From the Ground Up: Pioneering Success in FM
While the FM profession has seen exponential growth globally in recent years, there are still a host of countries where the occupation is in its relative infancy.
One of those places is the Czech Republic. In that sense, Ondrej Strup is something of a pioneer. As the Owner and Lead Tutor of the FM Institute and a well respected consultant, The IFMA Fellow has years of experience in the industry and is highly motivated in continuing to build up the FM profession in the Czech Republic through national standards and the education system.
You established the Czech chapter of IFMA back in 2000. Could you tell me what the FM landscape was like when you first started it?
Strup: At that time, I can say that it was absolutely prehistorical. Nobody knew what FM was and the knowledge about it was close to zero. There were a few people in FM who occasionally met, but it was essentially nonexistent in the Czech Republic.
In the first year of establishing our IFMA chapter, we discussed whether we would translate the profession into the Czech language or leave it in English. I pushed very hard to keep FM in its original form. I’m very glad I did that because, at that time, FM was mainly the maintenance of real estate. Nothing else. It was similar to the American view of FM. From that time in Europe, it developed to become completely different.
That was the start. We began with very little support, but I was connected to my colleagues abroad. I was motivated by these colleagues on my travels and then I would come back to the Czech Republic and try to develop it more and continue that routine to gain new energy.
You are also the guarantor of standardization Facility and Asset Management in the Czech Republic. What kind of principles do you follow in order to maintain the standard of FM?
Strup: It’s a matter of history. FM was established in the U.S. and once something is established, it is very difficult for that form to change. The form of FM in the U.S. was mainly centered on real estate facilities. Maintenance, cleaning, security, and so on.
In Europe, it was developed by the Dutch. Holland is a country that is at the center of FM in Europe. They are also the country that pushed the European standard in 2007. Holland had their own national standard in place already, but even in developed European countries like Germany and Belgium — nobody knew what FM meant.
In turn, Holland pushed the European Union to have a European FM standard. This European standard was generally much wider than the American acceptance of FM because we moved from the technical view of FM to the human view of FM. For us, FM is about caring for the people inside the building.
FMs don’t ask what the designer wants, they ask what the employee wants. That’s because our goal is the productivity of the employee. Productivity, in this context, means decreasing costs and increasing the profitability of work. It’s about optimizing the quality and quantity of employee output.
FM in Europe is now divided into hard services and soft services. The hard services are very close to the original American view, but Americans are starting to move towards the European model too. The hard services are real estate, maintenance, energy, cleaning, and so on. Soft services mean you care about the necessities of the people and that means security, reception, catering, whatever the people need. A future aspect of FM is also ICT: how to care about the facility’s computers, printers, internal emails, and so on. The last thing is interlogistics: cars, internal posts, archiving, and so on.
This is the European view of FM. This is how I think FM should be presented. Even now, most companies in the Czech Republic and most of Eastern Europe are accepting FM as single services. FM is about integration and the system, it’s not an operational task — it is a strategic and tactical task. This is very important for what the standards bring to the system.
We recently spoke to a Global Strategy Leader who told us Europe has traditionally had a lot of respect when it comes to workplace design. Why do you think European FMs have so much respect for the workplace dynamic of design and strategy working together?
Strup: I bring my students a picture from an office and I ask them where they think that picture was taken. I say nothing else. A lot of people answered that it was from the U.S. or somewhere else.
The reason is that the windows are very far apart. In Europe, you can’t have a workplace without natural lights. This is a rule. You need a mixture of light between natural and artificial. If you have a table that is ten meters from the window, it can’t be officially used as a full-time workplace. It can only be used as a workplace for half the day.
I was visiting the IFMA Eastern Iowa chapter on an excursion to see different workplaces. One very nice lady introduced me to her office. The office was completely dark and there was only a little window that you could see the corridor from. There was a computer with one light behind the screen and I asked “sorry, but how can you work here? Why don’t you open the window and let daylight in?” She explained that she actually enjoyed working in the dark, but in Europe that’s simply not possible.
How do you think the FM field has evolved in Europe in recent years? What are the biggest trends you’re noticing today?
Strup: I’m a fan of the standardization of FM, but I’m not pushing everyone to use all the standards. Standards should advise, but not serve as a concrete rule. In the next couple of years, I think we’ll start seeing standards being introduced into the FM practice more consistently.
I will give you an example. I did a three-year project for a company here in the Czech Republic. When we started, there were more than 100 suppliers, 100 different facility providers for different services. How can you manage all that? It’s very difficult. We made it so there is 10 big plants and at these 10 plants, there is only one FM provider with one agreement for a couple of services.
This is really integration. It shouldn’t be that everything is outsourced. All of these solutions must be managed by one integrated system and that’s what is coming through these standards. The European standard is more technical-oriented while the ISO standard is a more management and strategy-oriented system. Generally speaking, they are quite similar and all the European standards are now being harmonized with ISO standards.
As the owner and lead tutor of the FM Institute, you also spend a lot of time educating FMs. What are some of the biggest areas of education you think need to be addressed in the current FM landscape of the Czech Republic?
Strup: There are two types of FM education. One is the re-qualification of current professionals. This is very important in Central European countries because people there are more involved in building facilities. There is a need to educate people for the modern view of FM. It’s about taking all the experience they already have and using it differently.
The other part is educating students in a post-secondary setting. This is very poor in the Czech Republic. If I compare it with Switzerland, Holland, England, Germany, or Austria, it makes me sad. In the Czech Republic, universities haven’t even recognized FM yet. They’re focused on core business processes and don’t care about other services It’s all about safe costs.
For me, it’s stupidity. Everybody wants to save what’s not necessary to spend. I have to think about productivity and I must care about the blended times in the daily process when people should be focused on their own profession.