Roundtable: Keeping up with facilities management

What are the key issues, challenges and opportunities facing facilities management teams at today’s HE campuses?

The last in our series, Steve Wright quizzes Darren Hawkins, head of facilities management and property at phs Group.

Q. What new challenges are being faced in facilities management (FM), and specifically within higher education?

I’d say the current challenge is probably a timeless one. The balance between cost and service is a constant theme, but has also evolved in recent years. We’ve seen some HE teams taking services in-house to save on costs. While this may make headline savings, my personal feeling is that over time this becomes an expensive way to manage FM services – as costs such as staff, vehicles and equipment all rise, and the return on the initial investment falls.

Meanwhile, we’ve seen other HE teams move away from FM contracts, devolving the individual elements of these contracts to the specific service specialists. Our challenge is to ensure that we are providing the right level of relationship to support both our FM partners and the end client.

Q. What opportunities will the internet of things (IoT) provide in FM?

 There is an expectation that intelligent technology will see significant progress over the next 12 months, which will change the landscape for the future. As technology converges in areas such as communications and information, we will see these advances develop more social and collaborative networking platforms, bridging the gap that exists between the physical and digital worlds. Building maintenance and daily operations will change as new technologies become available which will lead to both productivity gains – but we will also witness a skills gap, as employees will need to be more technically aware of working with new technologies.

Q. Is the value of FM properly acknowledged in higher education?

I think this varies enormously from institution to institution, and from person to person. Some clients fully understand the value of FM and work in partnership with their suppliers. For others, there are understandable cost concerns that tend to be the prevalent feature in any conversation that we may have with them.

Our role is to demonstrate the value that true partnership brings, and to provide our clients with solutions to their daily challenges – whether these be cost, service or other, more bespoke challenges.

What we do know is that perception is now a critical feature of a successful higher education institution. Expectations around cleanliness, hygiene and wellbeing have risen dramatically and, with stiff competition for students and staff, this is a key area where institutions can impress this target audience.

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