Question: Help me out with the “big picture.” What are some of the trends and issues facing today’s facility professional? The role seems to be continually evolving.
Answer: The old saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same” is definitely not true in the world of facilities management. Both internal factors and external events and trends are reshaping the role of the facilities professional at a fast pace.
Here are a few selected topics to keep in mind, trends to keep abreast of and skills to keep sharp.
“IT’S THE ECONOMY, STUPID.”
To paraphrase the campaign slogan of a former President, the downturn in our economy, the foggy future economic forecasts and the lingering credit crunch have all impacted the role, workload and toolkit of the facilities professional. Some economists are suggesting that our current business climate will be the “new normal.” Regardless, figuring out how to accomplish more with less is a skill worth developing.
“TECHNOLOGY IS KING.”
Whether related to processes inside the cleanroom or projects comprised of “brick and mortar”—technology is changing our business at a rapid pace. The word “innovation” now means “everyday”—and the wise facilities professional keeps abreast of changing tools and technologies that impact cleanroom operations. Effectively integrating technology throughout all levels and functions within an organization is an important imperative.
BIM—Building Information Modeling—is highly touted for its abilities in building system clash detection during new construction or renovation. Just as important: BIM’s ability to create not only historic documents but comparative cost and scheduling data banks, as well as maintenance applications, that will prove invaluable not only for the project at hand but for years to come.
The use of tablets by field personnel during construction allows seamless integration of information and rapid fire resolution of constructability issues as they arise in the field. Despite any budget woes, keep your staff and your equipment current and demand the same of any outside contractors. The ROI can be stunning.
At the base of the technology pyramid is IT—that ubiquitous, energy consuming, silent dictator lording over all business functions and processes. Integrating IT effectively into a company’s facilities is only seconded by anticipating its future impact on your facilities.
“INNOVATION MARCHES ON, AND TAKES NO PRISONERS.”
Whatever your field—life sciences, electronics, medical device manufacturing—the pace of product innovation is fast and furious. Product innovation drives changes in manufacturing metrics, tolerances and environmental controls. He who hesitates is lost.
“YOU’RE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE, DOROTHY.”
Just as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz found herself navigating and negotiating with a whole new cast of characters when she landed in Oz, today’s facilities professional is expected to do the same (and there may be times when you wonder—hopefully silently— if you, too, have been transported to a faraway land filled with interesting characters!). Facilities pros are no longer relegated to a back room department somewhere making sure the lights stay on and the tools keep running. The facilities function is now operationally front and center. Polish up your C-suite skills so you can converse with “the bigs” and make sure you understand their most pressing business problems. Better yet, figure out how facilities can contribute to the solution.
“YOUR KINGDOM – LIKE THE UNIVERSE – IS CONTINUALLY EXPANDING.”
Recent surveys make what you’ve long known official: the facilities function is expanding, both in terms of responsibilities and the departments/employees reporting in. Given the overarching influence of the facilities function, you and your staff are well beyond the traditional roles of maintain, build, repair, and support operations. You and your department are now expected to develop and drive solutions to help realize key corporate goals and metrics. Make sure you and your staff know what the C-suite is thinking and proactively develop options that will drive corporate objectives. You need to wear many hats: engineer, facilities manager, landlord, business executive, accountant, historian, planner, construction expert, project management, strategist, and futurist. Flexibility in both skills and attitude is key.
“IT’S A SCARY WORLD OUT THERE – SECURITY CAN BE JOB #1.”
In today’s Post-9/11 world, attitudes and expectations regarding security have changed, both domestically and internationally. The requirement for developing an effective security program—as well as crisis and emergency response plans—routinely fall squarely on the facilities group. Developing these programs requires interaction with top management, finance, operations, communications, human resources, and a host of outside agencies.
“KEEPING THE TROOPS HAPPY.”
Despite all the technology issues, the budget constraints, the wild ride of innovation, a large piece of a facility professional’s job remains keeping the troops (and the generals) happy. Many times this boils down to space planning, facility amenities, and interior finishes. These components, however, add up to a powerful piece of employee satisfaction. In one recent survey, almost half of facilities managers reported that meeting employee preferences was their biggest challenge.
“LEARN HOW TO JUMP OFF THE DOCK AND SWIM.”
Facilities departments are increasingly being asked to take responsibility for functions and projects outside their education, experience, and training. It’s not a matter of if it will happen to you and you’re your department, but when. Examine the issue, analyze your options, but jump off the dock and swim. It’s all about staying relevant in today’s business world.
“IT’S AN OUTSOURCED WORLD.”
Outsourcing production, projects and people skills comprises the norm, not the exception in today’s business world. Managing contractors and consultants requires a wholly different game plan than managing employees. Distance, contract requirements, legal guidelines, and loyalties compound any quality issues that may arise. Learn how to most effectively manage the outsourcing game.
“STRATEGIST SUPREME AND PLANNER OF THE UNIVERSE.”
The roots of the facilities professional—that of developing space that enhances, accommodates and facilitates a company’s business performance—remain an underlying component of today’s facilities professional. What’s changed is the required level of strategic planning. Formulaic responses to today’s building challenges won’t cut it anymore.
Good luck, comrades. While more is required of those in our profession today, the challenges put on our desks ensure the profession is never boring.
Richard Bilodeau, PE, is director of engineering at SMRT, architects and engineers (www.smrtinc.com). His 30 year career includes plant engineering positions in clean manufacturing. Richard has designed, operated, and supervised the construction of advanced technology facilities, numerous industrial projects, healthcare facilities, and corporate offices. He’s engineered clean manufacturing facilities for lithium-ion batteries, medical devices, electronics, and pharmaceutical clients. Richard can be reached at: TheFacilitiesGuy@smrtinc.com.