Invisible support?

Is good FM invisible? This has been the received wisdom. Apart from a period in the ’90s when ambitious facilities managers were being persuaded to turn their operations into profit centres, the idea was that FM worked quietly in the background, only attracting attention when it failed.

Well, according to Barry Varcoe, speaking in a plenary session at Smart FM yesterday (8th September): “No longer should FM be the silent service”.

In a simple but powerful presentation, mixing strategic thinking with some key metrics, Varcoe argued that FM must move beyond cost to true value. “If we carry on down the commodity route our influence will diminish,” he said.

In a succinct critique of many of the big FM service providers and the traditional corporate property model, he said that silo working has to be fixed, assets managed for value, not cost and integration (rather than simply coordination) pursued.

Drawing on his extensive experience as a consultant and with the Royal Bank of Scotland, Varcoe explained that if you put FM in the mix right at the beginning, then you will get true value engineering out of a project.

It was a good start to an interesting day.

At a later session, one of the speakers said: “The best FM is not noticed.” There was widespread nodding on the panel and murmurs of assent from the audience. I mentioned Varcoe’s call for FM to assert itself. The ensuing discussion suggested that people want recognition for their efforts but are wary of pushing further. Another panel member said: “I’d pull back from over-promotion. FM is a support service after all.”

Ken Platt, now retired as head of property with LB Lewisham, made a strong point. One of his aspirations, he said, was that the advice of FMs should be accepted in the same way as that from other professionals around the table. To achieve that, he had to raise the profile of the team and its achievements.

What do you think? Should FM be the “invisible service” or promote its activities and success more widely.

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It’s a brave man that quotes Anais Nin at a facilities management conference but Barry concluded his presentation with a line from the rather exotic Cuban-French-Catalan author. Here’s the full quote: “It takes courage to push yourself to places that you have never been before, to test your limits, to break through barriers. And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

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