Workplace Unplugged

Shaping a Career in FM: What You Need to Know

Moira vandenAkker
September 23rd, 2016

Russell_Olsen_-_Head_Shot.jpgRussell Olson III is the founder and president of ROI Consulting Group. He is Vice President of the Greater New York Chapter of IFMA, has served on the Education Committee for the Greater New York Chapter of the IFMA and The Tri-State League of Facilities Professionals. For the past Twenty years Mr. Olson has been an adjunct professor at Pratt Institute, teaching the Technology courses in both the Construction Management and Facilities Management Departments including the space planning and programming class for the Master’s degree in Facilities Management. We sat down with Russell to gain his insights and predictions on the state of FM education and tech.

To begin, we wanted to learn more about what led Mr. Olson to specialize in facilities management and to found ROI Consulting Group.

RO: My undergraduate was in Architecture. After graduation, I went to work for a firm on Long Island that was a pioneer of computer-aided facility management in the early 90’s. They were making the switch from paper and pencil to AutoCAD and I had experience with AutoCAD in college so I became the young computer guy. At the same time, they wanted to get involved in facility management software and became one of the first partners with Archibus, then one of the first systems of its kind. But it wasn’t a success so they made the transition to Aperture. Being the young “computer guy” I got all the training and led the group, the implementations, demos, and training. I did a little bit of everything. Less than a year later the Pratt Institute offered a degree in Facilities Management and was only one of a few to offer it at a Master Degree level. They reached out to my boss asking if he could teach the technology class, but he wasn’t as current as I was on the technology so he sent me in his place. And that’s how I got my start and now it’s 23 years later!

My focus has always been on facilities technology and facilities software. As part of my teaching role, I have to stay up to date on all the various solutions. I launched ROI Consulting with the focus on FM software solutions and guiding clients through, implementations, best practices, and support..


fundamentals of FM architecture workplace unpluggedCan you tell us more about ROI Consulting Group? Is there a typical process ROI engages in when working with an organization?

RO: Over the last 12 years, the market has changed dramatically. At the onset, ROI had more opportunity to assist clients selecting a system. But now with the Mergers and Acquisitions changing the landscape of providers, it’s made it easier for clients to find the right software on their own. They are more sophisticated in the selection process using tools such as Gartner Magic Quadrant to narrow the field of choices even further..

What is the magic quadrant? Magic quadrant is a series of market research reports, which rely on proprietary qualitative data analysis methods to demonstrate market trends, such as direction, maturity, and participants.

How do you stay on top of facilities technology trends?

RO: A lot of reading, I’m a voracious reader of websites, articles and blog posts. Trade Shows can also be great when I can get out to them. But being a thesis advisor to my students who are doing research papers or their thesis is fantastic. I get the opportunity to really dive deep and gain insight in specific areas of technology or software related to FM.

What do you believe are the most important concepts you teach for today’s modern FM?

RO: A lot of it is financial based. It really comes down to the ROI, financial analysis, and business case. Not just the great features a software provider might be offering. We try to keep it non-product specific, so we focus a lot on theory. I focus on the management, not the tools like AutoCAD, having students get a job because they know a tool very well, will mean they end up drawing poly-lines until their fingers fall off! That doesn’t do any justice to the students. A lot of students come with either an Architecture or Interior Design undergrad and they know tools like AutoCAD, but if they leave without knowing the theory and the principles of managing facilities, I’ve seen that limit their career growth. Most systems have moved away from being CAD based anyway, so knowing the theory of proper Facilities Management is more important because you will find it easier to use a variety of the new tools available.

FM software tech fundamentals workplace unplugged
We wondered if there was a way to summarize the fundamentals of FM software.

RO: Understanding the solution and stressing the importance of training. I see end users that haven’t been trained properly and not all systems are simple and easy to use. Some of these systems are complicated and very robust and there are end users who don’t take the time to really dig in and learn the system. What ends up happening is the company invests a huge amount of time and money in this system only to end up changing systems again to something not that different from the first solution. It just doesn’t make any sense.

