John Farrell, Federal Group; Cath Johnston, Commonwealth Bank of Australia

31 May 2013 – The interesting thing about Ideaction 2013, the Facility Management Association conference in Hobart on Monday and Tuesday this week, was as much who turned up as what was said.

Delegates included Bryon Price of AG Coombs Group, Catherine Parker from CSIRO, Craig Roussac from Buildings Alive, Phil Wilkinson of The Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating, David Craven of Woods Bagot, Laurie Aznavoorian of Geyer, Peter Philips of MPES Consulting and Phil Senn of Exergy.

Not to mention heavyweights of the facilities management industry itself.

It was quite a line up. And surprising for an industry that at least for some of its members has been in the boondocks of property, holed up in the basement or engine room, unseen and for the most part unknown.

Not any more.

The FMers are coming out of their basements. And the reason is because the most sophisticated building engineers, technology specialists and workplace designers who are recreating commercial buildings and reconfiguring them have suddenly discovered they need FMers to be their new best friends.

If you’re going to create new models of energy efficiency and thermal comfort you’ll need the FMer on side. If you’re going to integrate all the incredible building and energy monitoring technology hitting the radar on a daily basis, ditto.

And what about the workplace designers who are doing all sorts of weird and wonderful things with desks and space?

They too will need a carefully honed partnership with the people who run the building.

As one delegate pointed out it’s all very well to design activity-based working spaces where no-one has a fixed desk so that more people can fit into the same space, but what happens to the airconditioning and the services of the building? It’s the equivalent  of repurposing an old Holden into a Ferrari and it just may not perform as desired.

Prodded a little some of the delegates we spoke to were not quite sure what to expect but they knew they had to get to know this industry. The verdict was it was surprisingly challenging and interesting for the most part, with no shortage of ambition coming from the top, through the efforts of relatively new chief executive Nicholas Burt, but also the passionate members of the industry who want to raise it to a higher platform.

But what is FM? And do so many people want it to be prised out of their current digs?

The first question has a multitude of answers. The second answer is, not necessarily.

As one feisty delegate said during a controversial session on education, who’s got time to earn a diploma or degree in FM, and where are the clients who require it anyway? Maybe it’s something for the next generation coming through the ranks.

Speaking of newcomers it was good to see that there is big push for diversity from the industry.

Another of the more geeky delegates was Pete Tickler of Greensense, which runs a range of data collection software for  buildings. Tickler told us after the event that the industry was hugely important and he for one wanted to know the people that his company needed to deal with.

“The FM industry is in an interesting space,” he said.

“Buildings themselves are being retooled and there are really capable guys such as in the Arups and the NDYs designing formula 1 cars – but are they being driven by bus drivers?”

“People need to be retooled themselves and to get greater capability.

“That’s one of the industry’s biggest challenges.”

If you don’t get the FMer on side or if they don’t understand what you’re trying to do with the data sets you’re trying to collect or technology you’re trying to implement, “at their worst they potentially can just say no and shut it down,” Tickler says.

Another issue was the FM demographic.

Tickler pointed to one of the session observations that the demographic of an FM staffer was “relatively old” and male. Good news announced at the opening cocktails was that the industry now has a diversity policy.

Tickler’s company, which he founded with two other partners, is in its fourth year and hiring.

There’s a new business development manager based in the Perth head office and another two staffers recently appointed to expand the Melbourne office, with hopes for the addition of another five staff next year to add to the current 15.

If there is slowdown and cut backs in some part of the property industry it’s not in the data collection and analysis sector of the market.

Lynne Blundell will provide a full report on the conference in coming days

 This article first appeared as part of News from the Front Desk Issue No 144