In the beginning it came down to Bernard Williams' seminal texts to help define the nascent facilities management sector in the 1970s. Here, as part of our History of FM series, he talks to fellow FM consultant Barry Varcoe about his career
17 May 2012
Barry Varcoe: When did you first hear about FM?
Bernard Williams: I set up a practice in 1970 to break away from the traditional quantity surveying work I'd been doing - I wanted to move into building and development economics. I met Frank Duffy and John Worthington, who had got into the interior fit-out market in a big way and brought me in to help with financial appraisals. As a result of that, we started getting closer with the people who were managing this aspect of businesses. They didn't know it then, but they were the early facilities managers.
When Frank set up Facilities magazine, he asked me to write a regular column on building running costs. This led to another series, this time double-page articles, which my colleague Andrew Hayman and I sat down to write each month, undertaking our own research on things like the costs of security, maintenance and cleaning.
We learned enough about the topics to use the data for benchmarking purposes and through that process, we got into contact with facilities managers in quite a big way.
BV: For me, one of the biggest breakthroughs was your book Premises Audit. Did that come out of the work you were doing for Facilities?
BW: It did. They decided they wanted to publish that series of articles as a book and we added some extra material. That's how Premises Audit came about. It was quite successful, but I decided after that I'd like to do a different version of it, which became Facilities Economics - all 840 pages of it! It started out as an upgrade of Premises Audit but quickly turned into everything I knew about the subject.
BV: Premises Audit was a publication known among the inner circle, but Facilities Economics took the subject to a much wider audience. It became almost a standard text for students. That must have been quite an interesting time for you.
BW: It was, and it allowed me to take what I had originally specialised in, building economics, and add in the facilities aspect. So eventually we were talking about the whole spectrum, from inception to completion - the whole lifecycle.
In Facilities Economics we included material we felt was relevant, such as development appraisal. We thought FMs should understand about property valuation and development values, as well as all the soft services such as stationery and reprographics, which no one had considered to be part of facilities before. It was very formative for everyone who was involved at the time.
BV: Having done an economics degree, what interested me was that the very reason you invested and built the asset in the first place - to use it - was missing. Your pioneering work around premises audits really opened up that area.
BW: When I qualified as a quantity surveyor there was nothing in the syllabus to do with running costs or whole life costs at all. But the syllabus update occurred just at the time when I was able to teach it at South Bank Polytechnic. The new syllabus had a significant element on development appraisal, albeit all very theoretical and to teach it I had to learn it for the first time.
There was a book from a Dr Stone in the 1960s called Cost In Use, which sat on the shelves gathering dust and only came out when people were brushing up for their examinations. But when we produced Premises Audit we started to look at all these lifetime costs and discounted cash flow issues, and started to put that into practice. Then, suddenly, along comes PFI. Whereas before there had been no interest in the running costs of buildings, when PFI came along people had a reason to look at whole life costs. That's when the whole thing took on a life of its own and that's when I started to get really interested in how you would manage that process during the design stage - a lot of what I do is now in that field.
BV: When did you feel that FM was a market for Bernard Williams Associates (BWA); a sustainable element, and not just an interesting bolt-on?
BW: We decided to structure BWA into three divisions: project consultancy, cost consultancy and facilities consultancy. My ambition was that the senior people in BWA would have the ability to offer advice in all those areas. Although important to offer this wide spectrum, we had to portray it as three separate divisions because there were clients who wouldn't understand that financial advice could be offered in all those three areas.
BV: One of the challenges today is understanding the facilities economics involved in the much more fluid nature of the office, which is becoming not just a production shop but a community hub. The economics stuff is still valid, but there's an additional dimension that needs to be brought in.
BW: That's right. We were always very interested in the relationship between the workspace and premises economics. I always try to differentiate between premises economics and real economics because we used to look at the cost of premises, which probably even now is no more than 3-4 per cent of total revenue expenditure. We would tell people that if you're looking at productivity, you might save 20 per cent on premises costs, but that might make just 1 per cent saving in your total revenue. But if you get it wrong and your productivity is impacted, in fact you will probably lose by a factor of 20. This calculation is still not understood by a lot of people who try to save space without understanding the implications of what they're doing.
One of things we always say when we're benchmarking facilities costs and performance is that you've got to pay the right price. They think that's in terms of the marketplace price, but really the critical thing is not whether you spend more or less and the effect that that has on revenue, it's whether you get the right facilities. If your plant is breaking down all the time, you're not saving money. There are a lot of people who still don't understand these basic principles: facilities is about helping people to become more efficient, not about cost.
