What is this role of Facilities Manager – and is such role primarily Strategic or Tactical


What is this role of Facilities Manager – and is such role primarily Strategic or Tactical

The term ‘Facilities Manager’ is a fairly recent addition to the corporate framework, but what is this role, why has it emerged, and what part and at what level does it serve businesses today. Having recently read a number of papers attempting to make the case for the definition and role of a Facilities Manager the only common denominator is that there is little agreement as to definition, or scope of this role. Having overseen and fulfilled this function throughout the World for a number of years under my role as Director of Global Operations for various high profile International banks I have given some thought as to what this role is about, and where it fits into the typical corporate hierarchy.

What attracts me to this subject as someone who has no vested interest in the success or failure of this new (or rebranded?) role is:

  • Why has FM attracted so much attention in academia?
  • What does this role bring to the corporate table?
  • Does the mass corporate marketplace embrace this new role?
  • Why is this role at least 20 years behind the curve of mass global corporate expansion?
  • Is there an accepted definition and relevance of FM?
  • Can FM activists find a legitimate home for this function?

In my role as Director of Global Operations I have encountered a wide variety of problems in pursuit of providing the right environment for bank operating requirements. I will summarise a few examples of some extreme cases, but all of which required time and effort with a broad skill base to resolve.

In Australia, whilst integrating the acquisition of a national bank, I found myself negotiating with a high rank military General in the Ministry of Defence for the installation of high-speed data lines to a satellite up-link to connect into our global networks. Overcoming the paranoia of the potential to export details of Australian citizens outside of their borders (we only wanted to transmit aggregated position information) was a real diplomatic and time consuming experience.

In the Middle-East I was mandated to move our office in Tehran (Iran) to a new office in Manama (Bahrain) as quickly as possible to minimise disruption to business. For anyone who has worked in the Middle-East a foreign entity trying to establish a banking business can expect a lengthy, bureaucratic process of licences and permissions which can take months of patient negotiation. The expectation on me was to have a new banking entity operationally in place, including the transfer of human resources from Tehran, in six weeks. This required a variety of skills at all levels, and I even witnessed moments of total comedy watching a procession of labourers carrying the office furniture precariously balanced above their heads through the busy streets of Manama as the only means to get it delivered on time for us to open for business.

In New York I encountered intransigent Union officials insisting on disrupting the installation of dedicated voice and data lines between our midtown Park Avenue office and our new downtown Water Street office as part of their dispute with Westinghouse, the telephone line operator. This disruption looked (and was) a lengthy affair which would seriously disrupt our business. We solved it by installing a point-to-point laser highway from the top of each building.

The common denominator in all of these cases was an intimate knowledge of the business requirement, and the knowledge and skills to surmount any potential interference with the business need.

In each office location it was common to have a person/department labelled ‘Premises’ under the Operations umbrella, and who provided local knowledge at a tactical level, an operations function in keeping the working environment in good order, and managing the implementation of any required changes in the physical working environment. At no time was this role an independent function within the corporate framework.

Fortunately in my time we were not hampered by over-regulation such as health and safety, environmental (although we took this seriously), and the primary new problem of today – security, both physical and data. Therefore there is probably an argument that a more dedicated support role is required to ensure that such matters do receive the required attention without impeding the essential role of an Operations Director, i.e. support of the income generating functions of the business. However is this just another support function under the Operations Director, a rebranding of an existing role, or a new role in its own right?

Perhaps a comparator of an existing corporate support service which can exist within the Director of Operations role, exclusive of this role, or partially exclusive – the dependency being the type of business – would be useful to construct a template for a Facilities Manager. The obvious such template is the finance function.

