The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has described ISO 41001 as a common language for facilities management. In this article, Alan Field discusses some of the implications of this new standard and how it might be used to competitive advantage.

Introduction

Until now, there has never been an international standard that is specifically for the facilities management sector, explaining what it is and what it can achieve in the wider world.

This has now changed. Last year, the publication of the ISO 41001 family of standards was started. These are:

  • ISO 41011:2017 Facility Management — Vocabulary

  • ISO 41012:2017 Facility Management — Guidance on Strategic Sourcing and the Development of Agreements.

ISO 41011:2017 is, in effect, a set of definitions and keywords and may have a wider baseline influence than just enabling consistent interpretation of the ISO 41001 family of standards. ISO 41012:2017 looks at the wider process of facilities management and the agreements that need to be achieved between parties to deliver competency-based effective services, supported by adequate sharing of information and information systems.

Before their formal publication in April 2017, ISO commented: “In praise of the forthcoming standard, Stanley Mitchell, Chair of ISO/TC 267 the technical committee, said: ‘ISO 41001 will help to clarify the ‘what’ as well as the ‘why’ facilities management is a strategically important discipline to all organizations in the management, operation and maintenance of the workplace, its assets and operational efficiencies.’”

Praise indeed. Yet this assumes all stakeholders understand and accept the importance of facilities management. All readers will know of occasions where facilities management is incorrectly seen as simply providing an out of sight suite of services at the cheapest price.

The facilities management professional is literally that — a professional — who enables a wide number of support functions to be managed for clients (either internal or external) with an added value. This is one cultural aspect that ISO 41001 could positively influence throughout the world.

Going global?

ISO has also stated that it considers ISO 41001 will support more global delivery of facilities management services, with more consistent delivery and costings.

This was reinforced by the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM), whose Strategic Development Manager, Neil Everitt, has said: “The publication of the initial two standards by ISO is a significant milestone for the facilities management sector and will underpin its future development.” Like ISO, the BIFM also sees the importance of a common approach. BIFM has supported the development of these standards from initiation and will be creating opportunities for all stakeholders to engage with the new standards and maximise the opportunities that they present.

Everitt went on to say, “Creating a common language and understanding will support the profession in being able to communicate the value it creates for business and society, and ultimately support greater recognition of the facilities management profession.”

The goal of greater recognition is still, perhaps, aspirational. While there are many areas of good practice recognised globally within facilities management, there are still a number of challenges. First, the issue of whether facilities management is accepted as a professional discipline everywhere. This is especially so in some parts of the developing world. Second, with hard facilities management, differences in the way engineering disciplines and competencies are organised in different parts of the world might create a difficulty with operating towards a global standard. There could be other inhibitors too.

The more positive view is that ISO 41001 will assist the marketing of facilities management to a wider and more global business community. The term marketing is meant in its literal sense — not necessarily achieving immediate sales but rather informing about and influencing demand for the professional services of facilities management. It can also be used to support the idea of managed services, ie where a facilities management contract supports activities — over and above the usual hard and soft services, eg IT help desks.

Marketing matters?

Global marketing of facilities management can be assisted by focusing on one of the key aims of ISO 41001 — using the idea of a continuity of language. This can be augmented further by another expectation of ISO 41001 — using benchmarking within the facilities management discipline. Both of these align most significantly in emerging markets where the requirement for professionally delivered facilities management may have not been perceived before in that way.

This conclusion is based on the fact that when ISO 41001 was being developed, over 30 countries took part in ISO's discussions and also, that the first of these family of standards was eventually ratified by all the member countries of ISO, which is over 160. Facilities management is now a known and consistent quantity in these countries, even if the wider business community in some countries has to learn the advantages of professional facilities management. This is where marketing messages can help bridge such a gap — both for individual commercial advantage and the wider motive of extending the professional reach of facilities management.

One area of common ground is the international acceptance of ISO 9001 throughout the world over its 20-year or so history. This quality management standard has over 1,000,000 certifications worldwide. This means for the facilities management professionals their client and many potential clients in all business areas are more likely to understand the language of ISO 9001 and, therefore, the language of ISO 41001.

This is because ISO 41001 uses similar concepts to ISO 9001:2015, with the focus on agreeing service provision and delivery expectations along with tools to monitor and measure effectiveness of what has been delivered against what has been promised. This aligns — and directly supports — with a facilities management philosophy, whether this be hard, soft or managed services.

In fact, since many ISO standards are now harmonised along what they describe as an “Annexe SL” approach, similar broad principles on matters such as leadership and performance management mean that ISO 41001 will make perfect sense to organisations who have certifications to other ISO standards — such as ISO 14001 (for environment management systems) and ISO 50001 (for energy management). The ISO 41001 family of standards can be aligned with these other standards in terms of service planning and delivery. The ability to offer a facilities management service with a sustainability agenda is an expectation that these different standards can integrate together to support.

ISO 41012:2017 can also be interpreted to assist with this wider purpose of promoting facilities management worldwide. For example, it talks about typical agreement models. This can help minimise risks in contractual relationships and potentially create new service streams for strategic discussions. ISO 41012 has within its scope, areas such as information systems and education. These can act as a platform for discussions with clients and potential clients.

Conclusions

It is difficult to be certain how much the ISO 41001 family of standards will change the facilities management landscape. The expectations are high and they will evolve with the way facilities management evolves too — whether this be through managed services or, for example, more emphasis on supporting a client’s sustainability agenda with better procurement of carbon-efficient building systems.

One thing is clear, though. A global standard for facilities management can create common ground as much as a common language. ISO 41001’s strategic focus is to provide a framework and criteria against which facilities management teams can be measured against agreed performance targets. This is a firm foundation for whatever the wider world can throw at the facilities management sector and ensures an effective response can be delivered.

Last reviewed 25 July 2017