Question, learn, improve
Facility Management interviews Symon Chu, a senior consultant at Programmed FM.
How and why did you get into facilities management? Where have you worked in the past and what are your responsibilities at present?
I was an electrical engineer initially and I spent the first five years of my career in the mining industry in Tasmania. Miners are constantly renewing and upgrading their capacity to meet production targets, so I think this was a good grounding in the bedrock issues of facility management.
I left Tasmania to return to Victoria, where I’m from originally. I spent some time in the glass toughening industry in an engineering capacity and after that my next move was into healthcare at St Vincent’s in Fitzroy. After several years there, I took the role of facilities manager at the Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre (‘Jeff’s Shed’).
After a few years at Jeff’s Shed, I was briefly the facilities manager at St Leonard’s College, before taking on my current role as a senior consultant at Programmed FM, where I’ve been for the past four years.
Facilities management is a fantastic, broad discipline. It’s not just the asset management that’s interesting; it’s the commercial acumen required, the strategic significance of it, the communication of complex ideas and the unrelenting obligation we all have in doing what we do without placing individuals at risk.
My current role involves advising clients in strategic change and how best to manage their assets. Being able to capture and deliver high-value information to support their decision-making is a fairly core requirement.
How do you ensure that these responsibilities are met?
Consultancy is a ‘moving feast’ at times, but we have a lot of tools and methodologies that help us do some quite clever things efficiently. When a team works well on a project, the result can seem a bit miraculous, but actually every piece of work builds upon the learnings of a long history in the field.
Do you advocate using in-house or outsourced service providers? Why?
I don’t have a view on this, as long as some reasonable criteria are addressed. Many sectors have long histories of barriers to change in this area and it would be naïve not to acknowledge that. The chosen solution should (a) fully mitigate risk, (b) fulfil customer service expectations and (c) address asset management outcomes. I said they were reasonable, I didn’t say easy. It’s pretty clear why organisations come to the market in some form or another when it’s apparent to them that they’re being overwhelmed by one or more of these criteria. An absence of demonstrable value, little measurable performance and high inertia to change initiatives are real structural shortcomings with in-house provisions if the service is not your core business.
What challenges is the Australian facilities management industry currently facing, in your opinion?
There’s a whole constellation of issues stemming from sustainability that building owners and organisations are coming to terms with. Many of these involve expenditures, sometimes large. A response to this needs to be planned over the medium- to long-term and, traditionally, this has been a challenge for some organisations.
How do you feel these challenges can be overcome?
The industry is responding. There is no doubt about that. Greater education and the prevalence of more useful benchmarking tools to inform decision-making are helping to catalyse this issue. It’s useful that young people entering the industry know nothing else but for issues of sustainability to be central to selection and procurement decision-making.
What opportunities are arising for facilities managers in Australia? Why should they take advantage of these opportunities and how can they take advantage of them?
I would advise anyone in an operational capacity, or even more senior folks, to question all elements of their existing solution. ‘Why isn’t a risk mitigated?’, ‘could it be achieved more cost-effectively?’, ‘are we taking the wrong approach?’ are the sorts of questions all facilities management professionals should be considering about their own organisations. If you don’t already know how to prepare a business case, you should learn how, if you’re to be more effective in introducing positive change.
What is the best decision you ever made in terms of facilities management? Why?
The best was exhaustive planning for major change. There is always a smarter way of doing something. That’s why it is so important to debrief your learnings from successful and unsuccessful projects.
What piece of technology or equipment do you find indispensable in performing your role?
My smartphone. They’re great on aeroplanes and having everything in one place is so useful. I use it for navigation, entertaining my son with Charlie and Lola episodes and photography, among many other undertakings. The list is endless.
What advice or thought would you like to share with the Australian facilities management community?
Getting back to my earlier answer, I would recommend that all facilities management professionals communicate with ‘the language of the boardroom’. Change for the better comes sooner when you can articulate how facilities management is critically connected to organisational success.