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A world of difference

25 November 2010

Cathy Hayward

Economic and cultural barriers were on the agenda at FACEO in Birmingham this year


Dress codes mean one thing in London and quite another in Berlin, Paris or Madrid. That was the first revelation of a one-day conference on multi-country FM outsourcing organised by MCP and Faceo where the invitation had suggested business casual.

“Our interpretation of business casual is different in different European countries” said Bruno Rees, the MD of Faceo Benelux admitting that he’d started the day without a tie and hurriedly put one on when he realised that most of the UK delegates at the Birmingham event were wearing one. “It just goes to show how different things are across Europe.”

Despite being held in the UK’s second biggest city, the event had a real European feel with speakers from France, Germany, the Benelux countries and Ireland. But in many ways the different presenting styles and attitudes served only to accentuate the challenges of cross-border contracts – language and cultural differences being some of the key issues.

Part of that is down to the different levels of maturity of the European FM markets, said Gaia Nocchi, a consultant at Frost and Sullivan who kicked off the day with a look at research into the European FM market. The UK has the largest integrated FM (total FM) market and has pioneered IFM in Europe; the German market is in expansion while in Scandinavia there is a diverse, challenging market; there is a high acceptance of IFM in the Benelux, while growth in France is still inhibited by strict labour laws.

“European FM is very country specific – German and French end users tend to go to German FM providers, for example, whereas the UK, Benelux and Alpine markets are much more diverse.” She also pointed out that while French, American, Italian and Benelux FM providers are good at exporting their services outside their domestic market the German, UK, Austrian, Swiss and Scandanavian FM firms don’t do well outside their own country.

International contract growth

Despite the differences across Europe, Nocchi predicted that there would be a huge growth in multi-country FM contracts. 
“By 2020 more than 70 per cent of end users will go for multinational contracts, compared to 40 per cent now”. The demand is there, Nocchi said, but suppliers need to be more international in their outlook.

Another challenge across Europe is that FM is still not seen as a profession, said Wayne Tantrum, chairman of EuroFM who added that it was his mission to professionalise the industry. One solution for that is a new European standard for facilities management EN15221. There is a vast difference in standards and terminology across Europe and EN15221 is a key means for the industry to become more professional and standardised.

Tantrum, who used to be sustainability director at Interserve, and now runs his own business, argued that “it is often ‘management by hope’ at the moment for cross-border FM contracts,” “There is no common language, terminology or even a general agreement of what FM is,” he said. The EN15221 standard should change all that but only if people use it and participate, 
he added.

But creating standards across the continent is challenging, added Ken O’Mahony, director of real estate and facilities EMEA for EMC2 who added that the issue of dress code was not only different across different countries but also across industries – EMC2 is an IT organisation where ties are unknown. “We found that the average height of individuals is very different across Europe with people being much taller in Scandanavia than in southern European countries which means that you cannot standardise office furniture, for example,” he said.

Security concerns
There were also issues about security – what can be recorded and kept in what country might not be acceptable in another. O’Mahony has adopted a ‘glocal’ approach for his European portfolio whereby regional suppliers are used.

Chemical company BASF adopts a similar model, explained head of FM Europe Beatriz Soria Leon. FM has been done on a site-by-site basis but Leon is in the process of bringing it under regional FM providers and introducing one standard, a process she acknowledged was challenging but worthwhile.

Faceo’s Rees described four FM service delivery models currently in use in Europe: a site-by-site approach; a country model; a sub-cluster level approach and a regional/ global model. While all have their pros and cons, Rees echoed Nocchi’s comments when he added that there was a definite trend towards multi-country contracts.