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24 October 2018
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Hot debates at the EFMC conference 2011

16 June 2011

by Richard Byatt

Productivity is so 20th century. We need to focus instead on knowledge creation, discovers Richard Byatt reporting from the European Facility Management Conference 2011

History, technology and the generations collided in Vienna at the European Facility Management Conference (EFMC), organised by EuroFM and IFMA. As temperatures reached 30°C, plenary sessions were held in a large marquee outside the Vienna University of Technology (TU Wein) on Karlsplatz.

Think of the future

As usual, EFMC combined a business conference with a research symposium.
US Strategist Daniel Rasmus opened with a critique of modern management, and that included FM. We’re trapped in early 20th century industrial thinking, he argued. People are overly concerned with the concept of productivity, when they should be asking “knowledge economy questions”. You can’t measure the ROI of a building as there are just too many variables. Instead you should pass on the design intent 
to future users.

Henning Dransfeld of T-Systems outlined some of the challenges arising from the accelerating take-up of mobile communications. Rapid changes in the market demand flexibility from those administering the use of smartphones in organisations to ensure that “enterprise grade” solutions are maintained.

Dangers also lurk in the growing use of social media. While students might be promoting Twitter, Dransfeld explained that Facebook is essentially a tool for accessing user data. An IT service engineer might be able to solve your problem quickly by consulting his Facebook ‘friends’, but it could open up a window on your organisation that you’d rather keep closed.

“Practitioners don’t read peer-reviewed journals, ever … period,” was the somewhat contentious statement from Professor Alexi Marmot of the Bartlett School of Graduate Studies, University College London. Another delegate thought the challenge was greater than that – even researchers in related disciplines don’t read FM research.

Marmot had been looking at the evidence base FMs might use. In some areas it is extensive (indoor air quality, for example). In others it is thin (new ways of working) or nonexistent (sustainability).

Of course, Marmot is talking about evidence derived from genuine research, rather than anecdotal. She acknowledged the difficulty in designing experiments that isolate the variable you wish to examine – a similar point to that made by Rasmus in the business context. “Workplace change usually accompanies other organisational change,” she said.
Her solution? Huge samples, control groups and the sort of longitudinal studies undertaken 
in fields such as healthcare.

The emerging economies offer huge potential for FM professionals and providers if the views of a panel are representative. Eloquent speakers from Brazil, Turkey, Ukraine and Saudi Arabia summarised the state of their FM markets. In Ukraine, cheap labour has delayed outsourcing and FM has not developed. In contrast, FM in Turkey is a “serious profession” which is now maturing, and needs to shift emphasis from cost to quality.

The concept of FM in India is very traditional – not much more than cleaning and security – but again, the potential is there. There has been something of a ‘gold rush’ among international FM companies coming into Brazil.

Several speakers also referred to the evolutionary process in which successful local service providers expand and are eventually bought by international players. Sinan Findikoglu of YKS Property Management in Turkey, predicted that there would be no local FM firms in three or four years.

The big debate
Perhaps it was the cooler weather, but the second day of the conference seemed more energised. It got off to a flying start with the ‘FM Debate of the Year’.

In a rapid and entertaining forum, Bernard Drion, associate professor at NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands, set out a number of propositions around work and the workplace. His opponents, Peter Prischl, chief executive, Reality Consult, Austria and Kathy Roper, associate professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, School of Building Construction, then had two minutes to respond, followed by delegate voting.

The 12 propositions were deliberately provocative:
● FM is the management of all services needed to support people in creating added value for the organisation
● Analysis by generations (baby boomer, X, millennial, etc) is nonsense
● Employers must trust staff
● It doesn’t matter where you work
● Forget technical specs, determine the guest journey
● IT renders corporate offices superfluous
● Switch over fully to agile working
● We must build more bazaars rather than more cathedrals*
● Hospitality based on a company’s DNA creates 
added value
● FM’s main issue should be future scenarios
● Buildings, furniture, fixture and equipment: they’re all commodities
● FM should be redefined as hospitality management
*see Eric S Raymond, The Cathedral and the Bazaar (O’Reilly, 1999)
Drion argued that managing the physical environment should not be FM’s top priority but should come after services, hospitality and what he called “the personal context” of the building user.
He said measurements such as cost per m2 (FTE) were no longer interesting or relevant, although cost per guest might be useful. Organisations need to use different dashboard metrics such as diversity, tolerance, creativity and serendipity.
Prischl and Roper thought Drion’s definition was too all-encompassing. FMs cannot ignore their fundamental responsibilities and should be wary of becoming jacks-of-all-trades. On the notion of classifying by generation, they thought life stage was more important than age. Prischl and Roper’s responses carried the day, with a narrow 6:5 points victory and one draw. 

Richard Byatt is corporate & public affairs director at the BIFM


Research and business streams came together for a joint session to hear about an almost unique case study – a new headquarters for SpareBank in Trondheim, Norway

SpareBank is the largest financial corporation in the region, employing 1,100 people at 56 locations including two adjacent headquarters in Trondheim, built in 1882 and 1978. The goals were to align the new HQ with organisational objectives, which included contributing to the community.

Irmelin Aarberg Andersen, a project manager with SpareBank and Dr Siri Hunnes Blakstad of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, presented the project at the conference. They wanted to combine two perspectives in the research – setting goals and defining targets during briefing and design, and evaluating the results against the same measures after completion. Co-operation between bank and researcher continued throughout the project, which began in 2005. What makes it perhaps unique is the willingness of both the client and the wider professional team to be measured against published objectives.

A study trip to the UK prompted the team to coin an acronym as a ‘brand’ for the project. ‘Smart’ stands for Samhandling (co-operation), Miljø (environment), Attraktiv (attractive), Rasjonell (rational), and Teknologi (technology).

The bank occupied the new complex in November 2010. Ambitions, objectives and measures were identified. Occupancy data and interviews are used to compile a scorecard and a quarterly report on KPIs for the bank’s board. The ambitions can be summarised as: a stronger brand, more synergy and innovation through co-operation and increased productivity.
It is still too early for definitive conclusions but greater co-operation appears to be an early benefit. Researchers say this might partly be a result of the new building, but also the processes of the relocation.