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The soft sell

Are the principles of soft landings – a ‘graduated handover’ of a building project to its occupiers once complete – fully accepted? And is FM ready for its role in the project spotlight? Our round table, sponsored by Gardiner & Theobald, considered the issues.

GT roundtable 1

25 November

Where are we with soft landings?

Kath Fontana: I see the concept of soft landings becoming better established – but we urgently need to address the processes involved, given that by 2016 anyone working in the public sector will need to be able to deliver this as a competence in the new Crown Commercial Services framework. My concern is that the FM services sector hasn’t developed the standards and processes it needs to be able to respond to the challenges that are very quickly coming our way.

Stuart Cranna: Making Soft landings happen is a result of all parties collaborating, working together and being able to understand the end-user customer experience.

Alan Brown: Here’s an observation from an architectural perspective: an awful lot is spoken about BIM and soft landings at the moment, but our experience is that a majority of contractors are miles from really understanding what’s needed to hand over a facility to a client. Soft landings is a great aspiration, but there’s a lot of detail to work through. 2016 seems an ambitious target.

Gavin Murgatroyd: On most of our projects there’s a disconnect between the delivery side of capital projects and the actual end-user occupier. The solution? Defining the rules of procurement and how FM people integrate with our capital spend teams.

Mark Gledhill: Pressures on construction projects are built in from their inception – lease breaks, the design and procurement of the works – and these can often force work into a very compressed timescale. 

Louis Loizou: I can’t imagine there will be many new builds in the government estate over the next 10 to 20 years, but I’m quite pessimistic as to whether soft landings is ever going to be widely used.

Geoff Prudence: The whole thing is surely about driving great design, management and operations of building over their lives, to make them work effectively. So while it’s important, handover is just one part – it’s about getting FM involved early and  integrating it into the design process in practice.

Stephen Holton: One of my concerns is of soft landings becoming just another badge to stick on a project. The focus should be on improving the outcome from an operational point of view.

Mark Hutton-North: My experience of soft landings has to date not been positive. Buildings are delivered that, however well thought through, don’t work as well as they ought. In the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park we have quite a few large development opportunities coming up and the team is committed to making sure that these buildings are easy to operate and cost-effective over the next number of years. But I share Steve’s view that soft landings shouldn’t just be a badge.

The issues

KF: Government has mandated that, at some point in 2016, all public sector projects in central government – new builds, refurbs, fit-outs – will have to be procured using BIM level 2 and GSL. That’s reflected in the Crown Commercial Services’ FM framework which is currently out to tender; it has a section that says service providers need to demonstrate that they can achieve BIM Level 2 – which is going to be difficult, because no one’s really done it yet. There are seven pillars of Level 2 BIM and a crucial one of those is Government Soft Landings.

MR: What will the effect of the government’s own dPoW be?

KF: Anybody in FM knows that the standardising of classification across all assets is an Everest to climb. In terms of the dPoW, there’s a huge gap around FM’s involvement that needs further work.

AB: For me, fee structure is the issue. It’s nice to say let’s stay involved after delivery, and most architectural practices would love to stay involved in the buildings they’ve been part of because there’s an emotional connection. Changing the RIBA PoW to make the whole process a virtuous circle seems fundamental and we have to bed that in. But while listening intelligently to FM issues is important, it’s also difficult because in the construction project we have fractured processes. It’s got greater potential if you’re working under a contractor in, for instance, a PFI arrangement, but much more difficult within the standard delivery framework – because nobody’s paying for it.

MG: In the corporate occupiers market we need to be coordinated with the FM provider. There’s the strategic element – delivery of the building – and operational delivery. We tend to split the brief into strategic and operational sections, so that we can define what the operational parameters are and what the occupier needs. Then, at RIBA PoW stages C, D and E (now stages 2 and 3 in the RIBA PoW revised in 2013) we drive designers to make sure they sign off and present the development of the designs to the FM teams, so when we get to the end of the project it’s aligned with what they wanted at the start.

