Global FM Workshop Recap

Should corporate culture trump local culture? Does facilities management in different countries conform to national stereotypes? Do we need international standards to drive its development? Is there an accepted international definition of FM? Are facilities skills portable across borders? These and other questions were tackled at the 11th Global FM International Workshop held alongside the Th!nk FM conference earlier this month in Nottingham, UK. Th!nk FM was organized by the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM).

The Workshop was chaired by David Millar of international construction services firm Hochtief, chair of BIFM’s International Special Interest Group. Over 30 participants were welcomed by Global FM chair Teena Shouse and the chair of BIFM, Ian Broadbent.

Steve Jones of Qube Global Software, headline sponsor of this year’s International Workshops, set the scene with a short presentation. Qube Global Software has customers in over 50 countries so is accustomed to working across borders and cultures. Challenges include different languages, currencies, and legislation as well as providing support across time zones.

This pragmatic approach reflected the views of the group and those members of the online FM community that responded to the workshop brief. As former Global FM chair Stan Mitchell inquired: “A marriage of the two is surely the right approach?”

Mark Andrews and Mark Walton from Faceo set out what they see as key trends for multi-country FM contracts and took the group through a casestudy of Faceo’s relationship with international chemical company BASF. They argued that companies are thinking about and moving toward international FM to reduce costs through economies of scale; to rationalize the number of service providers; and to ensure consistency of best practices and services through service level agreements (SLAs). Additionally, the economic downturn is stimulating both the development of new outsourcing models and new solutions from vendors.

Pre-2000, it was almost exclusively US-based IT companies that signed cross-border FM contracts. Since the turn of the century, there has been a slow widening of the market to include industrial and non-US companies. This trend accelerated from around 2005, although it still accounts for a small percentage of FM delivery.

Andrews and Walton explained how BASF structures FM services and the goal of the project – to provide and align professional facilities management services across all sites. They discussed how BASF’s process driven approach, which typifies the core business, was instrumental in the successful implementation. The lessons learned included the importance of communication, getting transparency and trust, and defining rules for implementation on a corporate level without forgetting local touches at site level.

Following the presentation from Faceo, newly appointed BIFM board member Ashley Rogers of international surveyors Eddisons, facilitated the discussion. On culture, the group emphasized the importance of setting corporate standards whilst acknowledging diversity, which exists not just between companies and countries but within them. A balanced approach is needed.

Participants were divided on the need for—or feasibility of—international standards. One delegate expressed the concern that to achieve consensus these could be diluted to become almost meaningless.

The view that facilities management conforms to national stereotypes may derive from a time when FM was seen as essentially a “blue collar activity”; it has moved beyond that now. Most agreed that FM delivery is essentially local, but through ICT it can be managed globally. The group was unanimous that FM skills are portable across borders.

The next International Workshop will be in Vienna, Austria, on May 22, 2011, alongside the EFMC.