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A rose by any other name?

The monthly blog from Martyn Freeman, Mitie’s Facilities Management MD

Martyn_FreemanOne of the downsides of monitoring your own emails is the volume of rubbish you receive from people you don’t know, offering the promise of bringing you closer to some universal truth about the future that mysteriously has so far eluded you. 

Until now!
Occasionally, something in the headline, or some random impulse to explore the more outlandish of their claims, means I actually open one or two and scan the contents, perhaps more in the hope that I will learn something new than genuine expectation.

I must confess to being somewhat amused by some of the left-field job titles – chief of commotion was one that leapt out from one yesterday. Presumably this is someone who is trying to make sense of the hustle and bustle that so characterises the modern workplace. If that is true, then it’s an apt description for 90 per cent of facilities managers, albeit a touch more exciting.

Then I spotted one from a chief disruption officer –surely the whole aim of businesses is to run as smoothly as possible? I can’t see that title ever catching on in the boardrooms of UK PLC. 

Then, thinking I must be reading about someone in the road safety industry I saw one email urging me to sign up to his blog from the chief collision officer of a major technology company. It turns out that the role is not to organise crash tests for driverless cars, but to inspire the ‘collision of ideas’ from which it is hoped that great new things will emerge.

Call me cynical if you will, but this does make me wonder if we aren’t all getting just a little hung up on meaningless titles? Surely, if your role is to stimulate ideas, a more academic title would give more confidence? At our last executive dinner we had the huge pleasure of a truly inspiring speaker from HP Enterprise, who rejoices under the simple title of ‘HP fellow.’

Regardless of the simplicity of his job title, he gave us a true thought leader’s insight into the future of our industry. One where buildings don’t just react to the users’ needs, but anticipate them, and get it right 99 times out of 100. A future where buildings become flexible, where you can specify the kind of space you need and it will be available for you just when you need it.

He showed how change really does mean change, with aero engine manufacturers like GE and Rolls-Royce no longer selling engines to an airline, but numbers of flying hours. They bundle all the maintenance, spares, replacement, emergency standby and labour into the package, which also comes with some pretty tight service level agreements (SLAs) that transfer all the risk to the engine operator.

Transferring risk like that is a brave move, and you’d certainly want a company with a lot of financial clout behind it to do that. But what if we could move away from a world where ‘workplaces’ are large fixed offices in a single location, to one where you can buy workplace as a service?

At the same dinner, two of our guests were discussing that agile working means that their buildings are either overflowing or deserted.

Half-jokingly, they commented that perhaps they should get together and work out a shared use pattern. 

What if that could become a reality?
As a business model, it is –in fashionable jargon – highly disruptive. It challenges the established order with something so blindingly obvious, that if it takes off, people will wonder why on earth they didn’t do it sooner.

Of course, however many buildings are involved, and whoever ends up running them, there will still be a need for someone to look after them, make sure the toilets flush, the heating runs and the kitchens are open. No doubt those who dream up fancy titles will come up with some three-worded glitzy term that will capture the world’s imagination without actually spelling out what he or she does.

So here’s my suggestion – why don’t we call them ‘caretakers’?


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