KF: The most proactive of our clients regarding soft landings are private developers – they don’t have a mandate to do it, they just see the benefits. However, one of the issues we come up against with clients is when they say “we want to engage our FM supply chain, but the people you really need to talk to about how the building is really going to operate are the building services engineers who are going to work on all the kit. It seems to be difficult for our clients, especially at specification development stage, to engage with the real, hands-on blue-collar guys who need to be part of the process. So how do we get around that issue of not being able to engage with the people who have the real intelligence about how the buildings will actually work?

SC: As a client you have to be able to put a project team together to articulate your vision and communicate it; to link together the users, the customers, the design team and the operational team. Those organisations that can support this are rising to the fore and being snapped up by firms because they’re capable of articulating this vision and seeing it through. Clients need people who can do that. 

MG: You can look to embed soft landings through the design process, but where it frequently fails is during the construction phase where, more often than not, you’re procuring the quickest programme to deliver a project. So then there are all these commercial pressures you encounter during construction that delay the work and mean that the period between practical completion of the building contract and moving in gets very compressed.

SC: But you must do what you can to prevent that from happening by making sure that your procurement process achieves your needs. Don’t just put out a traditional RFP but consider conducting a competitive dialogue process. If you’ve only got a year to complete the project, you should still ensure you make the time to do it because if you don’t build that time in it may cost you later on.

Taking ownership

SH: No one builds unsafe buildings now because we’re obliged to follow the means to ensure that buildings are safe – but we can build inefficient or difficult-to-operate buildings. So the issue is how to avoid doing that without an enormous amount of regulation and requirement, and I do think there’s some naivety in the BSRIA soft landings framework in that it assumes that people are going to do things out of the goodness of their heart, when actually they’ll do what they are paid to do and nothing else.

AB: How do you define soft landings? Is there a shared understanding of what it actually means? I’m not sure I really fully understand, as a designer, what the expectations are.

KF: It’s about measurement when it comes down to it.

AB: OK, but how do you capture all of that complexity contractually? (Unless it’s under one umbrella, which is why PFI works.) Somebody has to take overall responsibility.

KF: The fundamental difference with PFI is that the people who built it have to maintain it. The ownership, accountability and risk sit with the people that built it. I don’t understand why we don’t let ‘design, build and operate’ contracts where the main contractor has to operate the building for three years and takes the risk on it.

GT roundtable 2

Is FM behind the curve?

SC: What are our institutes going to do in terms of training within the FM sector for everything we’re talking about? How do we make sure that someone working on representing FM in a school design project truly understands Soft Landings principles? Because if you don’t understand it, you are less likely to enforce it and make sure it works. You are not going to make sure your contracts are set up appropriately. How does that FM get the skills and knowledge to fill those gaps?

SH: I think there are two things from an FM point of view. Yes, there’s a challenge with FMs’ skills, resource and capability to get involved in projects – but I think the more fundamental thing is that they are not even consulted in the first place. The decision-makers within clients don’t even talk to people in the FM side because those FMs simply don’t have enough visibility.

SC: Yes, this really goes to the whole principle of what FM is – FM should position itself as a strategic role, not just the operational people on the ground.

MR: Shouldn’t FM be leading in all of this?

LL: That depends on where the FM sits in the organisation. If there’s an FM at director level, then I think they might have an important role in the stages. But my director is a finance director – he’s not going to take an active role in those early stages.

SC: To be most effective FM should be in a position where it’s able to influence the project but it doesn’t have to have a place on the board.

KF: You’d never say ‘Oh, we need an architect involved in the design, we need a builder involved in the building project’ – they’re self-evident. The same should be true of FM. What’s fundamental for me isn’t where FM sits in the organisation – you don’t have architects as CEOs of non-architectural firms, for example – it’s where FM sits in the project itself. People should accept that they need a facilities management expert as part of the project team from the beginning.

GM: These are fundamentally different skill sets; the people delivering these projects are not necessarily the right ones to be doing FM.