The finance function within any business consists of two parts. The role of the Finance Director is primarily to manage the Liabilities side of the Balance Sheet, i.e. the funding of the business. This is very much a strategic role and is fundamental to the management of the cost to do business. Then we have the Chief Accountant/Financial Controller et al, whatever term is used, and manages the Asset side of the Balance Sheet, primarily cash flow management. This is a tactical role. Whereas the Financial Director role is a very specific executive role, the accounting role can either report to the Financial Director, or to the Director of Operations whichever is the most appropriate within the business environment. In smaller businesses the roles are typically combined whereas in banks the Finance Director will typically head the central treasury function, and the accounting function resides within the logical business unit under an Operations Director. The common denominator here is a recognised professional qualification, e.g. Chartered Accountant, for both roles, i.e. the function of the role is universally understood, as is the expected knowledge base. Different countries have different accounting standards and requirements so a multinational would have a local accounting presence tied into their central corporate accounting function.

The strategic aspect of the finance function can be considered as a value added cost centre, whereas the tactical aspect is essentially a pure cost centre and thus measured as a component of the cost to do business.

Whereas the outputs and deliverables of the finance function increase dramatically with the size of the organisation the information flows and contribution are well defined.

If we are prepared to accept this finance function as a reasonable template upon which to define the Facilities Management function as a professional service to an organisation then the principal characteristics could be summarised as follows:

  • The key personnel within the facilities management function will have a clearly defined value-added expertise that is universally recognised;
  • The facilities management function can provide both strategic and tactical capability;
  • The facilities management function must be an integrated part of the business support function; and
  • The deliverables can be defined and valued as a contribution to the well-being of the organisation.

From my readings to date it appears that the facilities management function considers itself the poor relation to the more established professional property related disciplines such as architect, quantity surveyor, M&E consultants, real estate agent, et al. However it should also be apparent that they invariably have what the facilities manager does not have, i.e. a universally accepted accreditation. Before this can be achieved by the facilities manager function a clearly defined expertise must be established that is considered valuable in its own right. Such accreditation cannot be as expansive as some of the definitions that I have read because it will take too long to study, or the knowledge base so thin that it only has superficial value. On the basis that the other property related disciplines are already establish what is it that a facilities management function can bring to the table that can be demonstrated as valuable in its own right and thus worthy of professional status?

Let us also consider how the facilities management function, as it is now known, fits with the conventional Operations Director function. A facilities management function at a strategic (executive) level could be viewed as a dilution of the Operations Director function, and even be a direct conflict. A facilities management function at a tactical level could be seen as a rebranding of the Premises function albeit with an expanding regulatory, security, and compliance brief.

Having experienced the developments in the marketplace over some 30 years I have given some thought to the major changes in corporate behaviour, and the general business environment over recent years that could influence this debate and will comment on some developments that I think are relevant to this paper.

What has developed in leaps and bounds in recent years is the concept that a building should be adapted to the needs of the corporate occupant, rather than the corporate occupant having to adapt to the existing space provided by the landlord. Landlords have been forced by market pressures to allow corporate occupants to make significant changes (even structural) to the building environment to facilitate more effective use of the space. Indeed many new office buildings today are little more than shell and core to allow the fit-out and furbishment to comply with the requirements of the intended corporate occupant. This change of approach would, in itself, require a dedicated resource with an intimate knowledge of the corporate strategy, image, and objectives to oversee the design, contracting and delivery of the required operating space. Such a resource would need to know how to effectively instruct and guide professionals such as architects and interior designers, contractors, fit-out specialists, etc, and would need to understand enough about IT considerations, UPS, back-up power supplies, HVAC requirements, etc in order to delivery an appropriate but cost effective solution. Then there is the need to project manage such external resources to ensure a fluid implementation. However such a role cannot operate in isolation as much co-ordination with other in-house resources is fundamental to success. As such this role is not so much ‘what to deliver’ (strategic) but ‘how to best deliver’ (tactical).

