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Conference papers, FM research: the leading edge
Conference papers, FM research: the leading edge Sheffield Hallam, 19 January 2000
The Guest EditorIlfryn Price is co-director of FMGC and a Professor of Innovation Management at Sheffield Hallam University. By training and early experience a geologist, he first became interested in management of trans-professional services in a managerial career with BP. After managing their exploration and production research division, he led the BP Exploration Process Review Team in a search for global benchmarks of innovation in change management. That experience provided the foundation for his theories of organisations as creations of self-maintaining patterns and his ground-breaking book Shifting the Patterns (with Ray Shaw); a volume which has been enthusiastically received by practising facilities managers. From 1993 If pursued a career as an independent researcher and consultant and guided the development of FMGC's research portfolio. Outside FM he is co-author of the RICS guidelines on professional practice management and is internationally known as a leading contributor to the new science of organisations as complex adaptive systems.
Professions have much in common with species in an ecosytem. They occupy distinct niches. In the UK, surveyors, in one variant or another, have captured the niche for a variety of transfers involving an item of value, from land to fine art. Across the channel, Europeans have no translation for the word "surveyor". Other professions occupy the equivalent economic niches.
Professions, and business fads, also evolve, and engage in quasi-Darwinian competitions for business attention, finance and status. Over perhaps 15 years, a diverse mix of office designers, office managers, property managers, building services managers, institutional services managers, consultants in all the above disciplines, commercial suppliers of the different mixes of service and "in-house" providers have found some common ground in laying claim to the term FM. Penetration in different niches (i.e. the recognition given to FM in different economic sectors) varies. In the NHS 74 per cent of trusts surveyed in 1997 had a facilities manager or equivalent as a member of the executive management team (Rees, 1998) while even in 1999 only 29 per cent of UK Local Authorities had a single manager responsible for what would conventionally be regarded as the full range of FM services (FMGC, unpublished research).
Has FM begun to plateau? Are terms such as infrastructure management (IM) due to take over from "FM" at the strategic level? That is one message which might be read from Then's emphasis on real estate asset management (REAM). Writing personally I would prefer us not to embark on another selection process between IM, REAM and FM. Such a conflict would, I believe, reduce rather than speed FM's strategic acceptance. However, I recognise that even within FM opinion is divided. Green and I report a Delphi survey of 12 leading business, in-house, academic, and professional figures in the field. The latter two groups were clear that FM merited the status of a profession. The in-house opinion was divided. Property professionals tended to say "no", those from other backgrounds "yes". Business executives in FM suppliers saw "professional status" as a marginal issue. FM - while it lasted - was a business proposition. It is easy to see why each group holds the views it does.
Can FM, its professional body (BIFM), its industrial community, its increasing practitioner community and its growing, but diverse academic community reconcile these perspectives? Within FMGC, we would say that it can and our Research Conferences, the second of which is reported here, are one attempt to bridge that divide.
One, perhaps the only, way forward is for FMers to embrace the language of the core organisations they serve, and assess their contribution in terms of "business" relevant outcomes. Balanced scorecards are a way of achieving this, as Amaratunga and Baldry demonstrate by specific reference to Higher Education Properties. Another aspect of the Jigsaw is for FM, in whatever sector, to be aware of its impact on the strategic imperatives; as, for example, in Health care, the new emphasis on Primary Care Groups whose implications are discussed by Featherstone and Baldry.
Information technology has been hailed as the saviour of, or revolution in, FM, probably for as long as the discipline has existed. Whether it has delivered is perhaps a moot point. Whether it will grow in significance is not, as Lunn and Stephenson demonstrate in a detailed historical review.
Mention IT and flexible working is not far behind, but is technology the barrier or enabler it is often perceived to be? Through surveying practising BIFM managers in organisations which have, or have not, embraced new ways of working, Lupton and Haynes provide evidence that management attitudes and assumptions rather than logic or technology are the determinants of decision making in practice. As I have argued elsewhere (Price and Akhlaghi, 1999), it is management patterns that ultimately enable or limit organisations, and FMers of the future must understand their role, not only in shaping those patterns but also in breaking them.
Price, I. and Akhlaghi, F. (1999), "New patterns in facilities management; industry best practice and new organisational theory", Facilities, Vol. 17 Nos. 5/6, pp. 159-66.
Rees, D.G. (1998), "Management structures of facilities management in the National Health Service in England: a review of trends 1995-1997",, Facilities, Vol. 16 Nos 9/10, pp. 254-61.