By Tim Springer
Published in the October 2008 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
It’s election season, and the campaigns are in full throated roar. Each candidate claims to have the ideas and policies to solve many of the problems faced by the U.S. and the world. To borrow from Meredith Wilson’s immortal Music Man, the message is clear—“We’ve got trouble” and we’re in need of solutions.
Out of our marathon-like presidential campaigns, one message of relevance to our profession has emerged: our commercial buildings need to have smaller carbon footprints and reduced energy consumption; our assets need to be better managed and maintained; and our infrastructure is crumbling from neglect, deferred maintenance, cost cutting, and insufficient funding. So, whether you consider yourself part of the Facility Management (FM), Asset Management (AM), or Infrastructure Management (IM) team, this challenge is for you.
Certainly, events over the past year have focused on the design, engineering, and maintenance (or lack thereof) of critical elements in our built environment. Following the steam pipe explosion in midtown Manhattan in July 2007 and the Minneapolis bridge collapse the following month, we would expect everyone—from citizens to policy makers—to be much more concerned with facilities and infrastructure.
And amid the inflamed and inflaming rhetoric of the presidential campaign, there has been a lot of talk about “national security.” What could be more central to national security—whether in this country or another—than sound, well functioning infrastructure? A discussion of the importance of the built environment and infrastructure to our future, our health, our security, and our very existence should be a fundamental and essential conversation that transcends partisan politics and even political or geographic boundaries.
In a very real sense, how well we design and manage all aspects of the built environment has an impact on every other aspect of modern life. FM, AM, and IM are three sides of the same pyramid. They interact to yield effective (or ineffective, as the case may be) built environments.
IM is typically applied to information infrastructure. The big information technology (IT) companies offer products and services to manage the systems, storage, and IT of organizations. But looking at the concerns of IT’s IM, they parallel those of the built environment:
- Reduce duplication of effort;
- Ensure adherence to standards;
- Enhance the flow of information (or other assets) throughout a system;
- Promote adaptability necessary for a changeable environment;
- Ensure interoperability among organizational and external entities; and
- Maintain effective change management policies and practices.
Think for a moment. The built environment is infrastructure, assets, and facilities. How we design and manage them should be part of our discussion. Where does such a discussion start? Who would or should lead it? Who should be involved? How should a national discussion of the built environment begin? To paraphrase the late Speaker of The House, Tip O’Neill, “all politics—and all built environments—are local.”
One of the challenges of the current “work anywhere, anytime world,” is that facilities are place dependent. Consequently, speculation arises regarding the future for offices and workplaces. The difficulties of skyrocketing fuel prices and the costs of commuting have placed additional pressure on businesses and FM professionals to justify the rationale and value of centralized offices and workplaces.
These obstacles are actually great strengths when considering FM, AM, and IM; buildings are local. As such, they can be tailored to take advantage of local conditions. For instance, in sunny San Diego, a demonstration project generated low cost, low impact energy by placing improved solar panels on public buildings. While in southwestern Minnesota, wind towers provide ample energy for commercial buildings and factories. The point is, local conditions offer both challenges and opportunities to demonstrate the value of—and skills involved in—managing commercial facilities and the associated infrastructure accordingly.
This year’s political campaigns have occasionally touched on the role of the built environment in addressing the serious problems of energy dependence and use. Speeches and Web sites from presidential candidates to recovering oil speculators have issued a call for action. Some of the rhetoric is aimed at the design, planning, building, and management of commercial buildings. The people within the field of FM offer a largely unknown and untapped reservoir of talent, experience, and skills that can address this problem. To use a baseball metaphor, this is FM’s “sweet spot”—a slow easy pitch we can knock out of the park.
This is a golden opportunity with multiple benefits. We can demonstrate the value of FM, help our facilities and organizations use less energy, contribute significantly to the solution of a global problem, and offer a platform for a long overdue conversation about the built environment.
So I’m issuing a challenge to fms. Make time to begin talking with colleagues, stakeholders, and anyone else interested in the built environment. Talk to business groups like Kiwanis, Lions Club, and Rotary. Talk to schools from elementary through university. They may not invite you, but they are always looking for speakers, so reach out. Contact local and regional news outlets.
Wherever you are, look for opportunities to enlighten people about what FM can do for them, for their communities, and for the greater good of the country. Seriously. What do you talk about? It doesn’t much matter at this point. Start the discussion. Raise awareness. Be a spark. Speak up and speak out!
Springer ispresident and founder of Geneva, IL-based HERO, inc. andfrequently writes and speaks on a wide variety of issues affectingorganizations, work, and workplaces. For past columns from Springer, go to From Where I Sit and for future musings from Springer, visit his Web site.