Another relatively new, but significant area of consideration relating to office premises is the security risk, with specific interest in civil riots and terrorism. In cities where the threat of terrorism is now ever present the issue of location changes perspective. Not only is there a need to consider whether the proposed area of location of your office environment is susceptible to attack, but also if there are other corporates in your proposed choice of building that may be the target of specific interest groups as well as terrorists, and the impact any such attack would have on your ability to function and the safety of your staff. Having created office environments in a number of ‘unstable’ places throughout the World, and thus the need for some risk analysis regarding the safety of staff outside of working hours, impact of riots, civil commotion, etc., the required considerations today are far more important in the decision process of location, what type of building, physical presence to potential targets, etc. Thus the need for a greater awareness in the planning process of such impact analysis. Is this the, or one of the anchors of this ‘new’ corporate role?

Much legislation has emerged over recent years and which directly impacts the working space and environment. We have stifling Health & Safety legislation, environment legislation affecting both energy conservation in the workplace and waste recycling. All of this legislation has to be analysed and implemented, and to add pain to existing misery, much of this legislation is still evolving.

Many companies today have a culture revolving around a clear corporate identity. I remember back to the 1990’s during which major corporates were spending fortunes with the likes of Wally Olins, the corporate identity guru, to design a corporate identity to create a specific image of the company around which a companywide ethos and corporate culture was to be embraced by all staff regardless of location. The most memorable was BP who paid millions resulting in just a change in font and a slight change in colour to give BP a ‘softer’ image. A number of corporates took this vogue to extremes ensuring that all of their offices around the world had exactly the same ‘look & feel’ as you enter their offices. Gone were the days when a corporate logo on the building, and another above the reception desk would suffice. This practice not only has survived but is on the increase. To this end a tight control is needed, especially in developing economies, to ensure that the required ‘look & feel’ is exactly correct in all locations. A new office in a new country, or the refit of an acquisition cannot be left to a local person not least because they have they have been indoctrinated into the corporate culture, nor are familiar with the corporate identity requirement. The only real input of local staff in this function is the determination as to whether any of the aspects of the corporate identity would be deemed offensive in this new location – it has never ceased to amaze me how a little, innocuous aspect can cause real offense. Therefore the implementation of the physical aspects of corporate culture and identity need to be controlled from the core of the organisation whether simply the ‘look & feel’ of the reception area, or the ‘full monty’ all the way down to the tea cups. Every aspect, in this case, from building selection, fit-out, security all the way down to stationery and tea cups needs to be managed by someone intimately familiar with the corporate requirement, thus a role for a global facilities manager.

The expansion and contraction of the corporate working space as markets change is far more dynamic today, and the technology considerations even more so. Being able to deliver changes in environment at the speed of the requirement is a necessary skill of any Operations Director who would need capable facilities management skills far beyond what could be expected of someone whose principal responsibility is to support the business flow and expansion. Thus our elevation from a secondary, if not tertiary status of our premises manager to a rebranded front-line tactical facilities manager can be justified within the corporate framework.

If we go back to the proposed model and look at the suggested requirements that would be considered necessary to define a facilities management function we will see that:

  • We have not clearly defined a value-added facilities management expertise that is universally recognised (this is necessary to create professional identity);
  • Whereas we can certainly define a facilities manager as a valuable tactical resource, we cannot make the case for recognition as a separate (from Operations) strategic resource (other than in a few special cases);
  • The case is made that a facilities manager is an integrated part of the business support function; and
  • The deliverables can be defined and valued as a contribution to the well-being of the organisation.

This would suggest that our facilities manager is a required and reasonable promotion of the previously known premises manager, and rebranded as a front-line tactical resource.

If this is the case then where do we place this role in terms of academic achievement? If we look at the underlying base knowledge regarding buildings and building management, and the requirement for an informed intimate knowledge of the needs of a corporate business, we could reasonably nestle this role between a first degree, preferably in a construction or engineering related subject, and an MBA.

