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How many consultants does it take to sign an FM contract?

Our latest FM Briefing enters the hallowed turf of the consultant, or – more specifically – FM consultancy. This much-fabled job, which could be described at its most basic as ‘giving advice’, is as old as civilisation. But so are jokes and, unfortunately for consultants, so are jokes about consultants.

Dave Wilson, one of our contributors and a respected FM consultant in his own right, repeats one that he has heard about his line of work many times before. “Taking your watch and telling you the time,” he says in his article, with a heavy dose of cynicism.

Admittedly, some are genuinely quite funny – if a little unfair. Here’s one I found earlier: how many consultants does it take to change a light bulb? Five: one to actually change it, and four to say how much better they could have done it.

Wilson has also heard his business area being described as ‘money for old rope’. And while you may snigger, this throws up a number of important questions. Namely, what do these jokes tell us about consultancy and, furthermore, the general perception of consultants?

At a primordial level, people simply don’t like being told how to do their jobs, and that is essentially what consultants do. Consultants offer businesses a level of technical or market-specific expertise that they do not necessarily require on a full-time basis, thereby plugging the skills gaps that are present during special projects or one-off initiatives. When it comes to facilities management, for example, this could be anything from a relocation project to the assignment of a new single-service or integrated FM contract.

The intelligent client
Therefore, it could be said that consultants often fulfil the role of what the facilities management industry – and it’s not alone in this – likes to refer to as the ‘intelligent client’ – a term that comes in and out of fashion often, but one that is very much in vogue right now.

Consultants often possess the strategic skills, or intelligence, needed to get the maximum amount of value from an FM contract; they often have a much firmer grasp on the language of business than most traditional FM departments; and, crucially, they often have legitimate experience on both sides of the client-provider fence – which allows them to not only display empathy for either party but also act as the perfect mediator. In short, consultants operate on an intellectual level that many of the industry’s leaders aspire for in-house facilities managers to reach.

So who better to speak about this concept of the intelligent client than a consultant? That’s why we’ve asked Mike Cant of Larch Consulting to give us his take on the issue. Here he discusses how the role of the intelligent client is changing in conjunction with the evolution of the FM market and whether end-users are making significant strides in understanding and adopting best practice in FM.

Getting social
One such area in which FM professionals need guidance is social media. These new social platforms may feel ubiquitous, but the organisations that are attempting to deploy them as an extension to corporate strategy are experiencing significant teething problems. Yes – industry, in general, may recognise the cultural influence, but how to effectively harness the power of social media as a marketing or customer/employee engagement tool remains a mystery to most businesses.

A quick look on your Twitter feed and you will see a significant number of FM suppliers and support services companies using the site, but all for different reasons and with varying levels of commitment. Some use it simply to upload news stories or company announcements, while there are those on the other end of the scale who use it to express opinions and participate in discussions with peers.

Individuals within these companies – including some in-house facilities managers – also find social networking sites to be a useful way of communicating specific messages both internally and externally, although uptake in this regard remains slow.

So it should come as no surprise then that consultants, who must position themselves at the cutting edge of contemporary theory, are one of the most active groups across social media.

Iain Murray is a consultant combining facilities management and social networking to great effect. His business, Principle Consulting, not only offers consultancy services for traditional FM but also business and social media strategy. In this FM Briefing he discusses how FM professionals can make the most use out of social media sites and how they can integrate this activity with the facilities strategy or wider business objectives.

Legal advice
If consultants offer specialist advice then this surely also applies to the different market sectors that FM operates in. To this end, the last comment piece in this Briefing has Russ Stevens of Mace Macro discuss the unique challenges in providing FM services in the legal space.

Delivering FM services to law firms can be fraught with difficulty. Naturally, lawyers have an eye for detail, which means that they will have no reservations about holding an FM service provider’s feet to the fire if service level agreements are not upheld or key performance indicators are not to a sufficient standard.

As Stevens explains: “A solid, clearly-worded contract is therefore essential.” FM suppliers may perhaps also need to call on the services of those consultants who have a similar eye for detail.

Evidence that while jokes about consultants may be funny, the job consultants do is no laughing matter.

-  Simon Iatrou


• Dave Wilson, MD at Effective Facilities, on the ever-changing role of consultancy within facilities management.

• Mike Cant, CEO of Larch Consulting, on the 'intelligent client'.

• Iain Murray, Principal at Principle Consulting, on social media strategy.

• Russ Stevens, Account Director at Mace Macro, on delivering FM to the legal services sector.



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