respects, but not to the point of being cavalier. "I believe I can do things and if I'm wrong, I accept that and move in a different direction."
But that's not been the case, with Birnbaum regularly adding value through tech-based projects for data-based decision-making, and better estate inspections and information storage. She's also senior business lead for procuring FM contracts.
Birnbaum's crowning achievement has been completing a £7.5 million programme of works lasting four months across 350 sites (many suffering from a maintenance backlog), within the delivery deadline 95 per cent of the time.
With many in FM lamenting the lack of gratitude they receive for doing their job, Birnbaum created a "brochure of success" and dropped it on her CEO's desk, asking for a 'thank you'. She, her team and the broader estates team received recognition.
Improving relationships has been key for Birnbaum, who always extends gratitude to suppliers when credit is due. "I try to make us a good client. By being a better client, we got our house in order: we have worked to clear historic debt; we've developed our team so they can ask the right questions and gain qualifications to reflect their experience."
Birnbaum is eager to communicate how fulfilling FM roles in the Government Property Profession can be. "It's an interesting place to work because you're not just dealing with the usual portfolio. There's another layer of interesting challenges to apply your skill set to," she says.
"If you're working at DWP, you're dealing with job centres; at MoJ with prisons; and at HMCTS, you're working with courts. We have issues of vandalism, dealing with vulnerable people such as victims and witnesses. If you're interested in a more diverse or nuanced application of your skill set, the public sector has a lot to offer."
Leader of the Year
Bold position: Productivity and Brexit to the fore
Adjudged "a dedicated professional who cares about the sector", the 2018 Leader of the Year has risen to the twin challenges of running a high-profile service provider while chairing a key membership organisation in order to bring together important voices, from both public and private sectors, to help advance the profession.
Having ascended over 15 years to the position of chief executive, David Carr has supported the growth of Bouygues Energies & Services' FM provision, in the UK and overseas, through a variety of roles. He has also served as both board director and (currently) chairman of the Business Services Association.
Keen to ensure demand organisations recognise the appreciably higher risk of poor FM procurement, Carr has championed good facilities management as an absurdly unheralded way of tackling the country's productivity problems.
Carr looks after the facilities management, infrastructure and energy parts of Bouygues Energies & Services. His tenure has seen the firm enjoy one of the highest retention rates of staff and clients in the industry, and indeed he rates as profoundly important the nurturing and maintenance of supplier relationships.
"We need to get risk issues on the table," he explains. "A lot of risks are not discussed properly. But if you're ignorant of risks, particularly how other parties perceive risks, that's when things get swept under the carpet, and when bad decisions are made. When there's a common risk register between provider and client, all of a sudden you get people talking about the real issues affecting all parties to that arrangement."
On a client's premises, the FM operation will potentially bring risk to the client's productivity. That's key, but we tend to look at productivity as an industry - 'what could make FM service delivery more efficient?' A lot of the time, conversation about issues on a contract moves straight to the planner room, or the cleaning service. But when instead we consider what makes our client more efficient, we can then look at how we influence their wider efficiency issues. All of a sudden you get a different perception of how your role as an FM provider fits overall operation.
The FM sector, says Carr, should be focused on how it can crack this productivity puzzle - something he places above Brexit in terms of importance.
That said, he highlights the already noticeable reduction in EU nationals working within the UK, emphasising how FM's voice to government about Brexit is especially important, in particular in communicating with government and employees to guarantee stability and continuity.
And here, says Carr, is a prime opportunity for FM to take a bold approach to the practicalities of the problem.
"We as an industry can't just sit there and say we're hard done by. We're in a unique position with Brexit because we're a great snapshot of the UK economy.
"Brexit is going to be hard for FM; it'll test the labour market. But if FM adapts to the change, it could help lead the British economy through this."
What bold moves should individual FMs contemplate?
"Jump on what's topical. OK, so not everyone has our passion for the statutory requirements, but well-being, mental health, sustainability, use of plastics - all are exciting avenues you can use to get stakeholders interested. Then you can bring them on to perhaps some of the more fundamental issues."
"Ignore how you may be perceived by others. OK, barriers and challenges will come your way, but you need to be 100 per cent committed and steadfast in your beliefs. Don't be swayed and don't wait."
"Make sure you put together a team with the right set of skills: those who are tech-savvy, those who are strong people managers, and those able to adapt to organisational change. You need to ensure you have all those bases covered. It's your ability to get that mix right and get all the right skill sets on the pitch that can make you stand out."
"Be prepared to take the skills you've acquired in one particular sector and test yourself in a different one. Often when you go into adjacent sector what you took for granted in, say, the corporate HQ environment might be completely alien. But then you may introduce a new idea and people are bowled over by it. You need to find it in yourself. Are you prepared to let go of the side and swim across the pool?"
What bold initiatives should the wider FM sector undertake?
"Promote itself to others. It will help us as practitioners if people understand the role. FM's not just a help desk, it's a complicated subject and if every facilities manager walked away, you'd have a problem. Advocate for why we're relevant; the idea of being a chartered institute is a fantastic step because it's showing that."
"We should embrace more technologies - not so much those about how we manage buildings, but how we manage people and their experience. We should also focus on natural intelligence, too. You won't find a bigger technology advocate, but I'm on the same level with people. I am a people person and I try to amalgamate the two. I'm always looking at how I can benefit every individual."
"More sensible discussion about what contracts should look like; how we bring value-add rather than cost reduction. It's about creating space for innovation, quality and value for money. The sector needs to approach government as one to say that these are the issues we need to be challenging."
"To me one of the great opportunities we as the Western world have is to lead the international emerging markets, and we continue to lead in customer service. One of the single most important differentiators long term will be our ability to be better in how we deliver service than anybody else."