Facilities Management on the Frontier of Service and Technology
Technology has had a major influence on facilities in recent years — affecting everything from where a company needs to locate, to building infrastructure, to space requirements. It has also changed the job description for facility managers, professionals increasingly in short supply.
AD: You are stepping into a new role at JLL where you’ll be leading a business including thousands of facility managers. What is one of the biggest challenges they face today?
Ehrenberg: The impact that technology has had on building management in just the past few years has truly transformed our profession and our business; facility managers need to be more strategic and tech-savvy than ever before. Managing facilities has become much more about driving and enhancing productivity in the workplace and utilizing the data and analytics that we are capturing through our use of technology than it is about waste removal and grounds maintenance.
More corporations are recognizing the financial and business benefits that can be gained by implementing newer service request systems, smart building, and other high-tech solutions. These technologies change the way work is processed and delivered across their occupied space regardless of the property type. For example, wireless devices now automatically capture key information about a building’s heating or cooling system; equipment can directly dispatch a repair request; facility managers must be able to access, interpret, and act on that data.
Cloud technology has further changed the game, giving companies the opportunity to manage energy and other engineering systems for multiple properties around the globe in real-time from one central location — allowing on-the-ground resources to dedicate their time to bigger issues, thus improving response times to service requests and problems. Strategic facility management is a world away from traditional facility management, which focused on delivering tactical services like building maintenance, janitorial services, and landscaping. The new definition means enabling the workplace and the business to reflect the paradigm shift that has occurred in the business. And this presents a huge opportunity for companies that seek to transform their employee experience and their business results. Technology is enabling the facility manager to work and think differently and to create business cases based on strong, reliable data resulting in measurable return on investment, smart cost-avoidance techniques, and cost-savings techniques, thereby extending the life of the assets for which they are responsible.
AD: What are facility managers doing with all of this data?
Ehrenberg: At a high level, facility managers take the data and optimize operating results, building performance, capital planning, and business enablement. Specifically, they use it to perform predictive analysis to understand customer satisfaction and feedback, increase energy efficiency, provide meaningful sustainability programs, and optimize employee productivity. There is so much real estate, property, and customer usage data available today that the role of the facility manager is positioned to be a valuable business partner and a change agent for business performance.
In particular, smart building platforms have armed facility managers with more information than ever before, giving them the ability to troubleshoot issues before they become major problems.
Sophisticated building systems can use data to do anything from tracking employee trends, to detecting signs that a piece of equipment may be ready to fail, to flagging when a piece of equipment is due for routine maintenance. The repairs, however, have to be conducted by humans, so having an integrated service-technology solution is more important than ever.
Energy efficiency and sustainability is an area where new ways of gathering and interpreting data can empower facility managers to make an enormous impact. There are platforms today that can monitor energy use across multiple buildings, automatically adjust temperature settings, remotely make system adjustments, and feed the information directly into metrics reporting and utility cost and usage analyses.
Technology is enabling the facility manager to work and think differently and to create business cases based on strong, reliable data resulting in measurable return on investment, smart cost-avoidance techniques, and cost-savings techniques, thereby extending the life of the assets for which they are responsible. Technology is providing the profession the means to a better portfolio performance, which can be tracked, measured, and reported across a multitude of metrics.
AD: How is all of this affecting the facility managers’ role?
Ehrenberg: The complexity of the job has increased. But it goes beyond the technical requirements; facility managers are taking on more strategic roles in their organizations.
Within the workplace, the facility manager is positioned to advise the business, provide meaningful trend and cost analysis, and become a trusted and valuable partner to the business. The mindset, the skillset, and the focus of the facility manager are now different — but so are the technology advancements that empower these managers to work and think more strategically than they did in the past.
Facility managers used to have an isolated job, but that’s changed significantly over the past few years. Working hand-in-hand with other parts of the business to achieve major priorities and make the business case for property investments is helping facility managers gain prominence within their organizations.
And that requires close collaboration with other areas of the business. As technology becomes more ingrained in buildings and in the facility manager’s job description, it’s important to partner with the IT department to ensure that tech-related solutions deliver maximum value to the business. Facility managers and IT are collaborating to create smoothly functioning environments where the buildings and technologies work seamlessly together.
HR is another important partner to facility managers. Mobile technologies and new approaches to employee productivity have forced companies to re-evaluate the functionality of their locations. Partnering with HR is essential to smart workplace decisions.
AD: Are these additional demands making hiring more challenging? How are companies like yours — that employ thousands of facility managers — finding talent?
Ehrenberg: Hiring facility managers today is more challenging than ever — not only due to technological demands, but also our aging workforce. Skills can be taught; it’s the perception problem that is more concerning. According to a recent survey commissioned by JLL, only 1 percent of millennials are studying facility management. Most young workers have never heard of facility management; those that have, typically have an outdated or inaccurate picture of the job. Recruiting younger workers into the field is of utmost importance to replace a rapidly aging workforce.
There are multiple ways we are attacking this problem. Primarily, we — along with major real estate industry associations like IFMA — are trying to increase awareness about the field through research and marketing campaigns targeted at high school and college students. IFMA is currently working with some economic development groups to partner on a campaign to create awareness within the respective local school systems. Whether directly or indirectly through our service partners, we need to recruit shuttle drivers, security guards, cleaners, concierge personnel, catering and foodservice employees, engineers, technicians, accounting and administrative support employees, etc.
We believe that to recruit future facility managers we must emphasize the value of the job within organizations and emphasize the need for a sophisticated and broad set of the skills. Additionally, we recognize that millennial employees are eager to have a trajectory to their career. Finally, we have found the military to be an excellent talent source. Veterans and returning troops have acquired leadership, team, and technical skills that are transferable and can be developed into a facilities career.
AD: Facility managers in the industrial sector face some particularly difficult challenges. Can you talk a little about what you’re seeing there?
Ehrenberg: Facility managers in industrial, distribution, and manufacturing facilities face unique and exceedingly complex challenges related to safety, regulatory compliance, operational consistency/reliability, and supply-chain support. Safety is a particular area of focus. It is critical for facilities personnel to be trained on safety protocols for all the equipment in the spaces they manage and maintain. We are seeing a global trend toward facility management outsourcing in the manufacturing sector. Much of this is being driven by company leadership asking the business to focus on its core. Third-party experts are then contracted to provide the non-core support services, bringing the newest technology, industry best practices, and deep support resources to deliver efficiencies and create leverage for the business.
Facility managers in this space are expected to contribute significantly to compliance with FDA, OSHA, ADA, and other regulatory standards, avoiding costly production line shutdowns. Corporations are therefore entrusting facility managers with an enormous responsibility, so finding, retaining, and then constantly training highly skilled professionals is critical.
The FM profession is continuing to evolve along with new types of skills and training. We are seeing universities and even high schools working to create awareness for the profession so that it becomes a career choice for future generations.
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