Changes to budgets, technology and the White House administration could mark significant changes in the way FM is practiced in the United States, from using smart data to manage buildings, to opportunities for FM education, to a considerable shift in the outsourcing market.
25 May 2017 | Martin Read and Jamie Harris
The FM industry in one of the largest economies in the world naturally has the potential to create a sizeable chunk of economic activity for that territory.
Over the last six months though, the industry in the U.S.A. has been on alert for any potential changes to legislation, says Peter Kimmel, a consultant and FM professional based in the country.
"Our new president has been quite different in terms of how he works with congress and legislature. These initiatives are far-reaching, which may have a major impact on FM if they go through."
Initiatives on the table include the removal of energy and environmental regulations, which could have a significant impact on the building industry.
Changes to tax laws and funding of infrastructure development too, says Kimmel, can impact the incentives for what FMs do, as well as impacting how services reach sites.
"The end result is totally unknown," says Kimmel. "It's difficult to plan at the moment."
But despite the change in presidency, FM in the United States has seen a substantial shift in the last 10 years or so. The evolution of technological advances, which are also evident in the UK and across many other parts of the world, has changed the way FMs collect and analyse data.
"Over the last five years," says Kimmel, "I'm seeing FM starting to use this data to manage buildings, instead of just looking at the data they have."
Everything appears to be more integrated, he explains, from the use of integrated workplace management systems and CAFM systems, through to the adoption of the Internet of Things connecting different departments together within the context of smart buildings.
In addition, outsourcing - traditionally less loved in the United States - is now becoming more prevalent, believes Kimmel.
"Europe and Asia have always had a lot more outsourcing, but the U.S. is starting to catch up. I think it's increasing because of the drive to reduce in-house expenses for companies - these companies can no longer afford to have these specialised expertise and tools that outsourcing companies carry."
When asked why there was an aversion towards outsourcing in his country, Kimmel suggested that it could perhaps be more of a cultural issue.
"This is pure conjecture on my part, but folks in the U.S. perhaps wanted more control over their facilities, and they figured it's easier to get that control from within their facilities."
Kimmel makes the point that as more FM work gets outsourced, many of the "good people" working in FM in-house move on from those organisations.
"A lot of times they're going to work for the outsourcing company. So as this starts becoming more and more prevalent, we're seeing more quality people in the outsourcing companies, thereby making their services that much more appealing."
Budgetary issues are informing much of what FM teams, both within organisations and outsourced, are able to offer. The move towards a customer service-led approach to FM is being adversely impacted by budgets, says Kimmel.
"It's also getting more difficult for companies to grant their FMs the time and money that are needed to enhance their education and knowledge.
"FMs are spending more time than ever on the job - they have less time to take courses and attend conferences and keep up with the journals. They are doing less reading of online materials to keep up to date - they just don't have the time to do that."
This, believes Kimmel, leads to shortcomings in terms of keeping on top of the latest technologies and trends.
"And that in turn makes it more difficult for FMs to budget for the use of a new technology that changes the way FMs do their work."
Kimmel has worked within other countries around the world, and is therefore in a good position to share his views of the differences and nuances between FM practiced in the USA and across continental Europe.
"I think one of the biggest differences is that in the USA, we tend to undervalue our facilities, and as a result we underspend in our facilities.
"We're trying to save money in the short term, thereby shortening the useful life of the facility, because we believe we will replace the building in fewer years than in Europe."
Kimmel points out that there are plenty of subtle differences across geographic areas in Europe, as well as wider issues, such as the fact that there are more environmental restrictions in Europe.
"Part of that may be because energy is a lot more expensive in Europe - there's more of a focus on conservation."
One area where the US has paid more attention, says Kimmel, is in making facilities more accessible for those with disabilities.
"Buildings with ramps, fewer steps - the US, with the American Disabilities Act, the ADA, is far ahead of what there is in most European communities."
While there are plenty of issues to be addressed, Kimmel thinks that FM in the U.S. has a good starting point to continue its progression.
"I think FM has a fantastic foundation. I think however that we need to take advantage of that solid foundation and build on it in a way that perhaps we're not doing right now. I see that associations and educational institutions can play a big role in making that happen, if they so choose."
We're broadcasting live at 12 noon BST on World FM Day, Wednesday 17 May. You'll be able to hear audio interviews with some of the international correspondents mentioned above, as we capture a snapshot of FM across the globe in 2017, as well as live discussion on the issues and themes that have arisen. Tune in here.