In many businesses, the entire range of support services is now the responsibility of one manager.
Graham Palmer, director of facilities for chartered accountants and management consultants KPMG, has an annual budget of £50 million. He spends two thirds on property (the partnership has space in more than 40 buildings in London and the South East), the rest on services such as cleaning, security, mail and catering.
Ten or 15 years ago, jobs like Palmer's didn't exist.
Property or building managers looked after the fabric of the building and there were separate managers for each of a company's support services, but they all ranked fairly low in the corporate hierarchy. They did what they were told by the real businessmen (sort out any physical problems with the building and provide for the basic needs of the building's inhabitants, like being fed and watered) but nobody expected them to take the initiative in anything.
Things are very different today. Professional facilities management, which emerged in the US in the 1970s and the UK a decade later, replaced service-by-service management with a single manager or management team in charge of all support services. The facilities manager 1990s-style is expected to run the support services as a business, ensuring that the company gets the best value for money in each area. The emergence of this new type of facilities manager, at least in its UK guise, was to some extent a by-product of the trend among companies in the 1980s and 1990s to concentrate all their efforts on their core business, often selling off other businesses into which they had expanded in the '60s, '70s and '80s. As company chiefs began to think about the company in core terms, they also started thinking about the relationship between the core and the periphery (the support services) in what was left. They realised that the peripherals were a cohesive whole which could be separately managed and whose efficient running was crucial to the overall efficiency of the core business itself. The core business is as dependent on its facilities as a manufacturing business is on its plant and machinery. Run properly they enhance the core business and increase its chances of profitability. Run badly they can - just like badly chosen or ill-maintained machinery - do the opposite.
But if that is so, says KPMG's Palmer, the facilities manager must be an integral part of the core business management. If he's not, the core business itself may well underperform. If the facilities manager gets it wrong the company can, for instance, end up with overprovision or underprovision of space (either of which can be very costly) or with support services which don't match the needs of the business. 'I wouldn't be prescriptive in saying that a facilities manager has to be on the board or sit on a management committee or whatever,' says Palmer, 'but he must be pretty close and must have a very good means of influencing or inputting into business decisions. I have to understand what KPMG's marketplace is, what it is trying to achieve and what the culture of the organisation is if I am to optimise the investment in facilities for it.' Historically, says Palmer, the measure of success for the manager of a support service was how quickly he reacted to the demands made on him. 'Today, a good facilities manager is one who says, "Keeping your business aims in mind, this is how you could get a lot more out of your property and services than you are currently doing".' It is not only the management style that has changed significantly over the past decade but the nature of what is managed. Outsourcing has become a crucial technique for the facilities manager. Support services previously carried out in-house by the company's own direct employees (cleaners, catering staff, security men and so on) are increasingly being contracted out to companies which specialise in those skills. So the facilities manager is managing contracts rather than people. The job then becomes one of procurement. The facilities manager or his staff must find the best contractor and then monitor what the contractor does to ensure the client company is getting value for money.
The BBC, which once provided almost all its support services in-house, has now outsourced the majority, and the job of managing support services has largely become a question of managing and monitoring outsourced contracts. Cliff Randell, the BBC's manager for services in the South, responsible for radio and television premises from Chatham to Land's End, has awarded contracts for cleaning, security and building maintenance to external contractors. Randell's colleague, property services manager Ian Glasspool, wrote many of the contracts and administers them on a day-to-day basis through operational managers from the outsourcing companies who are housed on-site in BBC premises. Glasspool runs spot checks on the work the outsource contractors are doing, holds weekly meetings with the operational managers, and regularly polls his customers - the BBC staff who are users of the premises - to ensure that they are satisfied with the results.
'Because I'm providing a service to BBC staff they're all my customers. We send out a questionnaire and ask them, "Are you happy with all the different aspects of, say, security? Are they smart enough, are they polite?".' But if people like Palmer, Randell and Glasspool are to be responsible for a wide range of quite disparate services, must they be experts in them all, and how can they be trained for the job?
The British Institute of Facilities Management, which was set up three years ago as the professional body for facilities managers, has just launched a professional qualification, the BIFM, which is intended to ensure that managers are competent in 20 key skills - everything from risk management and environmental issues to legislation. Facilities managers can't be technical experts across all the varied services under their control, says John Crawshaw, director of the institute, but they must be aware of what's happening in each area.
'The key to a successful operation is to manage effectively and to ensure that these skills are reinforced by sufficient technical awareness to represent client interests as fully as possible.' KPMG's Palmer agrees that the facilities manager must have his pulse on what is going on in each of the disciplines concerned. He may not be an expert in catering or in telecommunications but he must have a good working knowledge of each of them and the other areas under his control to enable him to talk to and negotiate with the experts that the service provider puts up. 'If you cannot specify or reasonably validate a specification to provide a service, how on earth can you demand delivery of that service and then measure the performance of that service from a contractor? If you can't do that you're a hostage to fortune.'.