SC: Facilities doesn’t always have a sufficiently high enough profile to be running the project, and what I’m talking about is the head of facilities actually being responsible for the whole project, not necessarily just being a player on the team.

KF: And that touches on the debate about where decisions on operational and capital expenditure sits in an organisation. The disconnect I see is that you get a group of people procuring a building project which then hands the building over to a group of people responsible for its maintenance, running and operation. They’re different budgets and different people within the organisation; connecting the two together would be really positive.

GP: For me, from a hard services point of view, the role of FM is in fact to set the standard for what the design needs to do. And there are now better and more up-to-date standards to underpin the cost and impact of maintenance in hard services. People previously said that SFG20 doesn’t support this, but it’s now been completely updated. No one can now make the excuse that they don’t have good standards to base a tender on. Everybody, including FM, has the tools to influence good design.

GP: We all know that clients are getting thinner. My concern is the level of skills in the sector. People are coming out of universities with design and other relevant skills, but they just haven’t got an understanding of the operational OpEx function.

SH: Many FM teams have been cut back in recent years, so don’t have capacity and don’t necessarily have the understanding of process, construction and project development they need in order to get involved – and that’s a challenge for the industry. With many of our clients the project department sits in one place with operations in another; they have little to do with each other. How we close that gap is a big issue.

Where is soft landings already working 

GP: Where are the real exemplar projects? The projects where FM can be clearly seen to have been involved in the early stages?

KF: Probably in retail, because in retail they use the building as a true asset for driving operational profit. Look at the way that Tesco, Asda or John Lewis go about their construction process. It’s all connected to how they can sell more in the building and keep costs down.

SC: Exactly. If you look at building lifecycle management, it drives the long term P&L. The industry has been talking about lifecycle management for years but you still don’t see it being widely implemented. Everyone’s talking about lifecycle management in design meetings, but how early on is anyone actually working out how much a new building’s going to cost to run? At what point do you look at the operating budget? As you go through the RIBA stages in the plan of works, at what point do you ask roughly how much each element is going to cost? Because then, if there are changes to be made at stage D (the design development stage in RIBA’s Plan of Works) you can say OK, what is the operational cost going to be of making this change? We need to build in operational cost estimates, because that’s the kind of thing the decision makers want to know, how much is going to impact our P&L? Everybody needs to start articulating just how much things are going to cost to run.

SH: But if you went to an in-house FM team and expected them to offer that level of input, they wouldn’t know where to start. They just don’t think that way; they don’t have that data or level of knowledge.

KF: The thing about soft landings is that it involves exactly that: the measuring of cost, both CapEx and OpEx cost, throughout the whole RIBA plan of works stages 0 to 7, and on an ongoing basis, in order to ensure that the cost you anticipated for running the building is actually what it is costing you – and if it isn’t, why isn’t it? After that it’s about how you feed any identified downsides back into the design of the next building or refurb you do. That’s the whole point of soft landings, the measurement of cost, functionality and effectiveness. We have a fantastic opportunity with the new plan of works that acknowledges FM at Stages 7 and 0. I acknowledge that FM’s input through the project process can change from initially being client-led to being supply chain led at the end. That needs to be worked through as well, because you’re unlikely to have a defined FM supply chain at the front end, and that process needs to be handed over in the same way the design process needs to be handed over.


MG: As per the RIBA POW we plan to capture the FM requirements in the design, but there’s no proper process to how that should happen. We need to incorporate the end user in the design, but there’s no specific guidelines about how you should do that nor about how we then implement soft landings from the practical completion of the building contract to the occupier stepping into the building. That needs to be better structured.

SC: Maybe the design team should be held accountable for the operating cost, make them partially liable for it.

AB: But you’ve got M&E, the architectural side, the construction side – and all have different dynamics. So how are you going to define whether a subsequent problem is a failure on the M&E side or a failure on the building fabric side? How do you identify who’s at fault? The whole idea of soft landings can work, as long as all parties involved in the project team respect each other. But somewhere, the process has to be owned by someone; because if you don’t have that, it falls apart.

