30 June 2014
Every now and then, it becomes difficult to avoid scratching the "where are we going" itch that so frequently characterises the debate about FM these days.
Thus it was, following the recent IFMA Workplace Strategy Summit and the suggestion from some that FM as an industry "may no longer exist" in 10 years' time, that we thought it again worthwhile asking the question.
The thinking at the IFMA event was that as the design of workplaces changes to accommodate more flexible forms of working, this will lead to a decline in the traditional office environments with which FMs are typically associated. Is the role of FM fundamentally changing? Are we at a crossroads? Is FM just poor at communicating its value, or is it in the intrinsic nature of FM that its role is to continually evolve around an organisation's operational support requirements?
There was plenty of support for the 'evolution not revolution' argument.
"I cannot see a time where there won't be people, buildings and associated services," replied one correspondent. "There'll be a technological shift, but FMs will just up-skill in the areas required."
Said another: "So long as there are humans on the planet we will still need toilets, waste disposal, business continuity management, coffee and cake."
"FM is not exclusively about offices," a third correspondent weighed in. "Wherever there are buildings, there will be FM people to run them in some way or other. That said, robots can replace people in some functions. Digitisation, and the internet of things, will continue; leading-edge buildings are already complex and will become more complex in future."
Another correspondent thought FMs' lack of certain skills was the main problem. "Buiding information modelling and Government Soft Landings will expose the fact that most FMs have not gone beyond GCSE in maths, physics, chemistry and biology. Therefore they don't feel comfortable sitting with chartered professionals in surveying, architecture, engineering (civil, structural, building services, etc.) talking about design and construction. FMs need to up their game in terms of the technical knowledge they need to run buildings. Many do not know the basics of energy management; it's like having a captain of a cruise ship who does not know how it works, or an airline captain with only the sketchiest knowledge of how his aircraft functions."
Said another correspondent: "FM has never stood still, but for me it's always been a service industry: buildings are just a tool we use (albeit a big one) to allow organisations to fulfil their objectives. They're not the only tool we have, and if FM is predominantly (but not exclusively) about the workplace then we have to evolve what we do as the workplace evolves."
Another correspondent agreed. "FM has never stood still, but it has adapted as different company strategies are rolled out. Only short-sighted companies regard FM or workplace as a commodity."
"FM will continue to evolve as long as people and buildings exist in whatever format that is in 10 years' time. FM has evolved already considerably over the past 10 to 15 years. Technology will likewise continue to work (or hinder) in tandem with what FM delivers, supports, monitors etc, in whatever guise it takes."
So, plenty thought FM's role would continue to evolve. But revolution was in the air for some: "It's all about different 'levels' in the organisational hierarchy," said one. "At the most senior level it's about translating the needs of the business strategy down to the teams delivering the physical working environment - and that's real estate, planning, design/architecture, construction and fit-out, workplace strategy, change management, procurement, HR, ICT - and FM. Strategic FM is arguably not FM at all - workplace management is a more holistic view on the functions working together to create, change, deliver and manage workplaces. Not just the delivery FM services "
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