From 1993 to 2013: What’s changed in the FM world?
HELEN BERGSTROM, director of real estate services, Asia Pacific, for Marsh and McLennan Companies, shares how the facilities management industry has changed in the 20 years she has been in the industry.
As his Holiness the Dalai Lama says: “The only thing that does not change is change.” In my 20 years with Marsh and McLennan Companies, I have seen many mergers and acquisitions, and chief executive officer transitions, and have worked to consolidate more than 100 offices.
In the same period, I’ve moved from managing a team of 20-plus people in one country, with 1500 employees across nine offices in two time zones reporting into the Australian head office in Sydney, to a team of 150-plus people across 79 offices in 19 countries across Asia/Pacific (including India), comprising 10,500 employees, four time zones, and now reporting directly to our New York head office.
CHANGES IN RESPONSIBILITY
Facilities management and real estate services professionals are now more strategically oriented – if you can’t speak and influence at the executive level, it is hard to advance in your organisation. Our team is dedicated to bringing value to the organisation and their contributions are being recognised by our management.
From 1993 until today, I have been responsible for facilities, real estate, all workplace projects, travel and accommodation, records management, administration, corporate printing and stationery, and all related purchasing, except IT.
In the early nineties, we had a fleet of company cars, whereas staff now pay for their leases and car parking through salary packaging. We no longer have a typing pool or a secretary for every broker or consultant. Today, there’s an average of one admin assistant for every 33 staff. Sophisticated electronic processes enable staff to do their own administration.
In our larger offices we have executive chefs and full in-house catering available to clients and staff. Telecommunications administration became so specialised this was transferred from facilities to IT in the early 2000s, resulting in a dedicated TeleOps division.
CHANGES IN LEASING
The most significant changes are how we lease space as major tenants. When I first started with Marsh and McLennan Companies, formal due diligence was limited. We must now comply with more robust, much stricter global standards, requiring statutory declarations from every landlord, including details of fire egress, seismic rating, flood modelling and no asbestos in any buildings we are considering for lease.
Our due diligence includes test fits to confirm best value as some buildings have up to 30 percent unusable area to net lettable area. Leases now include flexible options for growth space and contracting space with shorter hand-back periods.
Green leases were not even a twinkle in anyone’s eye in 1993. Now we look carefully at every lease and push for inclusion. We also insist on binding competitor clauses both in the Pacific and when negotiating anchor leases in major buildings throughout Asia.
CHANGES IN OPERATIONS
Security is significantly more stringent and centrally controlled. In our industry (professional services) we recognise that our staff are the foundation of our business. The devastation of our company’s loss of 358 colleagues in the attacks on New York City’s Twin Towers in 2001 and three staff in the Christchurch earthquake (in 2011) reinforced that the safety of our staff at all times is our number one priority.
Our disaster recovery and business continuity systems are robust. As an example, we were able to have the Brisbane office, with 150 staff, up and running 48 hours after we had to leave our building because of flooding; our Christchurch office was operating in temporary space four days after the earthquake demolished our premises.
Technology has significantly increased our productivity. In 1993, my mobile phone’s very limited range covered only major city CBDs; it was the size of a brick and just as heavy. In those days, computers were used predominantly by secretaries and the typing pool for word processing, and they were huge; some staff worked at night sending and receiving telex messages, and we routinely used faxes.
Thankfully, in today’s business landscape, our offices now have 100 percent wireless access. In some of our offices we are using ‘smart boards’, which were unheard of just a few years ago. Most of our staff have laptops with VPN (virtual private network), VOIP (voice over internet protocol) and soft phone access.
Our mailrooms are becoming smaller, as scanning and email become a quicker and more efficient method of sending documents. Faxes are hardly ever used. Where we had dedicated data centres in each of our buildings in 1993, with all the associated air-conditioning and gassing systems, we now regionally outsource our data centres and have small communications cabinets for print and VOIP servers on every floor. We also have virtual servers where global clients connect from anywhere in the world.
Work health and safety (WHS) laws have also affected our operations. In 1993, access for the disabled was limited. We now mandate this in all of our fitouts.
City congestion planning laws have significantly affected the number of car parks in major Australian cities. For example, prior to the law changes, we had 176 staff parking in Sydney. We now have 30 in an office with 1000 staff.
The cost of fitouts has changed too. We have worked hard to standardise our floor plans and reduce our costs. Since 1993, we have reduced our fitout cost by 40 percent to 50 percent depending on the city and our all-inclusive ratio from 20-plus square metres per head to 13 square metres per head and going down.
All professional floors are generic open plan design – open workspaces on the perimeter and offices, utility rooms etcetera on the core. This enables us to move staff and not furniture as our business requires lots of churn. L-shape panel workstations are gone and long benches with mobile pedestals are the norm.
Electronic records management has finally become a reality; in our Melbourne move we have reduced paper storage on the floors by 65 percent, an impressive achievement.
Suppliers are now selected from a panel of preferred companies rather than the inefficient effort that had been dedicated in tendering to three or four vendors each time. We benchmark far more and initiate performance-specified contracts rather than prescribed ones.
CHANGES IN KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS
Knowledge about sustainability has probably been my strongest area of focus in the last 10 years. I am constantly pushing our suppliers and consultants to help us achieve our sustainability targets.
Risk management skills have also become a prerequisite for the facilities manager. When an older building in a manager’s portfolio has asbestos or inadequate sprinklers in the car park, doesn’t meet the current WHS (work health and safety) or BCA (Building Council of Australia) codes, has a non-existent energy efficiency rating, and has no smoke detectors, a sound knowledge of risk and its mitigation is critical to supporting the organisation.
Flexibility has increased with the advent of the internet and video/voice conferencing. My videophone, BlackBerry and iPad have made me much more productive and able to connect with colleagues no matter where in the world I may be working. Video conferencing is now the norm. I hold my regular team meetings using split screens for Sydney or Melbourne, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Working across 19 countries introduces the complexity of navigating 19 cultures, 19 languages and a host of different ways of doing things, but it also makes our experience and interactions richer and more diverse. These days I delegate more, so I need to ensure that I have the right people on my team. I encourage professional development (including communication skills) to help my team work for the business and achieve the outcomes set by New York – reduce cost and maximise efficiency.
Our resilience as an organisation is critical and it is our responsibility as facilities management colleagues to make the most of constantly changing opportunities and enhance the trust we have been given to act as real business partners and help support our competitive advantage.
Networking, when time permits, continues to be a key activity for me – the importance of learning from others and mentoring those coming through is high on my priority list.
THE NEXT 20 YEARS
Where will we be in another 20 years? If the next 20 years brings the amount of change I have seen in the last 20, it is impossible to predict what the landscape will be for facilities management and for our own personal lives.
But, I believe there are a few ‘knowns’: the pace of change will accelerate, globalisation will intensify, we will work smarter and harder in an increasingly electronic age, our personal lives will be ‘managed’ online, and, most appropriately for the facilities management world, the ‘place where we work’ may just give way to working from anywhere. Dramatic, exciting changes to come!