The analogy I like to use is the person who goes out and buys a brand new set of golf clubs and shoots a 200. They then turn around and say “Oh shoot I gotta go buy a new set of clubs. I should be shooting under 100. It’s gotta be the clubs!” Then they go out and buy another set of clubs and still shoot over 200. Take the money you’re spending of golf clubs and spend it on golf lessons! I see the same thing on the software side. The end users are under trained and underprepared and feel the system will do everything for them or solve every problem. It can’t, the FM has a job to do and they have to think and solve problems; it’s not something a system can do.

What do you foresee being the biggest change or challenge in the future of facilities management? Do you think technology will play a role in overcoming this challenge?

RO: It will to a degree. The workplace is changing and most solutions aren’t adapting to the change. Some newer providers are popping up and their products are really slick, they’re using really nice technology and have great features, but I’m not sure they have the maturity yet of some of the existing providers. But conceptually, some of these new players are coming to the table being able to handle alternative workplace strategies, like free address seating. Some of the established systems just weren’t designed to accommodate this kind of flexible workforce. The new workforce is flexible and mobile, they work wherever they want or they come and go as they please, or they can move around an organization readily. That’s where we are seeing a lot of requests coming from: “Can we track this kind of workforce or environment?”.

The last couple of conferences I’ve attended sensors are a big topic and what a lot of people are talking about. Everyone’s talking about sensors and sensor technology, but the technology isn’t quite there yet. There are some fairly big barriers that it has to overcome before we’ll see the adoption rate climb. I haven’t seen any solutions that are cost effective or passive. People are freaked out from the personal privacy perspective. They don’t want big brother tracking their every movement, so the adoption of it is harder. Some of the solutions that are nice require people to badge in and badge out or to download an app or a chip embedded in a card so everyone knows where you are. Getting people to do this kind of thing isn’t easy. There has to be a better way to integrate this into a workforce and show people the benefits, so the adoption of the technology is easier. There are no perfect solutions, they are quite expensive and they aren’t producing the kind of information and results that people are really looking for yet.

We asked Russell, in terms of tech, what he thinks people will be looking for in the coming 5-10 years

1. Being able to access information on any platform you need.
2. The ability to take information usually consumed by Facilities and push it out so it’s available to the whole team. Like up to date information on who sits where in a flexible workforce. This really increases the adoption of a system. This should help software companies with their revenue which should ultimately lead to more money spent on R&D and the systems improve to offer even more value.

What mistakes or challenges do you often see in the workplace, and do you have advice for FMs to avoid these pitfalls?

RO: My advice is for FM’s to get educated, do the research and due diligence. The pitfalls I see are FM’s getting latched onto the latest buzz words or they get send an article by someone in management and that becomes their entire focus. Sometimes these don’t make sense for an FM. We recently had a client that wanted to see KPI’s from their system, so I asked them “What KPI’s do you have?” They didn’t have their own identified. They just had pressure from management to see “KPI’s” but hadn’t taken the time to really understand what KPI’s are important to their organization. The FM needs to drive the process and know what they want from the software not just accept what the software can deliver out of the box.

FM education tech fundamentals If you were in front of a class of FM students, what advice would you give them to prepare for their careers?

RO: FM is becoming more and more formalized especially as IFMA is developing their own certification programs. But it is still quite nebulous, because if you ask someone what someone does as an FM, you are going to a broad spectrum of responses. It’s not very cut and dry, from company to company, industry to industry or even state to state; you can see completely different job descriptions and responsibilities. That’s why I urge people to focus on the fundamentals and the basics. But it’s about trying to figure out what an individual’s strengths and interests are and incorporating that into their career. I had one student recently who was into action sports, triathlons and working out. He ended up working for a company in that industry, so he was a great cultural fit and could walk the talk of that industry. Another student had a work history in Kitchen Design, which is very specialized, but I recommended he apply what he learned studying FM by going to work for retail food clients like McDonald’s or Starbucks, places that might have commercial kitchens. You can combine facilities with any other work background or interest and it will make you that much better at what you do and drive value in our career.

If you want to get in touch with Russell from ROI Consulting Group, you can find him on LinkedIn or send an email to [email protected].

What do you think is the most imporant aspect of FM education? Is your company ready for the latest tech? Share with us in the comments below.



Photos: Mike Wilson, Luis Llerena, Tamarcus Brown