Talking FM in Brussels

Wednesday 10th November 2010 may go down as an historic day for the development of the facilities management profession and industry. All credit must go to EuroFM and particularly to vice-chair Fred Kloet for securing a “public” meeting at the European Parliament to discuss ‘Facility management and its benefits for Europe’ – see news item http://www.bifm.org.uk/bifm/news/6396.

True it wasn’t actually a “hearing”; we wanted to tell the policymakers about FM, rather than them wanting to hear from us but it was certainly a good start.

The debate that followed the presentations in Brussels reminded everyone that facilities management is not a pure management or technical discipline, there are always commercial and political (with a small and large ‘p’) dimensions. The latter emerged quite quickly as discussion focused on the internal market, sustainability, standards  and regulation.

There was clearly some feeling in the room that standards must not be foisted on an industry that hasn’t asked for them. At the same time, CEN representatives made the case that service standards can help cross-border recognition of professions.

This may be true and CEN set out a number of other benefits flowing from service standards. But there could be good reasons why they lag far behind product standards in number.

Put simply, the way a service is delivered is what gives most providers their competitive edge. So yes, we need standards for electrical safety and testing to ensure photocopiers don’t spontaneously combust but do we need one for the delivery of reprographic services or equipment leasing?

When does a standard become too prescriptive to allow innovation and flexibility in FM?

Three cardboard boxes?

The adversarial nature of the UK construction industry may sometimes be exaggerated but asking a lawyer to open a workshop on building information modelling does appear to play to the stereotype!

An impressive array of acronyms, led by BSRIA, Constructing Excellence and the UK Contractors Group, organised the one-day BIM 2010 event at the Barbican last Tuesday (2nd November)

In truth, Grainne McCormack of Eversheds did an excellent job in setting out the issues around ownership of “the model”, protecting designs that might be used on future projects, liability and contractual frameworks.

These concerns do seem to be a barrier to adopting what is essentially a technologically enhanced form of collaboration. If everyone contributes to and uses the model, then responsibilities are blurred; if they don’t, then the potential won’t be fully realised.

Mike Baker of Skanska Infrastructure and Development saw BIM as offering a “common focus” for the client/developer, builders and facilities managers to “agree their information needs at the very start of the project.”

With suggestions that PFI operating risks may have been under-appreciated generally by the industry, the ability to learn from mature projects, manage information through the supply-chain and understand lifecycle costing is more important than ever for companies like Skanska.

Baker said: “The output for the FM/O&M phase typically consisted of three cardboard boxes.” He was talking about the past but I’d be surprised if there aren’t projects where this is still the case.

As presentations and discussions continued, it quickly became apparent that the real potential for BIM is downstream from the design and construction phases, in FM. ASDA’s civil engineering manager said, “Our FM guys will be taking over the BIM strategy.”

Succinct as ever, Paul Morrell, the Government’s chief (are there others?) construction advisor, concluded, “It will be asset management that drives the adoption of BIM.”

For the presentations from BIM 2010 go to http://www.bsria.co.uk/services/design/bim/bim2010/