The International Facility Management Association (IFMA) re-wrote its definition of Facility Management, but in 23 words, it can’t possibly tell the whole story.
Facility management is a complex profession made up of many different titles with varying scope and responsibility. It’s not just keeping the doors open and the lights on. It’s ensuring the company gets the best value for its investment in the buildings, whether it’s the rent it pays or the return on investment it receives as an owner.
Admittedly, it’s largely a supporting role, one that allows the real show – the occupant or tenant’s core business – to go on without a hitch. But it’s the wide variety of things that come together to support the built environment that makes facility management hard to define. It’s the reason so many different individuals and different titles are part of the profession.
IFMA’s definition (see sidebar) talks about “multiple disciplines” within the profession. These multiple disciplines have developed as the complexity of modern facility management has increased and the scope of activities that need to be involved in maintaining the built environment expands.
A Level of Sophistication
“The industry has spread out into specialties as the level of sophistication changes,” suggests Cheryl Gray, Senior Vice President of Property Management, Bentall Real Estate Services.
It’s this sophistication that has changed the industry itself, and to a certain extent, has resulted in convergence and blurring between the traditional property manager and the facility manager role.
“Owners are demanding more from property managers, closer to the facility manager role,” says Dave Hewett, Vice Chair, BOMA International.
Traditionally, property managers dealt with the technical aspects of buildings for owners, typically as an investment. Facility managers, on the other hand, represented the occupant, dealing with moves, furniture, office functions and other logistical issues.
” ‘Facility manager’ implies a more strategic role that deals with internal aspects of their occupancy. A property manager generally would stop at the macro, the building,” says Gray, who also believes that the distinction is blurring as outsourcing increases and the roles adapt to the new way of doing business.
The strategic aspect of the facility manager role is also harder to pin down, however the traditional property manager role is often perceived differently.
“I see the property manager as day-to-day operator, often the internal face to the customers, really the demand side of the business,” suggests Yvonne Holland of The Asset Management Group. [what does her company do?]
These two roles, which are often performed by different people, sometimes by the same person, and increasingly by a team of individuals with expertise in different specialties, are hard to define by their titles.
As Gray puts it, the title doesn’t really mean anything with respect to responsibilities. Asset management, for instance, may be performed by the facility manager, property manager, or increasingly, by another individual with the asset manager title.
If you look closely at the definition of facility management developed by IFMA, it is clear it is defining a profession and not a job title. Some of the confusion then, comes from the fact that the title of facility manager is also used in the industry to identify individuals who are part of the profession.
As a result, the definition itself suggests that the profession comes together at a senior level within an organization, depending on the size of the company. This senior position would have overall responsibility for the many different activities required to provide the functionality of the built environment, and reflects the multiple disciplines that IFMA describes.
Connectivity at a Senior Level
This is as an important consideration when defining facility management. According to Ms. Holland, the profession should be integrating all internal service support tools and information.
“The professional facility manager is in a unique position and should be able to connect all the data dots required to build connectivity at a senior level, only then can facilities management truly underpin the business you are supporting,” she says.
If you separate the roles and consider the property manager as the primary title within commercial property management while the facility manager is the primary title for a corporate facility environment, the profession as a whole can still be defined as including both these positions.
In fact, it would also include a number of other positions, including asset manager (which is found in both the corporate and commercial environments), as well as project manager, office manager, designer, planner, and a whole host of other positions.
As a profession, the convergence is happening at more than just the functional level.
“I’m beginning to see a lot more integration between the facility manager and property manager, from career perspective and day to day activities” says BOMA’s Dave Hewett, who explains that other professions need to be part of the facility management team.
Cheryl Gray suggests that in any case, the goals of the facility manager and property manager are usually compatible, and each role needs to work together. Responsible for a large commercial portfolio, she sees this trend increasing as some of her primary tenants outsource their facility management function.
A Common Goal
Going forward, it is clear that the definition of Facility Management, currently used primarily for corporate environments, applies to facilities of all types, whether these are owner occupied or serve as an investment to a commercial landlord. The goals of both types of ownership are ultimately the same, even if they are approached differently.
The convergence between these two professions as outlined in IFMA’s definition is quite simply to ensure functionality of the built environment. It doesn’t matter what the title is, the profession itself remains facilities management.