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There is a growing focus on how a workplace can affect productivity and wellbeing, and facilities managers are increasingly being asked to align FM strategy with an organisation's wider performance objectives, which may well include employee wellbeing, environmental performance and social-value measures.
Naturally, there is a close correlation between strategic FM and day-to-day operational FM. There has to be, because without good operational FM, the benefits of thinking strategically about FM won't be realised. The strategic element comes from how we understand exactly what an organisation needs FM to provide, and how we put in place the processes and procedures that ensure those services are provided as efficiently and effectively as possible. Where once FMs would tell an organisation what it needed – now, because of the rising focus on productivity, FMs have become far more aware that they are there to support the organisation, not the other way around.
Strategic FM encompasses everything from considering a new building, getting it delivered and setting up the services required, through to operating it over its whole lifespan. However, the remit for many facilities managers is often focused on the operational side of the workplace – for example, managing maintenance services – but there is unquestionably a strategic element here also. The lighting or power systems, for instance, will be critical to supporting the work taking place in the building. The strategic element asks: "How do we make sure we always have lighting, power or air-conditioning available?" There is a growing awareness – in both the public and private sectors globally – of the importance of managing a building holistically across its entire lifespan: what do we need to do to protect the asset and make it as productive as possible over time, rather than just in the short term?
Strategic facilities management can only be really effective if its importance is recognised at the highest level of an organisation. To achieve this it is worth appointing an "FM champion". Where this person sits in the hierarchy is not necessarily important, providing they have a clear route to the principal decision-makers, and can use this to obtain approval and top-down support for any strategic initiatives.
With BIM becoming ever-more integral to the design, delivery and operation of a building, plus the other advances being made in automation and AI, the modern-day facilities manager also has to be IT-literate – or at least understand how IT can be used strategically to improve delivery of FM in a building. Many FMs are already familiar with computer-aided FM (CAFM) systems, but its integration with BIM, which has the potential to Strategic FM provide all the information required to populate a CAFM system, has been limited. There are several reasons for this – not the least the current lack of interoperability between the two systems – but over time, we could see them morph together to increase the critical data available to inform strategic FM decision-making.
Perhaps the best opportunity for FM to have a strategic impact on the longer-term operational and occupational efficiency of a building is represented by Soft Landings. This provides a methodology for FM to get involved with a new project from the day that the designer puts pen to paper, with the objective of eliminating any issues that will have a long-term adverse impact on the building's utilisation. However, it remains the case that many facilities managers are unaware and unsure as to how they should get involved in Soft Landings, while on the client side there can be a reticence to pay yet more professional fees.
Additionally, strategic FM can be instrumental in creating working environments that keep the people using them happy and healthy. Ultimately, an increase in productivity correlates to an overall improvement in business output, and organisations are more likely to be more successful when the workspace supports the combined efforts of the workforce. Strategic FM is central to this, and its influence is only going to grow.
Mike Packham MRICS is a chartered facilities management surveyor and managing director at BWA (Europe)