MG: The extent of the variables you have on any given project are vast. Setting up a KPI for occupation of a building in use? I just don’t know how you would do that.

SC: How does government think it’s going to roll this out? How are they going to manage it? They’re setting these guidelines within the public sector – how have you as service providers been told it’s going to be managed? Who’s accountable for it?

KF: As I understand it there is a project underway to define the measurement standards for post-occupancy evaluation. Some of it – energy cost and use – is going to be fairly easy to do – but at the other end, yes, it’s going to be really difficult.

EJ: The difficulty is going to be in how change elements are handled in the period between sign-off and supply. I’ve seen so many projects where services delivered in a building vary so much from what was originally planned that there’s opportunity for everyone to say ‘Well, who built that into the plan?’ So, who will you hold accountable? In the public sector it’s going to be very difficult to hold people to account. I can see everyone along the project chain taking a step back and finding a way that they won’t be held accountable for changes that happen during the process.

AB:There’s also a resource implication in monitoring all of this. You’re going to be paying an extra fee layer, and one of the problems already is that everybody’s taking a bite of the client’s cake.

The value proposition

KF: We’re talking a lot about cost and not much about value, because there’s a massive hidden cost to poor buildings that nobody really understands or quantifies.

GP: Absolutely. A post-occupancy evaluation survey may cost you £10k, but what is the longer-term cost of high reactive maintenance, disruption, sending the kids home from school if it’s too cold?

SC: Remedial stages of construction contracts have cost reviews in them – they should start having operational cost reviews built in to them as well.

AB: When you’re going from concept to developed design the question will be ‘in order to do a lifecycle cost, give me details of etc. etc,’ – well, you’re going to need to bring a lot of detail forward to be able to do those lifecycle costings at that early stage. We need to be much smarter about doing that. We do health and safety now, because that’s been driven into the process; we need to do the same with capital and operating costs.

SH: And not just in year one – in years two, three etc – over a defined period, in fact.

GT roundtable 3
Kath Fontana, BAM FM: “The FM services sector hasn't developed the standards and processes it needs to be able to respond to the challenges that are very quickly coming our way”

Standards issues

GP: The third version of CIBSE guide M is coming out in November. There’s also been real collaboration with RICS, CIBSE and others so that there is now a totally updated SFG20 which is electronic and can be customised; it’s something that you can use on a straight tender with. But there’s also the work from RICS on the NRM3 rules of costing and maintenance. with all these documents covering handover and input into design, there are no excuses now.

KF: NRM3 is a hugely significant development.

GP: The PFI guys have been doing this for years, of course, linking up the asset codes, the maintenance strategy, the costing. And both SFG20 and NRM3 fall in with BS8544, the lifecycle cost and maintenance standard launched a year ago. So we’ve actually got the tools to put all of this in at the early concept stages.

KF: Absolutely, and at BAM we’re recoding all our assets to NRM3 in our CAFM system. If everybody did that we would have a baseline standard for costing every maintenance activity on a level playing field, which we could then enforce through CAFM.

GP: In the space of just two years we’ve all collaborated and put together a complete set of documentation, not just to help the maintenance industry, but to inform the design process.

SC: The industry’s getting ready from a maintenance and utilities standpoint, and yes, that informs the big picture. But hard services is just one element. How often is carpet replaced, for example – every year in a front of house arena, depending on the throughput; so you have all those decisions too. It needs to become a lot more complex – there’s a lot more cost to be measured when you look at how a building is truly going to be used.

KF: In fact, NRM3 does a good job on floor coverings. Although, knowing how big a building is in the first place can be a quite tricky thing. Actually, a lot of clients don’t even know how many square metres they’ve got, especially on large corporate estates where the asset data is really poor.

MR: Geoff, do you think that a lack of awareness of the tools you’ve just mentioned is the bigger problem?