BV: You have a unique perspective on the FM sector, having started back in 1970. It would be interesting to hear what challenges you saw the industry facing as it was forming, how those challenges have changed over time and what you think the challenges are today.
BW: The challenge for me was that there were no quantity surveyors in facilities management. In construction, you had someone who would sit with the client and understood the costs and economics. In FM there was nobody.
Apart from my practice and a couple of others, there was no professional body that could give FMs any cost advice at all, so they ended up trying to do it themselves. Back then, a lot of people had come into FM from all sorts of disciplines - the army, engineering, architecture. The only professional advice they would get would be from chartered surveyors, who would advise them about getting rid of their property or squeezing as many people as they could into it.
Today, the challenge for FMs is to present a strong economic case for the facilities they provide and the level of performance they are trying to propose to their organisations.
BV: Do you think the facilities management discipline has come as far as it should? Or should it develop further in the next 20, 30, 40 years?
BW: To come out of nowhere and get to where we are is extraordinary. Back in 1980, the term 'facilities manager' might have been used in one business out of 10. In 2012, it's used by seven or eight out of 10. The title and the value it contributes is understood. But it's only been 30 years and there hasn't yet been the level of direction needed to move it from where we are now to the next stage. Where it goes now is down to the people leading the profession and whether they can move it forward.
BV: Could FM get subsumed into something else and lose its identity?
BW: To some extent it is already subsumed into other things. In a lot of organisations, facilities is part of property. That's something I'm not terribly happy with. I've always felt that facilities should try to embrace support services to justify its place within the organisation. And really, FM should be represented at board level. You often get a property director at board level, but just as often that person is only really concerned with real estate and not facilities - and really they are two totally different concepts.
BV: They are, but in terms of what the staff of the organisation consume it's neither here nor there. What they consume is a productive workplace. Using an automotive analogy, people just want to hop in a car and go from A to B. They don't want to worry about the engine, chassis, tyres and so on. Similarly, we as an industry have got to get into that way of thinking, which is all about who's consuming what we're producing, and who the partners we need are in order to help us provide that product. How do we better integrate ourselves?
BW: I think the most important concept of Facilities Economics was the chapter on the intelligent client, where we used a Venn diagram cross-referencing the intelligence, sponsorship and service delivery aspects. It's that intelligent side, the understanding of the business needs, that's the most important part of facilities management for me.
The fact is that the people responsible for running facilities, who have a very good idea of what the business needs, haven't got enough sway, position or status within the organisation to get their point of view across.
BV: If you hadn't got involved in facilities management, where do you think your energies would have gone instead?
BW: Development consultancy, probably. I wrote a book entitled Property Development Feasibility Tables. My original idea was that you were someone who could conduct the development appraisal, but also understand the cost implications of construction. Then the FM thing came along. That said, I got involved in some big development projects. For instance, we were the cost consultants to the second phase of London Bridge City, and I was a consultant and developer of the Ten Coed village down in Wales. I was instrumental with a couple of others in getting planning permission to develop a village in the middle of a forest, an interesting achievement. That's where I would have gone, or else I would be doing what I now do in my spare time, writing cryptic crossword puzzles.
BV: You touched upon your teaching at South Bank. Education is another aspect of your career you've put a lot into.
BW: I have a visiting chair at Sheffield Hallam. It's an excellent university that's done very good work in developing the academic side of FM. And the College of Estate Management has an excellent distance learning course that I helped set up. They still give a copy of Facilities Economics every year to all their distance learning students.
BV: If you had to summarise FM now in three words or phrases, what would they be?
BW: Productivity, economics, human resources.
BV: Is that where it should be, or where you think it is now?
BW: Where it should be. I don't think it's got that all together in one piece yet.
Career file - Pioneer's progress
Name: Bernard Williams
Education: St Joseph's Academy, Blackheath; Regent Street Polytechnic (now University of Westminster)
Qualifications: BSc, FRICS, Professor
Awards: Top 20 Pioneers of FM - BIFM 2008; Top 4 Quantity Surveyors at the Forefront of a
Changing Profession - Building journal 1984
- 2009 - present: Visiting professor at Centre for Facilities management and Development, Sheffield Hallam University
- 2003 - present: Consultant at Bernard Williams Associates (BWA)
- 1970 - present: Managing director for International Facilities and Property Information (until 2002 Building Economics Bureau)
- 1969 - 2003: Founder and senior partner Bernard Williams Associates (BWA)
- 1963 - 1969: Associate Dearle & Henderson - Chartered Quantity Surveyors
- 1961 - 1963: Senior quantity surveyor Fulham Council Architects Department