International Perspectives Provide Crucial FM Insight
Facility management has come a long way in becoming recognized by colleges and universities in North America as an integral discipline that needs standardized processes to ensure success at the highest level. But for all of its progress in recent years, there are still countries that struggle with how to implement a proper educational format.
That is why having people like Miguel Alves Agostinho, Executive Director at the Portuguese Institute for Facility Management (APFM), is so crucial to the evolution of the field. As Convener of the Working Group, developing the European standard on “Functions, Roles, Responsibilities and Competences of the Facility Manager,” and as a Program Advisory Group (PAG) member for EuroFM, Miguel has unique global insights into the FM industry that have shaped his perspective of the discipline and where it might be headed.
We started off by asking Miguel to tell us a little more about APFM and what its primary functions are.
Miguel: Our three main pillars are information, training and standards. If you are a facilities manager, engineering manager, property manager or something to that effect, it is unlikely that you know anyone else doing the same job since you do not share a common academic background. If you do not share a common background, you also tend to lack a network of colleagues with whom you can exchange questions, difficulties, challenges and so on. At APFM, we are sharing all the information we can via social media, our website and during events we put on in order to bring people together and build that network.
Training is important because one of our main responsibilities is to ensure people are taught the same language when it comes to facilities management. When I joined APFM, there were a lot of different views on what facilities management was and they were far from the standards. There has been a lot of work in making sure that we are in conversation with universities and other stakeholders so that we can have more programs that focus on facilities management every year to ensure all the standards and key aspects for facilities management are the same.
How important is networking in the FM industry?
Miguel: Networking is important, especially when we’re talking about it in a European context. We see a lot of it within the European facilities management network, EuroFM, and it is especially important for a country that is smaller in size, like Portugal, to be able to interact with colleagues from other countries. It also makes it easier for professionals to move to other countries.
Facilities managment, at its core, is a management science that forces you to interact with a lot of different people, departments and skill-sets. If there is an industry where multicultural and multi-skilled people are most important — it’s facilities management. Having a wide network that crosses over countries is crucial for facilities management.
Do you see any different trends in the FM industry between Europe and North America?
Miguel: You have countries where the FM departments are reporting directly to the board or the head of FM is on the board. There you have a high level of relevance for the FM industry. In other countries, like Portugal, you don’t have that and what happens is that facilities management is mostly looked upon as a cost area and the only thing you have to do is ensure that year after year you can cut a little more off the FM budget, regardless of its impact in the assets and to the people.
In places like the U.K., Netherlands, Germany, Austria and the Nordic countries, you have facilities management on a more relevant level. In Mediterranean countries like Portugal, Italy, and some Eastern European countries, normally what you need is a cost-cutter. Then there are countries that are in the middle like Spain, France, Belgium and Switzerland so you have a lot of companies where facilities management is already relevant but you also have companies where it has not yet been implemented.
In the U.S., because of company sizes, they are more used to understanding the relevance of managing space in a more integrated way. Because of that, companies have been more sensitive to it since the 1970s, they are already used to looking at facilities management in the sense of integration. When you type in facilities management on Google, for example, the first hits tend to be colleges and universities in the States. What that means is that they realize there is an importance to managing this service within the campus. Doing so also has a positive impact in attracting students — meaning that it impacts their business.
What do you think are the essential skills the next generation of FMs should be focused on mastering?
Miguel: In Portugal, facilities management is only now starting to become a recognized profession. What you used to have is people who were engineers or architects that were working on projects and new buildings and started doing facilities management in a way that the companies who they were working for said “well, now we need someone to take care of it” after the project was completed. They were people who came from other professions and were kind of forced into it.
The future generation will not only be more technology-savvy, but also trained and certified with university educations. We will have professionals that will be FMs from the beginning and we hope that they will perform better than we ever did.
Facilities management is a human job, so it relates to human skills. I can tell you that 90 percent of the problems we see in the industry are just perception problems: a need or desire that was not well conveyed, a service that was not well defined, and so on. It is a human skill, so in the future it will still be the same thing. An FM will always be someone who must talk and interact with internal customers, clients, service providers and be sure that the perceptions and strategies are aligned, that people are happy and the assets are being taken care.