Webinar takeaways: ‘The Evolution of Facilities Management’

December 13, 2022

Facilities management has always been a dynamic and strategic business discipline central to the operation of the built environment. Over time, the role of the Facilities Manager (FM) has evolved alongside higher expectations from tenants regarding environmental safety and comfort. Daily responsibilities have evolved, too, with the rise of new technologies, data accessibility, sustainability goals, and more.

In the third instalment of our webinar series on ‘The Future of Property Operations,’ our panel of industry experts engaged in a thought-provoking discussion about the evolving role of the FM function. The first two webinars featured panels on the topics of ‘Embracing Data and Digitisation’ and ‘The Role of Operations in Achieving Net Zero.’

In our third webinar of the series, panellists explored the following topics:

  • New focus areas for FMs
  • Key environmental drivers of those changes
  • Skills required in today’s market to thrive as a next-generation FM
  • Adoption of data, digitisation and technology at the property level
  • Predicted trends for the future of facilities management

Participating panellists included:

  • Annie Scott, State Manager of Facilities at Centuria
  • Varun Nair, General Manager of Operations and Environment at Scentre Group
  • David Walsh, CEO and Founder of CIM

Read on for the panel’s core insights.

Evolving FM focus areas

Facilities management is central to keeping the built environment resilient, optimised, comfortable, and running smoothly. As requirements and conditions have changed over time, so too have key focus areas for FMs. Annie described the post-pandemic shift as “making the invisible visible” by shining a brighter spotlight on FMs and blurring the line between back and front of house. “Visibility will be our biggest ally in driving sustainability, because it takes a village,” she said.

The demand for more visibility into the diverse elements of an FM’s role has cemented FMs as critical participants in the built environment. Panellists see a shift toward even more focus on tenant experience; creating appealing environments and experiences to encourage people back to the office and physical shopping centre. Varun explained that their Bondi centre competes against Bondi Beach, for example.

Scentre Group measures net promoter scores (NPS) on a granular level for service areas like cleaning, parking, and vertical transport, gathering data across customer touchpoints in order to stay both responsive and predictive. The trick, as Varun notes, is to balance that with sustainability objectives and business objectives. Providing a great customer experience is not mutually exclusive to being operationally efficient.

Dave weighed in on the role of data, noting it as a historical pain point for FMs and property owners. With older tools, non-technical FMs struggled to interpret the data and resolve the issues it was meant to identify. Now, with tools like CIM’s PEAK Platform on the market, any end user can make sense of building data to achieve operational excellence.

FM’s are critical to hitting sustainability targets

One major factor in the evolution of the FM role is the need to operate more sustainably at the portfolio level to meet net-zero targets. The process of achieving sustainability targets while meeting the needs of customers was described as “a balancing act.”

A core pillar of Scentre Group’s strategy to reach net zero has been reducing energy usage, which falls firmly within the FM’s locus of control. Scentre Group has achieved a 30% emissions reduction since 2014, thanks in large part to a culture of awareness and operational excellence. They’ve also consciously adopted tools that allow them to measure, track, and share their success.

Approximately 40% of the current built environment will be standing in 2050, so it’s imperative for FM teams around the globe to focus on sustainability. “We can’t do it in insular siloes,” Annie said. “We are all going to have to support each other for the built environment to reach the targets that we need.”

“To reduce usage, you have to know How, When, and Where you’re using,” she continued. Those answers aren’t always easy to get from buildings dating back to the 1990s and earlier, so a commitment to continuous improvement is essential. All panellists agreed on the need for FMs to educate themselves and then share that knowledge with tenants and other end users, teaching all stakeholders how to limit wastage.

Emerging FM skill sets

As facilities and technologies have evolved, so have the skills and aptitudes expected to manage them. Facilities management is an industry that people often “fall into” from elsewhere—but that is changing as demand for skilled FMs grows.

When asked what it takes to thrive as a next-generation FM, Dave cited curiosity and a growth mindset above technical skill. “Whether you manage office buildings or retail assets, they’re going to be complex,” he said. “You have to be adaptive. You have to be curious.” He has seen organisations succeed or fail based on whether they are looking for win detection versus fault detection within the business. “Are you looking for opportunities to make things successful, or are you constantly complaining about scarcity of resources or lack of skills?” he challenged.

When Annie recruits, she looks at a very similar question: are applicants problem-solvers or problem-finders? The ability to deliver a solution or outcome to a problem tops her list of desired FM skills. Technology can be learned, but human factors remain as important as ever.

Data and technology

Clearly, the human side of facilities management is a critical piece of the puzzle—but data and technology also occupy a crucial space in empowering FMs and other teams to be even more efficient and productive.

“Traditional maintenance served its purpose, but times have changed,” said Annie. At a minimum, she sees building data analytics as a way to ensure smart maintenance cycles. “If we can have equipment tell us how it’s functioning and how it could work better, why wouldn’t we?” she asked. The evolution of technology and analytics over the last five years means that the needed data is readily available, affordable, and scalable. Those who cling to traditional methods are all but guaranteed to be left behind.

Dave agreed, noting that good contractors hate checking things that work (otherwise known as planned maintenance). Rather than checking 100 sensors to find the one that’s faulty, they’d much prefer to go straight in and repair the faulty sensor. Building owners, too, just want broken things fixed. Dave sees data analytics as bridging the gap. “Analytics must help teams to make better decisions,” he said. “Otherwise it’s just a waste of money.”

Scentre Group has leveraged data analytics in a big way with its ‘Next Gen Living Centre,’ begun in 2016 with the aim of bringing technology and operations together. A central support team now manages digital connectivity across all of Scentre Group’s systems, providing the strong technical experience to complement FM teams on the ground. Rather than wading through dozens or hundreds of alerts and risking alarm fatigue, the new wave of data-driven FM drives focus toward a small number of the highest-priority actions with the biggest impact.

The future of FM

All three panellists see facilities management as a pathway to making a direct and measurable difference in the world. They believe the industry will organically attract an excited and more diverse talent pool as it continues to grow and gain visibility. “If you want to make a change in existing buildings right now, FM is the place to be. We are the workforce driving that change,” Annie said.

She and Varun are highly energised by the thought of upcoming advances that will enable FMs to do even more. For Annie, the biggest excitement stems from the opportunity to future-proof the current built environment—a task much more difficult than building from scratch. Varun is most interested in demand-based operations, shifting toward real-time responsiveness and driving repairs in real time by leveraging available data.

Dave summed up the panel’s thoughts on industry impact perfectly: “People want to join the industry because they can have a massive immediate impact on the environment, being able to action items that cause incredible wastage.” All look ahead to a bright future for facilities management.

David Walsh
December 13, 2022