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Facility management’s role in design

Sooner is better
Monday, December 3, 2012
By Sameer Ahmed

In the development of a building, the client typically embarks on a project with a particular vision and provides direction to the design team. The design team then develops the schematic design and works with the project team during the construction phase. It’s only in the post-construction phase that facility management professionals are brought on board to minimize the operational and maintenance costs that will determine the building’s performance over its life span.

This far from ideal sequence exists partly because the role of facility managers is generally perceived to be reactive and technical in nature. It doesn’t help that architecture is a long-established profession, while facility management is a relatively new one.

New realities and opportunities
The reality, however, is facility managers must play a vital role on a strategic level in maintenance management.

As building systems become more complex, facility management professionals really need to be part of the design process from the outset to develop economically and operationally viable buildings. As well, organizations now place a greater emphasis on life cycle costs because they realize the costs involved in building usage and maintenance will exceed initial capital costs by several times during a building’s entire life cycle.

Facility management input in the early design stages results in reduced operational and maintenance costs and the more efficient use of a building over time. When the potential to directly influence factors such as carbon footprint, maintainability, sustainability and flexibility in use is considered, the gains from early facility management input can be invaluable.

As software is to hardware, so is facility management to design. It goes without saying that facility managers should collaborate with architects and designers – and vice versa – so that a satisfactory relationship between the “hardware” and “software” of the working environment can be achieved.

Facility management input in design
To ensure a good fit exists between the “hardware” and “software,” facility managers need to convince the most senior people within their organizations that it is important for them to have open dialogues and collaborate with the architects from the outset of a project’s programming phase.

Proactive facility management involvement in project management processes would also benefit the profession and improve the quality of the facilities managed. Making use of in-house facility management competence as opposed to automatically hiring consultant project managers can greatly enhance the project management process.

Some major facility management players have been working along these lines for years but they are in the minority. To serve facility management interests in the programming phase, facility management design standards should be set up in the form of a handbook. These forward-looking standards will lay the groundwork for solutions that meet the needs and requirements for maintenance in the operational phase.

Sameer Ahmed is a principal at WorkSpace Strategy Group in Toronto. He holds a masters of facility management from the University of Greenwich in the U.K. He can be reached at [email protected].

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