The ever-evolving FM industry, its challenges and rewards

by FM Media
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Facility Management interviews Mike Mulvihill, operations director of Five D.

How and why did you get into facilities management? Where have you worked in the past and what are your responsibilities at present?
I have worked in the facilities management (FM) industry for over 15 years, predominantly in the hard FM space. I got into FM purely by chance as a result of a temporary assignment with Kilpatrick Green. The role mostly involved organising the facilities managers and ensuring their paperwork was completed on time and contained sufficient information to secure payment for the work. This was a challenging task, as I was only a temp and had to work with crusty old guys who were good technically but had no interest in doing paperwork. My enthusiasm and passion for the work resulted in the company offering me a lead FM position on its new Telstra contract.
After about nine months I was asked if I could relocate to Sydney for two weeks to help sort out some major issues on the contract. I arrived in Sydney to find several complex issues and stayed for the next three months. I worked hard to get the contract on an even keel in preparation for a new contract manager to take over. I then took up a position in Sydney working with the senior contract management team where I became known as a ‘troubleshooter’, sorting out problems as they arose on various FM contracts. My role involved a lot of interstate travel, which was invaluable, and I learned a great deal about every aspect of the operations of the business.
I left Kilpatrick Green to take on a senior FM position in Sydney with Transfield Services working with the New South Wales Police. After two years, I transferred over to the Commonwealth Bank contract in a lead FM role before moving into the newly formed joint venture company, Five D, in 2004. I was promoted to the position of general manager of operations a short time later. I am responsible for all support services groups within Five D, including help desk, IT procurement and contract mobilisation.
In 2009, Five D was the subject of a management buyout and I became an equity partner in the business. Working in a large, privately owned, integrated property and facilities management company like Five D offers me the unique opportunity to really drive innovation and make decisions that take immediate effect. For example, I have just completed the rollout of a new SAP Property and FM module in six months. If I was working in a large FM or engineering company with lots of internal hurdles, the same project could have taken years! I feel extremely fortunate to be involved in an organisation that feels more like a family unit than a business venture.

How do you ensure that these responsibilities are met?
Fortunately, I am surrounded by a dedicated team of industry professionals who make my tasks much easier. I have always been a hands-on type of operator and I find delegation very difficult, but it is much easier when you are surrounded by a group of people you trust. Because we have very low staff turnover rates at Five D, my relationships are built on proven experience and a deep respect earned over years of working together.

Do you advocate using in-house service providers or outsourced service providers? Why?
Put quite simply – an in-house team undertaking non-core functions is a false economy. It ties up important resources that could be focused on growth, innovation, achieving business plan outcomes and delivering the vision of an organisation. Delivering effective FM services to clients is about leveraging economies of scale, managing smart supply chain, using professional people, process and big expensive IT systems and, of course, sharing innovation across contracts and the industry.
From my experience, I find using outsourced service providers preferable to employing your own labour. It seems to me that you either have too many or too few of a particular trade, making cost recovery on their time a challenge. There is also the issue of purchasing tools, PPE (personal protective equipment) and materials that are often expensive and difficult to account for.
To my mind, FM is about just that, managing facilities, which doesn’t necessarily mean having to directly employ your own trades. My preference is to form strong working relationships with reputable vendors that are able to provide services at a cost-effective price.

What challenges is the Australian facilities management industry currently facing in your opinion?
It has always seemed to me that the industry is in a transitional phase and it continues to evolve and develop responding to changes in legislation, building technologies, and a more informed and demanding client base. It has come a long way in a relatively short space of time, but I get the sense that the pace has picked up in recent years, making keeping up to date with the latest trends and demands challenging. For example, the new occupational health and safety harmonisation laws will throw up many challenges for organisations that do not have a rigorous and ongoing commitment to national portfolio compliance. Clients need to be advised on strategies to overcome these challenges and mitigate portfolio risk.
Environmental sustainability remains an evolving trend and it is worth investing heavily in getting the right in-house expertise and accreditation to ensure that clients achieve their carbon reduction objectives. Workplace of the future is also an ongoing trend. We are working with several of our clients to introduce more flexible workplaces that support diversity and mobility of staff and function, while reducing occupancy costs and enhancing productivity.

How do you feel these challenges can be overcome?
I think the speed of change is a good thing for the industry, as it will ultimately change the profile of the facilities manager from an operational role to a more forward-thinking, strategic role requiring some qualifications in a wide range of business subjects. This will, in turn, place demand on tertiary institutions to design courses to meet the growing demand. I think we are already seeing this by courses being offered in a broad range of built environ areas.

What opportunities are arising for facilities managers in Australia? Why should they take advantage of these opportunities and how can they take advantage of them?
The professionalisation of our industry and industry associations are presenting previously unimaginable opportunities to the next generation of facilities managers. FM is being recognised as a core enabler of performance, efficiency and productivity for organisations, as well as a mitigater of risk. As the influence of the FM function is being felt further up the food chain, the boardroom is starting to take notice of what smart facilities managers have to say.

What is the best decision you ever made in terms of facilities management?
I think becoming involved in the industry in the first place was a great decision, as it has been a rewarding journey where I have met some wonderful talented people, dealt with some challenging issues and watched with interest as the industry has developed and matured. I have also had the opportunity to introduce people to the world of property and FM through my role as mentor over the years. It is a key part of my role I find extremely rewarding. By far my best decision and the one I am most proud of is becoming involved in the management buyout of Five D, which was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

What piece of technology or equipment do you find indispensable in performing your role?
Without question, it would have to be my BlackBerry. Although it can sometimes be quite annoying, it is a great tool for keeping an eye on the business when not in the office. It also enables me to respond very quickly to client requests.

What advice or thought would you like to share with the Australian facilities management community?
One of my favourite sayings is “free advice is often worth exactly what it costs you”, so I would like to share a thought instead. There are not too many other professions that offer the diversity that exists in the FM industry and, for those who are willing to take on the challenge of dealing with an ever-evolving environment, the rewards can be great.

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