Defining “Definition”

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Bruce Springsteen at SXSWOn 15 March 2012, Bruce Springsteen delivered the keynote speech at the SXSW 2012 conference in Austin, Texas. During his address, Bruce listed no less than 60 names of music genres and sub-genres. For someone who grew up with little more than pop, rock, soul and folk, this was, to say the least an eye opener. After listening to the address, I reflected on how each of these names could be explained for the benefit of a music layperson such as myself. I suspect it would be quite challenging.

This got me thinking about something I know a bit more about – facilities management and specifically the increasing number of discussions around who we are and what we do.

  • What is Facilities Management, or is it Facility Management?
  •  Is FM a core, non-core or essential service?
  • What do these terms mean anyway?
  • Is IFM the same as TFM?
  • What’s the difference between hard and soft services?

There seems to be a need to define every aspect of the industry. Inevitably the hottest debate is around the term itself.

Visit the web site of any FM professional or industry association and you will struggle to find the same definition used more than once. They vary from describing what we do, to how we do it, to the value we add.

It was therefore with some anticipation last year that I purchased a copy of the European Standard BS EN 15221-1:2006 Facility Management – Part 1: Terms and Conditions. Would this be the answer to the on-going debate? The first thing I noticed was that the document extends to 15 pages, with only a single sentence defining ‘facilities management’. Whilst this single sentence provided some clarity, it was only after reading the complete document that I felt that a non-FM person might understand what we do, how we do and the value we add.

I don’t have a problem with trying to define facilities management, but I do think we need to consider how we are going about it. It is a bit futile to try to sum up a complex industry or any of its constituent parts in a single sentence or two. Just like the European Standard, I suggest, therefore, that a definition needs to include some further explanation. In this way clarity of terminology is achieved and the possibility of mis-interpretation minimised.

FM has grown into a significant global industry. Given the diverse cultural, political and economic differences, it is no surprise that we end up with many different definitions. If it is realistic, or even desirable to have a single global definition, these local differences still need to be acknowledged. The solution may be to provide flexibility in the supporting commentary. This can be used to

  • Reflect local organisational needs
  • Be adapted for different audiences: other FM professionals, the layperson, the internal customer, etc.
  • Cater for cultural variations

By defining ‘definition’ in this way, perhaps we will avoid falling into the music industry trap of endless genres and sub-genres that do nothing but achieve the exact opposite of the intended objective of demystifying facilities management.

Martin A Leitch, Occupiers Journal Australasian Regional Partner
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1 Comment
  1. Glen Hibberd says

    I love your attitude to searching for the “holy grail”, a definition for FM for non FM folks. The music analogy is a warning we should all heed. Let’s not lose our audience (customers) completely by endless naval gazing. Focus on describing the value we create. This message may need to be massaged according to the industry.
    Glen Hibberd

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