The Building Futures Group debate, sponsored by RICS

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By Paul Carder; t. @paulcarder

This blog is a bit UK-oriented, for which I apologize in advance, but the key points are fairly universal.

I have just travelled up from Bristol to east Docklands, London – a bit of a schlep. Near London Docklands City airport, but not exactly central for the rest of the UK. The Facilities Show might reconsider this – Birmingham was more central. Inevitably the train was also delayed on the way back. Oh for more video-conferencing! However, it was just-about worth it to catch up with some old friends, most of whom I didn’t expect to be there.

My original reason for the trip was to find out more about The Building Futures Group (@TheBFGrp), a recent merger between trade bodies and training organisations. They are “the only organisation collectively representing the housing, property, cleaning, parking and facilities management sectors in the UK”. That is, as a trade body, representing their member companies in those sectors.

It was interesting (to me anyway) that our friend and supporter Johnny Dunford (@johnnydunford1) had sponsored the seminar, in his role as Global Commercial Director at RICS. I had tweeted before the event that it would be great to see TheBFGrp apprentices work right through to Chartered FM Surveyors…it could be done, and what a great success story that would be.

The panel discussion was as follows:

Building Trust and Professionalising FM

Panel included: Ian Jones (ITV), Guy Stallard (KPMG Facilities) @Guy_Stallard, Johnny Dunford (RICS), Sarah Bentley (@SarahBFGrp), Chris Hoar and a guy from Compass Group (sorry, I didn’t write down his name).

I’m not sure where to start with trying to summarise this discussion. Sarah opened, followed by Chris Hoar; then an uplifting presentation by Ian Jones about his view on being a great FM. Thereafter a slightly rambling discussion ensued, mostly by the panel, with a few questions. The audience were a bit on the quiet side.

Sarah reminded us that the TheBFGrp launched in April 2014. The story of the merger is across all the FM trade press, so we all know who joined, and who withdrew (i.e., BIFM). In fairness, two months is not a long enough time to expect much output yet. But, unlike the BIFM, the purpose of the TheBFGrp is at least clear. It is a trade body, in support of the service providers in our broad industry.

I noted two specific aims, from Sarah’s opening piece:

  1. Training: fit-for-purpose, for the industry – and defined pathways for progress.
  2. Professionalising: bringing the industry up to the levels increasingly expected.

‘Trust’ was the main subject of Chris Hoar’s opening words, and I found myself entirely agreeing with what he said. He talked about “love-in’s” that we all see at conferences; i.e., where client and service provider tell the audience how much they love each other, and that all is going so well.

It’s true – maybe it happens in many industries, I wouldn’t know – but in property and FM we hear a lot of mutual back slapping and limited useful analysis. Chris asked, “Are we afraid to tell the truth?” For sure, and worse – we’re in a culture of ‘good news only’. That’s why we get so much more from the breaks during conferences than we do from many of the ‘sales pitch’ presentations – over coffee you can ask, “OK, so what ‘really’ happened then?” Wry smile from the presenter, and maybe the truth – or occasionally a look of horror that you may dare ask for the real lessons to be shared!

Chris also asked whether there is a difference between public and private sectors, and if so, should there be? And he followed this by asking whether partnerships really happen. Sezgin Kaya (Accenture) made a good point in response – that any relationship with a fixed term (like a contract) cannot be a partnership. And Sezgin also inadvertently kicked off a discussion about ‘economies of scale’ (bundling contracts, looking for cost savings)….and we were off! Down the same route as always…we should not be competing on cost, but rather on service and value-add to users.

I entered the debate with a comment that I could have made (and did) more than a decade ago. That is, FM has driven itself into becoming a commodity, in most cases. And it is not all the service providers’ doing, as many clients have pushed for lowest cost. But, I was working on a “cost versus service level” matrix, for each service line, in 1998 at Johnson Controls. I took it with me to Barclays later that year, and a couple of years in, tried again to get FM companies to create such a matrix. They didn’t get it, or didn’t want to ‘codify’ service and cost in that way – maybe a bit of both.

It was a simple as the car-wash price card at your local petrol filling station. Do you want a quick wash for three quid? Or wheel scrub etc? Or the full wash and wax for five quid?

I’m not naïve enough to think that a matrix of cost versus service level for any FM service would be quite so basic as a car wash! However, with some thought (and the will to do so) this kind of information could be presented to the market: even with lots of caveats.

Without something akin to what I have described above, sadly much of the great advice given by Ian Jones will not get acted upon. Ian talked about the need to “hire character, train skills” (a quote from Peter Shutz). Ian’s talk was really all about investing time in the development of people, through apprenticeships, job rotation every two years, job swaps and mentoring. I’m sure that all the service providers in the room would like to work for Ian! It takes time to do all of this great stuff, and time costs money.

So where do we go from here? Will we be having the same discussion in five years from now?

It does not need to be that way. The BFGrp could lead a programme to bring together service providers to agree a set of common ‘service level’ categories. It would take a bit of time and thought – but over several workshops, it could be achieved. Then, using the standard IPD/en15221 cost code, with a layer of additional granularity added, we could collate and plot FM service cost against service level, for different buildings in different locations, and so on.

Lastly, then anonymize the whole data-set, and publish it, as a ‘rough guide’ to the industry’s clients. They will clearly see, then, the differential between say, a ‘Bronze’ service level and a ‘Gold’ or ‘Platinum’.

Eventually, the whole industry will start to learn how not to answer the question, “how much?” with a number, but rather with a series of questions. What level of service do you actually need? And are you prepared to pay for that level of service?

Professionalizing FM debate:

Well, as I said, it didn’t really happen. Nor did I discover anything new about TheBFGrp plans, which I was hoping to. But hey, they’re only two months old – we need to give them a chance.

  1. Doug Langmead says

    Your suggestion is a great idea, it would certainly help organisations to comprehend and begin to think about level of service within defined guidelines. In the M/E there is a huge gap between price and expectation, and little to define what can reasonably be delivered.

    1. paul says

      Work to do then Doug! We need a catch-up call. It is a simple idea; almost ‘benchmarking for marketing purposes’ in some ways. With hotels, we have a star grading system, which is a buyer’s guide in effect. We need something similar for working environments, perhaps. Not a new idea!…but has not been done.

  2. Trevor Miles says

    Thanks Paul for a useful summary of the debate. For business case purposes adding risk as a third dimension to the matrix might help buyers get a more complete picture. (e.g. if you are a bank service risks that you might take in a branch, would probably never be contemplated in a data centre).

    1. paul says

      True, and something BWA did many years ago with its FRISQUE tool. But a 2-dimensional simple “cost versus x” matrix for buyer guidance would be a start?

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