As building systems become more integrated, commercial building owners and tenants become increasingly concerned about sustainability and focus shifts toward life-cycle management of built assets, the facilities management industry in Australia is undergoing an ongoing need to change and evolve.
While many of the core tasks associated with building management remain the same as they always have, the sector is being impacted by a number of developments within the property industry and the built asset environment.
On the technology side, advances in automation systems are driving greater levels of building integration and progressively smarter buildings.
One system deployed recently at New York’s One World Trade Centre, for example, features thousands of sensors and systems that monitor everything from motor temperature to shaft alignment, cab speed and door functioning. The data they gather is securely monitored on PCs and mobile devices used by technicians in a way which allows them to prevent elevator breakdowns before they occur using real-time data, or to remotely place elevators in diagnostics mode or send them to alternative floors.
Growing use of Building Information Modelling is seeing the drawings which show the layout of the building increasingly replaced by 3-D models – often accessed by cloud based servers.
Outside of technology, a growing push on the part of corporate tenants to reduce energy costs and improve sustainability is leading to greater demands on building control systems. In some cases, an increasing focus on building life cycle during the design phase is seeing a greater push for maintenance considerations to be embedded into building design and FM advice to be sought at the front end of projects. A desire on the part of tenants to attract younger talent, meanwhile, is forcing landlords to work harder to keep their buildings relevant and FM firms to do likewise in order to stay ahead of the curves and help clients make better decisions in terms of upgrading facilities and repositioning their assets within the marketplace.
Because of this, requirements of the modern day facilities manager have changed.
“You only need to go back 10 or 15 years ago and your average facilities manager was an ex-tradesperson who was probably too old to be on the tools anymore and decided to take up facilities management,” Andrew Bull, director of engineering and operations at Colliers International said.
“In today’s environment, from a regulatory perspective, sustainability and just the complexity in terms of building controls, it’s a completely different skill set that involved. Now we are starting to see younger people doing their property management degrees and even choosing facilities management as a career. That’s fantastic for the industry.”
How are FM companies responding to these challenges? One way is to move beyond the traditional cost focus of their function and create more ‘value add’ in terms of the service they provide. In Colliers’ case, for example, Bull says the team has moved its call centre – traditionally a reactive style service whereby the team waited for a frustrated tenant to pick up the phone and report a problem – to an environment where the firm can monitor remote alarms coming out of the building and link in to the lift system as well as the building management and control system to detect problems before they become noticeable to occupants. Under this scenario, when the firm receives a call from a frustrated client about a broken air conditioner, for example, the call centre operator is often able to inform the caller that the problem has already been logged, a technician had been dispatched and the problem isolated and just rectified.
Others, meanwhile, are placing greater emphasis on ‘soft’ skills, such as people management and customer service. To help prepare its staff to operate effectively in an aged care facility environment, for example, mechanical services contracting outfit AE Smith provided its technicians with specific training in things such as dementia, how it affects the brain, and how to communicate and deal effectively with residents affected by it.
One final challenge revolves around the availability of suitably qualified tradespeople, which could intensify in coming years if commercial building activity and infrastructure investment picks up and multi-residential apartment building activity remains strong. Already, according to quantity surveying outfit WT Partnerships, tradespeople in mechanical services are becoming increasingly difficult to source. Recruitment outfit Hays, meanwhile, reports that facilities managers, maintenance managers, mechanical facilities managers and cleaning staff and contractors are in increasingly strong demand and short supply.
Bull said much of this is being alleviated as service people return from work on resource related projects but adds that the industry has suffered in the recent past as intensive price competition led to severe undercutting and lower service standards.
He noted that a number of building owners are now looking to pay more for quality workmanship upfront during planned preventative maintenance efforts in order to reduce the possibility of breakdowns occurring.
“I would far rather pay a contractor more to do plan them to do it well and hopefully get a corresponding drop in breakdowns because breakdowns equal unhappy tenants,” Bull said. “We are trying to buck the trend, push back the other way and pay more upfront for planned maintenance.”