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Ifma conference: New opportunities


3 November
2010

by Ian Broadbent


The year 2010 was a landmark for Ifma which is celebrating 30 years of service to the FM profession. Ian Broadbent, chairman of the BIFM, reports on this year's International Facility Management Association conference which took place in Atlanta, Georgia.


“You guys sure know how to party,” said the lead singer of the band at a reception party towards the end of World Worldplace 2010 closing the night with a mixture of Bon Jovi and 1980s classics. And there was a lot to celebrate following a long week of meetings, exhibitions, conference and lectures.

This year’s International Facility Management Association conference took place in Atlanta Georgia at the Georgia World Congress Centre from October 27, the first time it had been in the city since 1988. Atlanta is not a tourist destination although it is home to several impressive facilities such as the Apex Museum, Olympic Park, Martin Luther King centre, and the CNN Centre.
The year 2010 was also a landmark for Ifma which is celebrating 30 years of service to the FM profession. The night before World Workplace opened, delegates attended the Ifma foundation gala and recognition reception at the ‘World of Coca Cola’. We were treated to food, entertainment and relaxed networking as well as a live and silent auction. Those attending were given access to all areas of the world of Coca Cola attractions not least one self-serve fountain that offers 106 varieties of Coca Cola. Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the Ifma foundation works to promote priority research and educational opportunities for the advancement of FM and we were happy to support their work by attending.

On day one, the opening keynote speaker was The Honourable Alexis M Herman, former US secretary of labour and workforce expert who had worked under Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Her speech was US-centric, which, although hardly surprising, was nonetheless disappointing bearing in mind the international flavour of the event. However, she offered some interesting comparisons: she asked how many in the room were born between 1946-64 and around 70 per cent raised their hands, her point being the lack of talent and new blood coming in to the industry.

After the keynote speech delegates were literally marched in to the exhibition hall behind a band. The exhibition itself featured a number of global players but was not dissimilar in size to our own TWM or the Facilities Show. Throughout the week, there were over 100 educational sessions running at the same time, on subjects ranging from sustainability to planning, trends, innovation, research, motivation and benchmarking to name but a few.
World Workplace prioritised sustainability by maintaining the following practices:

1. All surplus materials were distributed to a local school
2. Event information was distributed electronically
3. Post-conference material was made available on the internet
4. Surplus catering was donated to a local charity
5. There was no on-site parking
6. Recycling stations was available throughout the conference area

On the evening of the opening day we were treated to a sensory overload of sounds, sights and tastes at the Georgia aquarium, which is home to over 100,000 aquatic creatures and 500 different species including whale sharks. The event proved a good networking opportunity, as well as dinner and dancing – to classic Motown and contemporary hip-hop tunes. Networking was a common theme of the event and the one area I felt that our American hosts got absolutely right. Each evening there were a series of events or receptions where delegates, organisers and exhibitors mixed in informal yet spectacular environments. We are possibly more reserved in the UK, but conversation with strangers just seems far more natural in the U.S.

On Thursday evening, a number of organisations held receptions with each outdoing the other in terms of spectacular locations and the quality of food and drink; diplomatically, we managed to get to most of them on the closing night. The conference closed with the IFMA awards of excellence 2010, a black-tie event with dinner, awards and dancing.

The UK was well represented throughout the show: previous Global FM chairman Stan Mitchell was in attendance, as was immediate past BIFM chairman Iain Murray, who has been voted in as vice chairman of Global FM, and fellow Global FM director and BIFM CEO, Ian Fielder. Dave Wilson, of Agents4FM was also present.

It was also very interesting to hear views on BIFM and FM in the UK; throughout the week we were approached by many organisations from around the world and congratulated on the way the BIFM is run with requests for support, advice and guidance. There was recognition from many that Europe not the U.S. has led the way in FM.

So as World Workplace 2010 came to an end, what had been achieved? Well, we have developed existing relationships further as well as seeking out new opportunities. There was also a clear message that Europe and in particular the UK is at the forefront of research, innovation, transformation and solving workplace issues. There was also clear agreement globally that the workplace is changing, the way we do business has changed and those who are prepared for the future will meet the change head on and provide direction to their organisations.

So the lead singer was right, we do know how to party sometimes. But we also need to make sure as a profession that we are always at the party and celebrate the great things we do all year round. We can’t all go to World Workplace every year but the world is a smaller place and in terms of FM we have a massive influence.

The UK has often been highlighted as punching above its weight and I left Atlanta with the view that in the world of FM this is definitely true. With the collaboration that I saw during the week, there’s every reason to expect this to continue, while not forgetting there is plenty the world can teach us too.

But most of all it’s the people that made World Workplace such a great event. I often tell those that I meet that the industry is great because of its people not its facilities and, by the end of the week, I had met many people sharing ideas and thoughts and built a network of colleagues and people I can call friends too. The band brought the night and my week to a close with the sounds of the Scorpions Wind of Change, typifying the huge change we’ve made and the work we all still have to do. More details on the event can be found at worldworkplace.org