Facilities managers and the performance gap

With squeezed budgets and ever more ambitious targets, facilities managers are increasingly finding that they have to do more with less. Following his speech at The Facilities Show this week, CIBSE FM Group chair Geoff Prudence expands on how facilities managers can step up to address the gap between a building’s designed performance, and its actual performance once built.

Sometimes, the job of a facilities manager is an overwhelming task. They’re the ultimate guardian of their company’s building, and they’re the ones who have to protect the company from loss and litigation on a day-to-day basis. While there is a lot the facilities manager can do to optimise the building’s performance, from implementing defined maintenance strategies to using proper commissioning codes, often a lot of the factors that make their building perform poorly are related to its design.

Geoff Prudence addresses a seminar at the Facilities Show
And it’s not a minor problem; the energy consumption of commercial buildings is estimated to be between 15 and 30 per cent higher than was anticipated at the design stage. It is unlikely that such a discrepancy would be tolerated in any other industry, yet it is a reality that facilities managers have to live with. There is a tendency for those involved in the construction of the building to think of the project as ‘complete’ when it is built and handed over, but for the FM it is only the beginning of a project that will last for the life of the structure.

There are several reasons that a building may not perform as expected. The so-called ‘performance gap’ is a complicated area with no standard definition, and no agreed upon way to measure it. With no clear model to define it, it is impossible to accurately predict performance and to give the various parties involved in the construction objectives to meet. As a result of this, designs often change during the planning and building stage which can have huge impacts on the building’s performance. A material added to increase performance may be swapped out for a less efficient cost equivalent, which may make sense from a budgetary point of view, but is a disaster for future performance.

So what can FMs do to change this status quo? Simply put, they need to step up and own the building performance cause throughout the life of the building – from the drawing board onwards. The crucial ingredient missing from the construction process is a common thread running from start to finish that champions the building’s performance. As the ones who have to deal with the poor performance once the building is handed over, facilities managers make the perfect candidates.

A packed audience at the Facilities Show seminar on CIBSE Guide M

Using models and technology such as BIM, FMs can inform their construction partners of the design’s performance requirements backed with actual data. They can know the design and performance enhancing systems inside out, allowing them to consult on changes and ensure that new elements don’t compromise the performance vision. They can collect and maintain the data on a building so that its performance can be measured over its whole lifetime, not just from the last FM or even from the completion date. CIBSE Guide M provides a great background to implementing and managing this in practice. The FMs understand the realities of running a building, and that input is invaluable when it comes to designing a space that it’s easy to get the best out of.

It still astounds me whenever I speak to a company where FM expertise had no input at all into the building’s Design when it was being built or there is not defined maintenance strategy in place. Until practices like this change, facilities managers will be doomed to wrestle with the inherent problems of buildings and take the flak for performance issues completely beyond their control. The key is to get involved from the beginning and become the driving force for performance, not try to pick up the pieces after the damage is already done. 


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