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Future proofing FM

30 June 2014  

Every now and then it’s a privilege to be in the hall for a presentation that challenges your perception of future priorities.


Anil Menon, president Globalization and Smart+Connected Communities at Cisco Systems inc., was one such speaker recently.

Menon’s talk was about the need to address a lack of digital infrastructure and how the collision of dramatically increased urbanisation of cities with the commoditisation of digital technology will fundamentally affect the way we conceive of, construct and manage the built environment.

It’s heady, big-picture stuff, but the speed of change is already giddying. And in an FM news landscape dominated by such topics as legal changes to zero-hours contracts and the need to respond to greater worker flexibility, it’s sobering to consider the predictions for how the built environment will look for those working in FM come the year 2050. Because although that’s a year unlikely to see the working involvement of any of today’s FMs aged at the sector’s current median, it will assuredly involve those young facilities managers just now entering the profession. 

This, the first generation to make FM a deliberate career choice, will be in their fifties come 2050. It’s truly astounding to consider some of the changes we’re likely to have seen by then. A facilities manager aged in their fifties now can look back 26 years to 1978 and track the very formation of the sector.

An FM of similar age in 2050 and looking back 26 years to today will, I am sure, see change in their role that will make the whole ‘formation of the sector’ thing look positively pedestrian. It’s difficult to pick out an overall trend, but let’s list a few. Currently, a body of people the size of the entire population of Australia migrates from the Chinese countryside to Chinese cities every year. By 2050, half of the world’s GDP will be generated by just two countries – China and India. Oh yes, and there are twice as many mobile phones as toothbrushes sold in the world each year. Did I mention that the world is urbanising - i.e, becoming city-based - at a rate that’s equivalent to a city the size of London every month?

Even the small things will be seen to be big when looked back on in 2050. Remember 2009? Gordon Brown as PM? If that seems like yesterday, consider that iPads didn’t exist then. Today, 59 per cent of UK households have a tablet PC. To take just one example, the way in which we use this mobile tech is still in its infancy; a slew of impending healthcare products and services tied to smartphones will have an extraordinary impact on the type and size of healthcare facilities in the years ahead.

It’s tempting to look at a current red-flag FM issues, flexible working in particular, as merely a symptom of the ongoing digital revolution. Urbanisation, and the need to curb energy consumption, will lead to integrated ways of working and workplace management that we can only dream of at present.

It comes down to some fundamental reassessments. For example, “What if you had unlimited bandwidth,” asked Menon. “Would you do things you do now in the same way?” That’s the kind of question that deserves attention now. Because you can be sure that those currently entering the profession will be working with whatever the answer to it is.

Martin Read is managing editor at FM World