9-11 May 2023
ICC Sydney

Upskill for a secure FM future

By Martin Leitch

After many years of attempting to define facilities management (FM) competencies it seems that there is now a real opportunity for a general consensus on what is required to be a competent facilities manager.

This opportunity is mainly being driven by the recently announced collaboration between the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and the International Facility Management Association (IFMA). One of the outcomes of this collaboration is that the two organisations will “work together to determine how best to align professional credentials and qualifications to shape the single career path for the collective benefit”.

However, things never stand still. Driven by a range of technological innovation, FM is entering the next stage of its evolution. To be able to effectively work in this new environment, facilities managers will have to learn some new skills – skills that take them more into the realm of management rather than the technical space to which they have been accustomed.

Not that this is a bad thing. For many years now, the strategic role and importance of FM has been much advocated, but it has been very slow to happen. The changes that are now occurring represent not just an opportunity for FM to become more strategic, but an imperative to becoming more integrated into strategic business planning processes.

The two underlying themes of the developments in technology are automation and data.

Automation

The Internet of Things (IoT) is enabling the connection of machine to machines, and giving assets some basic intelligence that enables them to self-monitor and self-report. This radically changes the approach to maintenance planning and strategy development by taking away some of the manual interventions and reducing the need for reactive maintenance.

Certainly, the rectification and replacement of assets will still require human activity, but this will be more focused on specific key tasks and time spent on maintenance will be significantly reduced.

With the developments in materials through the adoption of nanotechnology coatings and additives, structural elements and finishes are becoming more durable and maintenance free. Among the many examples is the self-cleaning façade.

The process of treating cladding materials and glazing with water- and soil-repelling coatings replaces the need for regular cleaning with occasional recoating, the periodic timing of which varies depending on products selected and environmental conditions.

The result of this is that facilities managers will find that some of their time will be released – time that can be used for a higher purpose.

Data

Being able to predict and forecast performance, and deliver more focused services through a clearer understanding of internal and external customer behaviours and expectations, is going to feature highly in the day-to-day role of facilities management into the future.

The key to achieving this will be the data generated by various automated building systems and relationship management tools. This clearer view of the future will help the facilities manager make better strategic decisions and facilitate the establishment of a more meaningful interface with other strategic business processes. Being able to respond accurately and with confidence to changing business conditions will help build a much stronger business management team.

Skills

As already suggested, these developments will allow facilities managers to be more involved in business management activities. The ability to do this effectively will require the development of some new skills.

Data analytics. New technologies, including the examples provided above will feed off and generate significant amounts of data. Although the analysis and management of this data will no doubt also be automated, facilities managers will need to have a much better understanding of statistical analysis, data interpretation and scenario modelling. This will allow them to make better informed decisions about future facilities and service delivery requirements.

Research. Keeping up-to-date with new technologies will become more important. Particularly relevant are the technologies that aim to make the FM job more efficient and productive by minimising repetitive and mundane tasks. Having the skills to methodically research developments and having the capacity to understand innovative applications will be a significant benefit.

Networking. Building on this last point, the ability to establish networks of peers and other professionals will result in being able to understand future directions, and hence lead to better decisions on the procurement of technology and service delivery solutions. Automation will release time to be able to network, but skills in productive networking need to be developed.

Language. Some of these new technologies will inevitably result in a new range of outsourced services – those related to data and data management, for example. This will necessitate learning a new language that includes algorithms and petabytes, rather than filters and air temperatures. Being able to converse in this way with specialists will ensure that maximum value is returned from these service providers.

Relationship management. Managing relationships in all management activities is fundamentally important to delivering a productive service to the business. These relationships extend from those with internal and external costumers to those with service providers and peers within the profession.

Business management. Interfacing with other strategic business units requires a good understanding of a much wider range of business processes, of corporate structures and finance and of macroeconomics. This understanding will help facilities managers contribute effectively to the strategic management of the business. It will also give them the ability to predict how minor shifts in external and internal conditions may affect their organisation, if not the vulnerability of their own jobs.

FM beware

Although some may consider the above as being a rather extreme view of the future shape of the FM role, there are many technologies that have not been mentioned that are inevitably going to have an impact. These include developments that are already happening in the areas of holography, virtual reality and robotics – someone in the not too distant future will come up with numerous applications for these in the built environment.

Therefore, one of the underlying skills that the future facilities management will need to have is the capacity to learn and through learning being able to quickly adapt and respond to new ways of working.

The FM industry, including its professional and industry institutions, has been criticised in the past for being too reactive to changing external influences. Unless the industry and its constituent practitioners and professionals embrace these new skills, there is a very real danger that the technology sector becomes more prominent in managing the facilities of the future.

About the author

Martin Leitch FBIFM MRICS, workplace management consultant, FM Scope, is a workplace management professional with in excess of 30 years’ experience in delivering a wide range of facilities management consultancy and education services in the UK and Australia.

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