fmME 10th Anniversary: FM needs a new identity

Nahla Nana, instructor at DREI, outlines the historical role of FM and why its perception must be reshaped for the future

Nahla Nana, instructor at DREI.
Nahla Nana, instructor at DREI.

FM is fast gaining recognition as an important independent discipline and profession within the property and construction industries, as is evidenced by the presence of numerous professional FM bodies around the world. This includes the Middle East Facility Management Association; the International Facility Management Association in the US; the British Institute of Facilities Management; and the Facility Management Association of Australia, among others.

Despite fundamental progress within the industry, the profession still faces a severe identity crisis brought forth by inconsistency in definition and scope, as well as improper positioning of FM as a strategic profession. For one, the duties of a facilities manager may vastly differ with that of another FM professional, causing confusion that is not found in fields such as architecture, project management, urban planning, and construction manager.

FM is arguably still in its infancy, but it is crucial at this decisive stage to firmly establish its core competence as a discipline and profession. The term ‘facilities management’ is flexible, as it is capable of covering and recognising the intricacies of modern work and lifestyle. However, it is this flexibility that is causing confusion and mystification for some.

This inconsistency of definition, focus, and understanding of the term has led to FM’s use either in a narrow technical sense, or in an extremely broad context.

Fierce debates revolve around FM’s status to this day. Some ask where FM ‘fits in’, while others wonder which professions it is most closely allied with – or if it trespasses on any existing professional territory at all.

Facilities managers, however, are less apprehensive about issues concerning boundaries. For them, FM is not about eliminating or replacing existing professions, but is instead about integrating the work of various disciplines involved in the design and function of a workplace.

FM basically integrates the principles of business administration, architecture, and the behavioral and engineering sciences. Facilities managers coordinate and manage a wide range of specialist areas, including property and estates; construction and refurbishment; space management; maintenance and operations; information technology and support services; and to an increasing extent, human factors.

Moreover, facilities managers may also be equipped with an extensive range of knowledge and skills are involved in strategic planning, policy making, and the creation of standards for day-to-day operations, management, procurement, contract services, consultancy, and coordination of special projects such as relocation and reorganisation. Their priority is to work with professionals in various areas to establish a balance between planning, design, delivery, and feedback.

Such a wide scope naturally leads to a number of interesting questions about qualifications for the professional practice. This has resulted in many interpretations that – although successful in specifying the objectives and scope of FM – fail to provide a common platform that is so crucial for the industry’s solid theoretical development. Many definitions still widely vary on the understanding of what FM is, how it performs, and to what extent it offers sustainable opportunities for businesses.

FM came to the forefront as companies embraced technology for more efficient operations and enhanced customer experiences. With this perspective, contemporary FM needs to be strategic more than ever, as its role goes beyond looking after building into an innovative discipline that can shape a business and effect operational excellence and cost savings. The discipline must demonstrate how it can contribute to business enhancement and customer service. It must help its clients gain an edge over their rivals by avoiding routine operational issues.

Despite supporting both the core and non-core activities of any business organisation, FM’s strong strategic power has yet to be embraced by many companies. Enterprises must understand that FM is a discipline that needs to be recognised at the boardroom level. They should accept that FM is crucial to attaining organisational effectiveness.

To improve FM’s professionalism, a consensus about its responsibility and scope in the industry and business companies must be reached. Ultimately, the discipline must be viewed for its contributions to a company’s bottom-line so that it is finally recognised for how it contributes to the progress of an organisation.

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