“Power to the people? Is FM still missing its strategic focus?”

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BuildingSMART Australasia is lobbying the Federal Government to encourage Building Information Modelling (BIM) on all public sector projects. The UK is much further ahead, with government mandates that are spurring the FM industry to greater evaluation of outcomes. MARK WHITTAKER, business development manager for Integral UK Limited, believes there are other opportunities for improvement.

The only way to develop customer service is to seek their opinions and be brave.”
“Facilities management is about people, not buildings and customer service is embedded into our culture.” These quotes come from Alan Wilson and Bill Hancox, who are head and director respectively of facilities management at Edge Hill University in the UK. With the introduction of tuition fees perhaps serving as a catalyst, as in Australia, UK university student expectations of their ‘student experience’ have increased in recent years. Edge Hill has responded to this change, and the university has become known for its award-winning in-house FM delivery model.

What was made very clear to me on a recent visit to the campus was that Edge Hill not only understands that facility management has to be centred on the university’s ‘customers’, but that to gauge its success,
the university needs to be proactive and seek opinions, even when its FM team perhaps feels some trepidation about what they may be told. “We can’t bury our heads in the sand,” says Hancox. After all, if they don’t understand the areas they may be failing in, how can they improve? It is this keen engagement with users that makes Edge Hill notable: facility managers whose strategic focus is directly and unequivocally on the FM customer are
still far from common.

BIM AND CUSTOMER FOCUS

I am a strong advocate of Building Information Management (BIM). The reason for my enthusiasm isn’t because I love the idea of a facilities manager or contractor manipulating
a three-dimensional (3D) model to help understand how to ensure optimal functioning of an air-handling unit. The actual reason is because I think BIM represents a powerful framework/vehicle to ensure that buildings are designed, constructed and ultimately operated and maintained with the needs of the end users at the forefront of that collaborative process. I also believe it represents an excellent means to empower organisations to be much more asset intelligent – a major failing within the FM industry globally.

UK GOVERNMENT INITIATIVES

With the key objective of reducing capital cost and carbon generation from the construction and operation of the built environment by 20 percent, the UK Government has mandated collaborative 3D BIM on its construction projects by 2016. All project and asset information, documentation and data will be electronic. To this end, it has established the BIM Task Group.

Also to be implemented on public
sector projects in 2016 will be the Government Soft Landings (GSL) policy (www.bimtaskgroup.org/gsl), the aim of which is to ensure a smoother transition from the design and construction phase to the operational phase of built assets. The policy tackles three aspects of sustainability – environmental, economic and social (which includes functionality and effectiveness), by setting and tracking targets. Critical to this will be Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE), which seeks to compare the required performance outcomes with actual performance outcomes. Government departments will, therefore, be required to define a series of high-level outcomes at the very beginning of a project. These legislative changes are obviously going to be major drivers for change in facility management – and not only in the UK.

LEGACY THINKING

At a recent facility management conference in London that I attended, a large number of the speakers had their targets on two main areas: stripping out cost and delivering efficiency through the BIM process. However, it took several hours before the needs and opinions of building users were even considered and discussed; the focus by some was resolutely on the buildings, not the people. What is
the point of delivering a building that looks great, has excellent environmental credentials and yet is not fit for purpose for the people who will be occupying it? If we don’t try to understand and consider these needs, then surely it is just guesswork.

Given the direction of UK government
policy, the role of POEs was mentioned. An interesting Q&A session then ensued: ‘How do we measure the opinions of end users?’ One speaker challenged the audience as to the value of such evaluations as, by their very nature, they are subjective and there can be a tendency to give more weight to the opinions of those who shout/complain the loudest.

THE CHALLENGES OF POE

There are other questions that need to be asked regarding POE. These include:

  • Do architects, consultants and contractors 
have an appetite to seek the views of the 
building users post-occupancy?
  • Are they prepared to listen, share and learn 
from the results?
  • How open will organisations be to sharing 
these findings with the open market, and admitting to and learning from their mistakes?
  • Is one POE within three years of occupancy really sufficient?
  • Can we bring greater standardisation to how we measure and benchmark the results and, critically, how often should such surveys be carried out?
  • Can the results genuinely shape the facility management strategy for that building?

Given that the primary focus of facility 
management should be on people and not buildings, I believe that a more structured, frequent and standardised mechanism for POEs would be of real benefit to the FM industry. I also question why they need to be restricted to BIM projects – they should be much more widely used. POEs are not only an excellent means for contractors and customers to show their commitment to considering and understanding the views of their building users, but also as a means of measuring continual improvement in their service delivery.

Too often the FM industry’s focus is
on cost cutting, the latest all singing and dancing CAFM (computer-aided facility management) systems, copious amounts of real-time management reporting and notional ‘innovation’. Instead, we should be seeking to know what our customers (our building users) think of the environment in which they are working/visiting/shopping, and precisely how ever-evolving facilities management services are improving their well-being. Do these people have our attention and the power to shape our strategic FM direction? It’s time to start listening more.

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