Is it possible to define a specific formal qualification for a role as diverse as is necessary to be valuable in this facilities management function? Operating in a sphere already overloaded with professional accreditation, does yet another professional body bring value, or just unnecessary confusion? Let us consider an alternative tactical support role to our finance function. Probably the most important support role in an investment bank is the head of settlements. This role requires a vast range of knowledge and skills to ensure that a diverse range of transactions are properly converted into bottom-line profit, yet there is no formal qualification or even connected professional body. However their performance is fundamental to the success of the institution, and they will earn multiples of the remuneration of the chief financial officer who is required to have a formal recognised qualification and belongs to a professional body.

If we return to our finance function and examine why we have formal qualification and a professional body we essentially need to look outside of the corporate function of such professionals as they not only have a responsibility within the corporate framework, but have an equal responsibility to shareholders, revenue services, banks, investors, pension funds, et al who depend on accurate data based on a known and accepted common platform, and where they are accountable to their professional body who can revoke their licence to practice should they violate their duties to these external but directly interested parties. No such requirement exists for the facilities management function and therefore it could be argued, as with the settlements professionals, that neither a formal academic status, nor a professional body is a ‘must have’. Indeed I would suggest that should facilities managers really consider themselves the poor relation of other connected professions, they could significantly enhance their status by seeking recognition and membership of existing chartered institutions such as RICS in the UK, who are known and respected throughout the world as an institution representing excellence. A facilities manager with a FRICS after their name would certainly not be a poor relation of anyone in the property and construction sector.

I would not be surprised if RICS were to initiate a study of this role utilising the input of the very best of the facilities managers currently in situ to discuss a clear definition of the role that would be acceptable to RICS to justify accredited status, and for RICS to adopt these new professionals. Alternatively a lobby group of the best facilities managers could approach RICS with the same aim. A positive outcome would clearly quickly define the role and its professional accredited status. This would then have the impact of corporate acceptance and credibility.

For the sake of completeness of the status issue I would like to address acceptance of this role outside of the corporate structure. If we look at the task referred to earlier regarding a new office in Bahrain as an example it would not have been possible then, nor today, to gain access to the appropriate people in such countries had I not been a Director of the bank I represented, and with a full mandate to do what had to be done to achieve a result – local protocols need to be observed. It could be argued that the new-style facilities manager would be first into a new territory to explore such a task. However the skills required to secure the consents necessary to engage in any facilities process in such countries go far beyond the scope of a facilities manager, then or now, and thus would remain the executive role of the Director of Operations or equivalent. However I would expect the facilities manager to be resourceful enough to organise the small army of carriers to ensure that the office furniture arrived in time to open the office on the agreed date. Indeed I would strongly suggest that resourcefulness, especially on the global stage, is a pre-requisite requirement of a good facilities manager.

Clearly the silent assumption in much of the above argument is that we are discussing the sharp end of this profession as relates to dynamic corporates who have a growth curve, need to quickly adapt to ever changing market conditions, and typically operate internationally. But what is the population dynamic of this role in terms of both the number of people required for such roles, and the range of competence requirement from the highest to the lowest level of acceptance within the title of facilities manager. If my argument that the facilities manager is a relevant re-branding of the existing premises function for dynamic corporates then it is in the interest of these new professionals to ensure that there is a clear distinction between the role and competence of a facilities manager, and the existing premises function which, within a large number of corporate entities, is perfectly adequate for their needs. So what distinguishes a dynamic corporate from the rest? Do service providers such as large law firms, accountant/audit firms, et al need the same level of competence as banks or other trading environments? Do manufacturing companies need the same level of competence as high street retail chain stores? What type of companies can happily survive without the rebranded facilities manager?

My principal experience is with global financial institutions engaged in trading activities, with some knowledge of support organisations such as law firms, accountant/audit firms. Therefore it would be inappropriate for me to comment on other corporates other than comment on more obvious corporate structures. For example I would reasonably expect that facilities manager in a fast food franchise such as McDonalds to be an exception as the role is unusually strategic because part of the image of McDonalds is that you can walk into any McDonalds restaurant in the world and expect the same experience both in presentation and service. Thus the facilities manager is at the forefront of any new opening as well as ensuring that all existing locations maintain the required image at all times.

