Developing technology and the improving economic situation are drivers for an facilities-management and building-services providers to work with clients as trusted advisers. John Maidment of Norland Managed Services takes up the story.
The demands on service providers within the-facilities management and building-services industry have changed immensely over the last decade. Enhancements in technology, shifts in working behaviours and increased environmental requirements have added to the complexity of building management, and raised expectations significantly. This is a trend which will, no doubt, continue over years to come as the industry continues to evolve.
The march of technology has been relentless, and this has had a profound impact on service providers. Not only has the complexity of building usage and systems changed, but the IT infrastructure required to service an ever-more technology-dependent workforce has increased significantly.
Changes in working practices, such as more flexible ways of working and the need to be constantly connected on a global scale, has led to greater requirements for networks accessible through a myriad of different devices in a variety of locations — with the associated security and compatibility issues.
Within the physical workplace, the requirements have moved towards more flexibility, with less need for dedicated space, to meet the needs of a more mobile workforce. The use of hot desks, collaborative space, break-out areas and more open-plan office space has made the role of the service provider critical as the direct impact on productivity and staff retention is realised.
The criticality of the IT infrastructure has clearly grown significantly. A high dependency on data storage has resulted in an even greater priority being placed upon IT systems and data handling.
Businesses are requiring 24 hour access to huge databases of information that is constantly being updated and protected. More monitoring and contingencies need to be in place to ensure protection, resilience and business continuity.
A further trend to arise over the last 10 years is the realisation of the environmental impact that business activities are having locally and globally. Sustainability and energy have moved rapidly up the board-room agenda, with more legislative requirements, increasing energy and carbon costs, and greater consumer expectations all driving change. Many FM and building-services businesses have introduced additional sustainability and energy services to help their clients meet sustainability targets, improve energy efficiency and to adhere to ever-changing legislative requirements. But a key recent change is that many of those services are now viewed as the norm and are integrated within core services.
Such changes within the industry have meant that facilities management and building services are being perceived differently by businesses as a result. The requirements have moved away from more traditional forms of maintenance. What was once seen as a business function that provided catering, cleaning, security etc. has evolved into a role that plays the part of a trusted adviser — providing strategic advice and true expertise in all areas of the business that are affected by infrastructure and building efficiency.
FM and building-services companies have started to develop relationships that see them act as partners to clients, offering more focused strategic guidance on how to improve efficiency, review building usage and add value while managing the effective delivery of all the services.
The crash in 2008 understandably led to a change of approach as businesses, faced with an increasingly uncertain future and a lack of confidence, focused more on cost and less on quality and sustainability in tenders for FM and building services.
Looking ahead to the next 10 years, there is no doubt that as the industry emerges from the recent economic downturn, the focus will return to quality. The importance of the working environment and IT systems for productivity and business efficiency will override the short-term cost-saving steps taken as a result of the recession.
The workplace will continue to evolve, and service providers will need to lead the way in recognising and implementing positive changes in the work environment. Collaboration will be a key contributor to innovation within business, and the alignment of people, technology and infrastructure will allow this to happen.
Environmental considerations will return, and companies will again place some priority on the impact their business operations are having on the environment and measures they can take to minimise carbon output.
Quality, sustainability, and the changing workplace will enable FM and building-services companies to move further towards the trusted-adviser role they must achieve in order to truly meet the needs of their customers. Gone are the days of the ‘off-the-shelf’ package, and trying to provide all services as a one-stop shop; instead, bespoke, flexible solutions incorporating different elements for every new client, location and application will need to be provided.
Another key change, which is already becoming apparent, is the greater emphasis being increasingly placed by customers upon quality, and quality as measured by performance and about successful outcomes — which these new trusted advisors will have to demonstrate for every element of facilities-management and building-services provision, whether that be energy usage, infrastructure down time or cleaning performance.
John Maidment is group services director with Norland Managed Services.