Somebody once said that if you aren’t growing and evolving, you are standing still, and the rest of the world is surging ahead. The BIFM marks its silver anniversary in 2018. It reaches this milestone as the facilities management industry matures into a serious profession against a background of economic and technological change that is unprecedented in speed and scale.
Twenty-five years after beginning our mission to professionalise the FM industry, the BIFM is proposing to change its name to the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management and to seek chartered body status. In our Manifesto for Change published in March, we outlined plans to embrace ‘workplace’ as a key differentiator for our members and to establish facilities management as a chartered profession.
We aren’t shifting away from a national focus with these proposals. We’re proud of the fact that we have members in over 80 countries and many of our 17,000 members are responsible for spaces across the world. We are based in the UK and will have a focus on the domestic market, but even here many members will have global remits. Our British heritage will remain as part of our identity in the event of our achieving Chartered Body Status.
We want to make the name change because in today’s knowledge economy, where recognition of FM has not been strong, we see the opportunity presented by the growing interest in workplace as a serious chance to leverage a new and better understanding of the value that facilities and workplace professionals can contribute to organisations.
This isn’t BIFM turning away from FM either – workplace builds on the work already happening in the FM profession and positions it as core to an organisation’s success. We want to help pivot facilities management towards the heart of the businesses it supports and position it to optimise performance and growth. A key component of this is recognising that in future, FMs – or workplace managers – won’t act alone. Workplace recognises the joint responsibility of FM, IT and HR to achieve optimal performance between people, technology and work space – and that’s not workspace limited to the office – but any place where work happens. Think of workplace managers as super-connectors who know the right people to turn to and can match the right people to the right opportunities.
The move to embrace ‘workplace’ as a key differentiator has been a driver behind BIFM’s plans to raise the status of FM and to establish it as a chartered profession. So, the Institute’s new mission will be to set out the twin tasks of helping members to improve their skills and status to meet the needs of modern organisations, as well as to raise the profile of FM and the understanding of the value it contributes.
We are responding to the challenge to provide leadership in an industry which has not yet shown all it is capable of, and hence, has not yet achieved the status it deserves.
What organisations call themselves is less important than what they do. Nonetheless, adopting a name that has long since been adopted by others is a strange way to demonstrate relevance and innovation. So the idea that BIFM might rename itself IWFM seems odd. It also risks undermining its strategic objectives.
Others all already own the ‘Workplace’ brand: IFMA, through the World Workplace conventions and its Workplace Evolutionaries initiative; Advanced Workplace Associates; the Workplace Management Framework; i-FM’s Workplace Futures conference; and CBRE’s Global Workplace Solutions among others. The value of the new name isn’t clear. It appears that BIFM is trading its distinctive brand for a clunky new one in a sector which has already been colonised. An unwise move, prima facie.
That’s not all that is wrong with BIFM’s plans. At the same time as changing brand, they also want to become Chartered and more international. Clearly someone thinks that pursuing three radical changes simultaneously is a good idea. It isn’t.
This problem of entering an already crowded market applies to internationalising BIFM’s presence. RICS, IFMA and Corenet are all well-established globally. IFMA and RICS’ collaboration is established, mutually reinforcing not just their geographical presence but their credibility, credentials and growth. The comparative position of IFMA and BIFM alone suggests that BIFM will struggle to grow globally. IFMA has real strength in the USA and Canada, Netherlands, Japan, China, Hong Kong and Nigeria, and a solid presence in the rest of Europe, central America and Caribbean, with members in over 100 countries. BIFM has members scattered in less countries and no formal presence outside the British Isles. IFMA has invested heavily in its credentials (FMP, SFP and CFM) which have gained approval from ISO. IFMA runs great conferences around the world, has an excellent base of IP through its knowledge library and a large number of sector specific Councils, all supported by a very strong marketing platform. IFMA is the larger of the two organisations (roughly 25,000 members against BIFM’s 17,000) and growing – up four per cent in 2017 while BIFM membership is stagnant. IFMA has far greater income than BIFM (around $16 million in 2017). Challenging IFMA and RICS is a futile activity for BIFM.
As for Chartered status, it is something which almost no-one outside the UK cares about. Even if achieved it will add nothing to the international value of BIFM membership. But is it possible?
There are four criteria for Chartered status. These include being a ‘unique profession’ and having as members most of the eligible people in the field, without overlap with other bodies. I believe that BIFM fails on both aspects. Chartership also requires that members hold a first degree in a relevant discipline – which may exclude a significant proportion of the current BIFM membership; that the organisation is financially sound – a point which may be difficult to demonstrate, since BIFM has a chequered history financially; and that future changes to its constitution must be in the public (not the profession’s) interest – which seems antithetical to a profession which is constantly evolving, as well as undesirable for the members.
To sum up: BIFM is pursuing the wrong aims, with limited chance of success. On one level all this doesn’t affect me directly, as I ended my BIFM membership some time ago. However, we do need strong professional bodies and BIFM has a lot to contribute. The best way to achieve that would be collaboration, as IFMA and RICS have done, rather than going it alone. If I were a BIFM member, I would be strongly against this strategy.