The only other comment that I would like to make, albeit instinctive rather than empirical, is that I do not see the argument for such a role in corporates having a normally stable environment. Most manufacturing companies come to mind unless they are managing a sizeable portfolio of properties in which case they probably have the function whether or not it is called facilities management. Therefore I see demand primarily in dynamic private corporates who need to actively respond to market demands in short order such as financial institutions, and in public services such as healthcare, police, etc.

I am sure that there are many ways to argue the case to justify the addition of this facilities management role against the more traditional premises function. However I would like to put on my hat as Director of Global Operations and apply a very simple budget criteria as a starting point. My process starts by attempting to define a job description for a tactical line manager to manage the corporate premises and associated environment (as opposed to an operations premises person) that adds real value to the business, warrants the status as a full-time position, and justifies the additional cost (I would expect the overall fixed costs of a facilities manager to be at least double that of a premises person) and this role would not replace my existing premises staff. My cost comparisons would naturally include the costs of outsourcing specific facilities functions. This is the real test of relevance of this role, and I would expect is the test that most serious corporates would adopt.

Currently the lack of an accepted definition of a facilities manager does not assist this process. Therefore I would need to add an additional parameter to my budget process along the lines of ‘are there anticipated tasks of a regular nature relating to facilities that require tactical expertise and a) would consume too much of my time, b) could not reliably be executed by existing premises staff, and c) the logistics of outsourcing versus in-house favour in-house’, i.e. outsourcing would not significantly reduce my and/or business management involvement. If this litmus test proves positive then I need this resource; but where do I find it?

Clearly my preference would be for someone who has relevant experience and has demonstrated capability in a similar arena, especially if I need this person to travel to other locations and represent me. The lack of professional accreditation does not help this search so I would need a specialist recruiter, or even go to the expense of a head hunter. As a professional manager I know when I have the right person in front of me, regardless of academic background, but educating a recruiter as to how to filter candidates will also be a task that needs some consideration. My overall experience of recruiters, with one or two glowing exceptions, is that very few show any signs of considered candidate analysis and thus possible ideal candidates will be lost in this process. This is where a RISC or equivalent accreditation would significantly help the process. Thus currently this whole process would take much time and thought, so the faster the definition and recognition of this role is established the easier it will be for corporates to engage with it.

In summary I think that I can satisfy myself that there is a case for a tactical support function called ‘facilities management’ albeit not required across the whole corporate spectrum. If my suspicion that such a role is limited to dynamic corporates and some public services then this is advantageous to establishing a definition of this tactical role which is clearly distinctive from the more usual operational premises function. Whether or not academia can provide input into this definition I think it would be very useful to attain accreditation from an established chartered institution such as RICS as this would enable corporates to embrace the role with the understanding of the associated value. Continual debate by academia is probably counterproductive in the establishment of this role.

Whether or not the mass corporate marketplace embraces this role conflicts with whether or not they need this function, or even understand it. Looking through the recruitment ads does reveal that the descriptions of this role are far too broad to recognise it as a defined profession. Some ads that I have read amount to no more than a traditional premises manager.

If the FM activists want to establish this role I would suggest that, in the UK, they encourage RICS to agree a definition of professional status for this role, and thus achieve a recognised accreditation. As in all professions the role will grow with time to its natural height, but the first step is a baseline that all interested parties can agree, and thus embrace.

If I was asked to lay down a marker for a valuable facilities manager it would be based on capable contribution to the delivery of an expanded trading function for a new product in an existing environment. The introduction of the actual capability to trade is time critical and can take no longer than 90 days including trading desks and complete environment support. At the meeting to agree such implementation I would expect a facilities manager to be able to confidently prescribe how the physical delivery of these trading desks could be managed with minimal interference to current trading activity, any safety and security issues that would need attention, and an approximate cost for budget purposes – all without reference to any third party during, or after such meeting. Thus an intimate knowledge of the business needs, and how make a valuable contribution.