GP: I think so, yes. And it’s vastly improved information as well. The CIBSE guide used to simply say, for example, that boilers should last an average 20 to 30 years with good maintenance. So now there are 15 pages on specific boilers, and it’s all interlinked to NRM3 as well.

Educating FM

KF:There might be debate as to who is responsible for pushing up standards, but it’s not just BIFM – CIBSE, BSRIA and RICS are all involved too. You also need the willingness, attitude and culture as well as the tools. Smart and proactive people will do all of this without tools and the processes – the other 80 per cent will need support and training, and that is sorely lacking within the industry.

SH: It all comes back to the CapEx /OpEx question. FM has to be involved in projects from the beginning. When it comes to key decisions, it’s typically a CapEx question with the OpEx ignored because, fundamentally, someone’s got to deliver a building to a capital budget. So, if anything we might ask for is not achievable within the CapEx budget – for example, we’d prefer a different roof or floor covering because it will deliver better lifecycle and maintenance costs – it won’t happen.

SC: Well, then that does come down to levels of understanding. I agree that what you are saying happens, but it shouldn’t. If the project is set up and reviewed in the right way you should be constantly looking at your CapEx vs OpEx.

AB: OK, so who around this table is actually going to carry out that work on a project? Who is going to pay for that degree of expertise?

EJ: If the supply chain steps up it will still need the customer to be linking the two budgets together – because if the customer is not doing that up front, it won’t define what it wants properly and if it doesn’t define what it wants properly it won’t work.

SC: Some clients might not be that informed, so they are reliant on the supply chain. If you want to make a fundamental change, the supply chain has to step up and inform those people who are not experts in this area and are also doing 101 other things as well as FM. If we want to make fundamental change then it has to be supported from the supply chain as well as it can’t be assumed that every client is that informed.

Embedding a soft landings culture

AB: If you did everything required at all the stages that the plan of work sets out then you’d probably overload some smaller clients. You’ve got to find a way of structuring the project that works for the client. It’s very different with a well-resourced, highly intelligent client. So it’s about embedding a culture.

KF: But I think that is starting to happen. The fact that we are all round the table, all the different disciplines in the built environment here to talk about FM’s role – that’s a huge change in itself.

GP: There are some projects, perhaps a little bit under the radar at the moment, that are doing all of this – and where it is happening it’s because someone at the top has embraced it, signed it off and said, guys, we are going to do this. That’s leadership. You can have as many stakeholders as you want, but someone at the top has to support it.

SC: There also a reliance on project management. The likes of Gardiner & Theobald share the responsibility, because most projects have a project management firm. Even if it’s just talking to clients – ‘have you considered, have you thought about, how does this fit into the operating costs?’ – you’re then encouraging key conversations with people who might not necessarily be thinking that way. That’s where I think we can encourage change, just by asking those questions of clients.

MHN: One of the things I’ve observed is finance directors being directly responsible for estates and facilities – perhaps the last five years of economic downturn have forced that.

SH: You wonder if we need more engagement with the senior financial people running organisations to get them to understand just how much their buildings cost them. We are horrified when clients have so very little concept of how much they are spending on FM; they don’t even have a basic level of understanding about how their buildings are influencing their costs of operation.

SC: That’s a fundamental challenge faced with the FM industry then. If you are running a building you have to know how much it costs to run it.

KF: The customer/client must take responsibility. That said, our institutes need to step up; there’s a pressing need for standards, process and training to assist us all.

SH: The role of FMs in all of this is to think more strategically, raise their profiles within their organisations and make sure they get consulted. That doesn’t mean they have to sit on the board – few FMs ever do – but if they are burying themselves away next to the boiler and think it’s just about paying the bills and keeping things ticking over, then they misunderstand the role of FM. 

GT roundtable 4
Mark Hutton-North, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park: “We seem to get lumbered with buildings that, however well thought through, don't seem to work as well as they ought to from the outset”