Facility Management interviews Donald Macdonald, head of consultancy at Programmed Group.
Your career in facilities management has seen you working on the client side, working for a service provider and working as a facilities management consultant. Please take us through this progression and give us some insight into why you moved from each role to the next.
Like many of us in facilities management, I never knowingly embarked upon a career in facilities management. I studied building surveying in Glasgow, Scotland. Upon graduating, I worked with central and local government client organisations in London as a building surveyor, achieving chartered status and membership of the Royal Institution of Charted Surveyors in the early 1990s.
In the mid-1990s, outsourcing in the guise of a government initiative known as compulsory competitive tendering (CCT) was being introduced in the UK. I found myself at a bit of a career crossroads and, rather than run the risk of being involuntarily outsourced, I decided to jump before I was pushed and secured a position with a company called Tarmac (now called Carillion) as a contracts manager on a ‘first generation’ outsourced public sector housing contract in central London.
My seven-year tenure with Carillion was both stimulating and rewarding. Having joined the company in an operational role, my career path took in commercial management and business development before I was made redundant in late 2002 following a strategic decision by the company to reduce its business development activities.
It was then that I found myself in the role of facilities management consultant, first managing a small team in the London offices of Gardiner and Theobald, and then at Mace Macro, also London-based. In 2005, a recruitment agency that I had submitted my CV to sometime previously called regarding a client who was in the UK from Australia for a very short period interested in someone with my skill sets and experience. A meeting was hastily convened in a McDonald’s hamburger restaurant in Kings Cross a couple of days later. The period between then and my family and I arriving in Australia is a blur, although my email records from the time remind me of a half-hour telephone interview on my mobile phone on a London commuter train with the CEO of the company, medicals, references, 457 visas and teary goodbyes to family and friends.
In April 2006, I arrived in Melbourne and commenced employment at Programmed Facility Management. My new colleagues were amused to meet Donald Macdonald who had been recruited in a McDonald’s restaurant through an agency called Macdonald and Co. My seven years at Programmed have been rewarding and fulfilling, giving me the opportunity to work on a wide range of exciting projects and see a lot of beautiful Australia.
What lessons did you learn while working for a service provider and from working on the client side that you now take into account when providing facilities management advice?
A key lesson I learned was that service providers really want certainty. They want certainty of contract tenure and certainty of contract scope. They tend to have an appetite for risk, but only when the mitigation of the risk is within their ability and appropriate to their skill sets. Without these, it is challenging for a service provider to fully establish the ROI of an opportunity. And, with the industry typified by high bid costs and relatively low profit margins, bidders need to be extremely selective about the opportunities they pursue.
Explaining these considerations to clients enables me to help them present opportunities to the market in the most attractive way possible. And, of course, attractive commercial opportunities attract competitive pricing.
One of your interests is the development of the facilities management profession in Australia. What do you believe is the current state of the profession in Australia compared to where it should be? And, in your opinion, how could it be further advanced in the country?
Not only is the country vast, it is highly fragmented, with state government, federal government and local government all asserting their own influence over industry in their own way – not to mention the demands of private industry, from mine camps to manufacturing facilities and commercial office buildings.
These contributory factors have led, in my view, to a profession that is somewhat fragmented and in which the preferences for different models and contract structures varies from state to state and from client to client. In addition, this has led to no prevailing view on the optimum model for facilities management, which features the optimum model should have and the best way to engage with the market.
Facilities management in Australia at present reminds me of the UK in the late 1990s, when a wave of market testing was being swept in by CCT legislation with no prevailing view as to which models were most appropriate. In 1999 deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott commissioned Sir John Egan, former chairman of Jaguar Motors, to assemble a think tank to investigate the UK construction industry and find out why it was viewed by shareholders as a dinosaur industry, highly litigious and adversarial, and what lessons it could learn from wider industry. This resulted in the report Rethinking Construction, which identified a number of key drivers for improvement. The findings were adopted by the facilities management industry and helped to steer standardisation of process and commonality of approach. Another influence on standardisation of approach in the UK is the OJEU process, a regimented and strictly policed process for procuring all public sector opportunities across the EU.
What is needed in Australia to facilitate a leap forward in the industry is standardisation of process and commonality of approach. In the absence of overarching public sector initiatives like those experienced in the UK, the onus is likely to fall on industry bodies such as the Facility Management Association of Australia (FMA).
What do you see as the current challenges and opportunities in facilities management in Australia? How can these be overcome and grasped, respectively?
I see opportunities coming from clients responding positively to the ability of the industry to assume responsibility for its non-core business activities and delivering them in an efficient, cost-effective manner that frees these clients up to concentrate on their core business. The more successful this process proves to be to client organisations, the greater their appetite is likely to be for increasingly larger and more complex opportunities coming to the market.
The current challenges are those of a relatively obscure industry in a relatively successful economy, where, for a combination of factors, the attraction and retention of appropriately qualified and experienced staff is challenging. It is a challenge that I believe is being addressed through various accredited courses and training schemes, but is likely to take some time to work through the system.
You have been a consultant in both Australia and the UK. How is the profession different in each country, what are the similarities and what could the facilities managers in each country learn from the other?
They have far more in common than dividing them. That said, in the UK the industry tends to be more structured and standardised. The fact that it is a relatively small but populated country, and its proximity to Europe and North America have played a role in its development.
Whereas Australia’s demands – being a vast, sparsely populated continent with multiple time zones and extreme weather events – place a level of resilience and flexibility of approach on typical facilities management models that I believe is absent from their UK counterparts. This perhaps makes the Australian industry better suited to ready application in some of the more challenging environments typically found with developing nations around the globe.
Other topics that you are seen as an authority on, having presented, lectured and written articles on them, are life cycle budgeting and best practice maintenance provision. What are the top three things that are vital to remember when it comes to each?
Concerning life cycle budgeting:
- A budget built up incrementally is more robust and flexible than one arrived at through the application of some arbitrary process, such as a percentage of the insured value of the portfolio.
- For a life cycle budget to be achievable, a capital replacement plan needs to be supported by a robust planned maintenance regime and responsive reactive repairs.
- A life cycle budget is based on a number of known and assumed factors at a point in time. It is likely to change over time as these variables change. Consequently, it needs to be reviewed at an appropriate frequency to ensure that it remains relatively accurate.
With regards to best practice maintenance provision:
- To be effective, the experience of every member of the maintenance team needs to be tapped into in order to arrive at a regime that is practical, appropriate and effective.
- Every member of the maintenance team needs to have it communicated to them effectively in order to ensure that it is consistently understood and applied.
- Effective feedback loops need to be put in place to ensure that its effectiveness is monitored and, where necessary, acted upon appropriately.