Monday, August 20, 2012

Facility Management's (FM) Role in Sustaining Recovery

Investment capital will become more available as global economies emerge from extended malaise .  Competition for that capital will be intense.  Important and challenging business and social issues are present everywhere we turn.  A growing and aging world population, demographic and power shifts, healthcare costs and capacities, geopolitical stress and transition,  the protection and sustaining of natural resources to name just a few.  The list could go on and on, each important on its own merits.

Therein lays the problem.  The list is long, capital is short.  There is not enough money available in all of the world to fix all of the world’s problems.  What are we to do?  What role can FM play in the search for solutions?

FM has a responsibility and a need to lead in the development and implementation of effective solutions.  While we are not charged with saving the world from all of its ills we are the stewards of a large portion of its assets, represented by the existing built environment, new facilities and the natural resources consumed in their development and operation.  How we exercise this responsibility is determined by our day to day actions and the decisions we make. 

How then shall we go about contributing in a manner that informs our organizations, elevates FM’s leadership role, properly preserves and deploys capital, and stewards natural resources for which we are both consumers and interested in sustaining?  Here are a few thoughts.

Recapitalize the built environment:  As recovery makes investment capital available we must make good decisions about where and how to invest.  Much of that investment must be in recapitalizing the existing built environment, including facilities and infrastructure.  It is too large and too important to do otherwise.  Further, recapitalization extends the useful life of assets and avoids unnecessary diversion of funding to new development, which also lessens consumption of resources.  Your job:  Perform condition assessments and develop informed strategies and plans.

Improve FM’s financial skills:  As capital comes available there will be enormous competition as long pent up initiatives in all areas of business reach for the same resources.  New product development and maturation, sales, marketing, research and talent will all be consumers of what is a finite resource for every company.  FM’s ability to understand the business as a whole and develop solutions that solve enterprise problems and make economic sense will be a lever for increased capital flow to projects that make a difference.   Your job:  Improve financial analysis capabilities inside FM and develop strong links with your CFO.

Build effective business cases:  Effective business cases begin with objective analysis of accurate business data which leads you to the right projects and initiatives.  Once you have the right capital investment strategy and portfolio it is up to you to effectively make the case and gain executive approval.  The very best plan and strategy in the world is absolutely useless if not acted upon.  Too often FM fails in gaining project approval because it does not present a balanced and compelling case.  Your job:  Improve or add effective communication and presentation skills to the FM suite.

Develop a long term budget lens:  Not that FM can drive this one, but we can encourage and inform the dialogue on investment return.  The traditional short term focus on investment return marginalizes long term benefit generation.  Investors require a quick return so we build projects and operate in ways that maximize short term return.  Sometimes in doing so we accelerate future capital deployment.  Not paying attention to a growing deferred maintenance backlog is one example.  That backlog will most likely continue to grow, asset condition will continue to deteriorate, and eventually (sooner rather than later) it will need to be replaced.  The short term focus also works against adopting new technologies that improve building efficiency.  In today’s world of rapidly changing technology this issue is not to be discounted.  More efficient buildings provide greater productivity, lower operating costs and higher occupancy rates, each a key competitive lever in its own right.  Your job: Present business options that explain Total Cost of Ownership over the entire life of the asset.

Improve your sustainable profile:  Sustainability has moved deep into the consciousness of the business world primarily because it makes good business sense.  Nearly everyone cares about doing the right thing, but when you can do the right thing and improve competitiveness and the bottom line you have a real winner.  That is why your Board of Directors is putting pressure on leadership (and don’t think they aren’t) to improve sustainability.  You should be doing it for yourself as well.  Sustainable initiatives can improve quality, lower operating cost, allow redeployment of resources, extend life cycles and a host of other good outcomes that you care about because they make your life easier.  FM is one of the biggest levers for sustainable performance and should be one of its biggest champions.  Taking a leadership position on an important issue with executive level visibility which provides social and business benefits improves FM’s credibility and perception as a savvy and visionary partner.  Your job:  Become a Subject Matter Expert in sustainability and how it can be leveraged to improve your business.

Innovate:  Innovation can be a game changer.  Whether it be by integrating technologies in a new way, rethinking your business/service model, developing new space paradigms that improve collaboration, or partnering with other parts of your business to add value – all have potential to improve FM’s performance and value.  Innovating, however, requires taking risks, something that many FM leaders are reluctant to do.  Risk is minimized by thorough due diligence and that should be your approach.  Have a good idea?  Think it through.  Engage others.  Model it.  Run a small pilot project.  Innovate!  Your job:  Be alert and receptive to new ways of doing old things, and new ways of adding value in your area of responsibility.  Be willing to fail on occasion on your way to wins that make a difference.

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