The British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM) announced last week that it is changing its name to the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management. Furthermore, it has begun the process to become a chartered body in the UK.

With the historic Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) also in the FM ‘space’ there are question marks over the need for another chartered body, and arguments are already alive on Twitter about Chartered FM surveyors. Nonetheless  the recognition of the Facilities Management influence in the Workplace is applauded.

The BIFM is marking its 25th anniversary this year with the realisation that the description ‘Facilities Management’ has become something of a limiting constraint.

Chief Workplace Officer

Facilities Managers these days are involved in so much more than the maintenance of the physical assets. I have written several blogs on this topic Chief Workplace Officer – a Promotion for Facility Managers? talks about how the Stoddart Review believes that Facilities Managers are best placed to assume the responsibility to make sure that the Workplace is delivering to its full potential.

In The 3 Building Blocks of the Facilities Management ‘Sweet Spot,’ I illustrate that it is the Workplace where these all our efforts come together to deliver real value to the organisation.

Some may argue that this is just a change in name, and what is in a name? But it is far more than just that. The addition of Workplace in the title represents the recognition of a value proposition that has always been there but has rarely been understood.

The unveiling of the growth and future direction of the industry are wrapped up in the recognition of Workplace Management as a discipline that falls into the Facilities Management domain. According to Stephen Roots, the BIFM chairperson the changes are an attempt to “reposition facilities management and emphasise its ability to make a real contribution to organisations’ performance.”

The move is far from sudden with past BIFM chairmen Julie Kortens and Iain Murray both indicating that this had been discussed during their tenure at the helm of the BIFM as far back as 2008. Both welcomed the move saying that it represents a new direction to provide leadership in an emerging facet of the facilities industry.

Strategic Move

One wonders why it has taken them so long and a cynic may well take the view that BIFM had to make a strategic move following the merger of the International Facilities Management Association (IFMA) and the RICS in the middle of 2016.

In a joint press release from 2016, the RICS claimed that the aim of this collaboration was to “join forces to create unprecedented levels of industry support to meet the growing demand of FM practitioners around the world.”

Up until that point, IFMA had primarily been focused on North America with satellite chapters in various countries around the world. The RICS, which was founded in 1868, is the grandfather of property professionalism in the UK. While Facilities Management has been something of a latecomer to the RICS bouquet, its impact has been well measured and well-received.

The marriage of the two organisations ticks most of the important boxes culminating in a joint venture that is greater than the sum of the parts. Each organisation traditionally served two very different geographies and had focused at either end of the FM spectrum.

IFMA traditionally had focused very much at the operational level, offering a slew of accredited Facilities Management credentials in their Facility Management Professional™ (FMP), the Sustainability Facility Professional™ (SFP)  and their Certified Facility Manager® (CFM) accreditations.

In contrast, the RICS offered us their worldview regarding strategic Facilities Management in their trio of reports entitled Raising the Bar.

Tripartite Alliance

My industry sources tell me that while the two organisations have been in discussions for several years. Initially, at least, the BIFM had also been part of these discussions. This could have culminated in a tripartite alliance of the three most potent FM institutions on the planet. This would indeed have created an international powerhouse for FM, but I question whether this would have been to the industries advantage and those of its members?

We shall never know, but history tells us that we all benefit from competition and diversity of thought and approach. So rather than seeking their role in world domination, the BIFM chose to withdraw and explore their own path and branch out in the Workplace direction.

The BIFM believes that “including ‘Workplace’ will more adequately reflect the high level of skills needed to embrace the data analysis, automation, human factors and interconnectedness of today’s organisations, where there is a need for FM to make a real contribution to organisational performance.”

The move has come following the recommendations contained in the Stoddart Review entitled The Workplace Advantage. The focus on Workplace embraces a wider range of key functions than just Facilities Management, recognising the joint responsibility of FM, IT and human resources to achieving optimal performance between people, technology and workplace.

The Stoddart Review recognises that none of the individual professions has taken responsibility for meeting the need to develop a cadre of interconnection specialists. The report advocated the formation of the Chief Workplace Officer (CWO) to fulfil the need for skilled individuals who can interconnect between these specialisms.

The RICS/IFMA joint venture have come together as and are on a charm offensive around the globe to attract the support of local FM associations and representative bodies.

South Africa

In the case of South Africa; discussions with the South Africa Facilities Management Association (SAFMA) have taken place to see if there is synergy in serving the local FM community. We are yet to see what those discussions mean for SAFMA’s members, but it seems clear to me that there are a number of advantages in seeking closer ties with the RICS/IFMA.

There is no doubt that SAFMA over the last ten years has cut a path for the FM industry in South Africa but the recent efforts to professionalise the sector have stagnated. While I do not doubt the intention and efforts of the board, the part-time nature of the leadership will always compromise their efficacy.

I believe if we are to move forward thoughtfully with the professionalism of the SA industry we have to have a dedicated management team that can demonstrate intent, both to the membership as well as the relevant qualifying bodies in Government.

In addition to this, the RICS/IFMA JV comes with a bulging library of training content as well as a track record of delivery of accreditation to international standards that simply doesn’t exist in SA and nor will it in the foreseeable future.

With the advent of ISO 41,000 upon us, the need for us all to get accreditated to international specifications and fall in with global standards is now urgent.

The business case for the industry is simple, and we should not let a false sense of national pride get in the way of our decision making. We should be welcoming RICS/IFMA’s advances with open arms in South Africa.

FM is a genuinely worldwide industry and our going it alone attitude in the early stages of the ISO 41,000 process nearly led to South Africa missing out on influencing the global standard and providing its unique know-how and capability. Fortunately, our national ‘mak-a-plan’ psyche came to the fore, and we were quick to take up the gauntlet thrown down by Stan Mitchell in his address to the SAFMA conference in 2013.

In true South African style, we stepped up to the plate, accepted the challenge and went from zero to hero by being the first country to publish their own standard with the release of South African National Standard (SANS) 1752 in October 2016.

My Plea to SAFMA

In my small way, I urge SAFMA to recognise the opportunity that is in front of them. The RICS/IFMA is the ubiquitous 800-pound gorilla, and while it has much to offer the industry, it will I fear move ahead with or without SAFMA on board. So I urge my colleagues at SAFMA not to look this gift horse in the mouth.

This week’s Question “How can SAFMA support, improve and grow the FM profession in Africa?”