The History of Facilities Management in 5 Minutes
by Lionel Prodgers
When World FM Day was recognized on August 28th, Lionel Prodgers of Agent4FM decided to give a five-minute history of Facilities Management at the Google HQ in London.
Determining the history of Facilities Management (FM) is as challenging as defining the discipline itself. Strangely enough, explaining the history in five minutes is a great deal easier, as no one can criticize me for leaving anything out. Most people think that FM started in the late 1970’s. Let’s think again.
4000 - 1000 BC
The first civilisations and cities emerged from around 4000 to 3500 BC in Mesopotamia.
The emergence of social organization coped with the complexities of administration, the production and exchange of goods, expeditions and defense of territory.
Here we can find evidence of FACILITIES such as major public buildings, stores of agricultural products, and workshops for manufacturing activity. Where was BIFM and IFMA while all this was going on? Let’s just say they were late starters!
So from the very beginning we have Economy, Politics and Culture.
While the cities in Mesopotamia were the first, they were soon followed in 3000 BC with similar civilisations in Egypt, the Indus Valley (Pakistan and North West India) and by 2000 in China and then the Americas (Mexico and Peru) around 1000 BC.
Also, around 1000 BC we have the Iron Age. To archaeologists and historians, this is the single most important mark of the advance of mankind—both technologically and culturally.
1001 – 0 BC
By about 600 BC Greek merchants had sophisticated trade routes and practice—with truly international expansion. Countries are trading with countries around the Mediterranean Sea. We see the introduction of coined money.
In the 5th century BC, Athens was the most densely populated State in the Ancient World with about a quarter of a million people. About one third of these were slaves—mostly working for facilities management contractors!
But this period is relevant not only for the commercial dawning. We have the introduction of the ‘Mission Statement’. I used a quote from Homer’s Iliad as a motto for my FM company in 1985:
“Always to be best and to be distinguished above the rest.”
I still defy any marketing genius or high flying CEO to come up with something better, 2,500 years later.
1 – 1000 AD
The Monty Python team posed many big questions, such as: “What did the Romans ever do for us?”
A few years ago a presenter of BBC TV history programmes, Adam Hart-Davis, spoke at the BIFM Conference and presented “What the Romans did for us”.
Well, what did the Romans do for FM?
They brought us unprecedented feats of engineering—and atria! And with no electronics or glass, they were much easier to look after.
From the 8th century on, the significant Treaty of Verdun (note the French connection) established wholly new States in Europe with a huge growth in the economies—thus paving the way for EuroFM—a late-comer to the FM party!
1001 – 1975 AD
Moving swiftly on - into the last millennium…
Probably the most significant event in this period was the creation of what must be the ‘mother of all Asset Registers’ – The Domesday Book.
In 1086 King William I ordered a survey of the whole of England and a census of every horse, cow, pig and hen, bringing about the overhaul of land tenure, crown estate and TAXATION! The structure of the data was impressive providing William the Conqueror with a reliable reference system.
As you might guess there was no appeal process—the assessor’s view was final and binding—and it was recorded in a short form of Latin, so not understandable to many—much like the M&E asset registers we see today.
Perhaps the most famous Facilities Manager around the turn of the 17th Century was Samuel Pepys. Pepys submitted detailed incident reports of the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London. Pity he didn’t think of doing a risk assessment first. He was a Facilities Manager of the first order. Through sheer hard work and incredible talent for administration he rose to be the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty and his reforms are regarded as important to the professionalization of the English Navy.
(Pepys also liked to receive an occasional case of Port for his procurement favours.)
1976 – 2009 AD
And so we come to the modern history of Facilities Management—only 30 years or so on top of the 6,000 years we have just cantered through.
The one person I must mention, whom I still see occasionally in America, is George Graves. In the 1970’s George took the initiative to meet with fellow office administrators from other companies in Houston to share business issues and problems, and those meetings led to the establishment of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA)—and the rest is, and will be, history.
So where are we now (besides Google’s London headquarters)?
Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian educator and philosopher, is famous for describing in the late 1960’s how technology had contracted the globe into a village. The Global Village has come to pass.
As a result, people all around the world have an expectation that their quality of life should improve.
In FM terms, technology now enables us to measure and attribute cost and use of assets and resources, in real time—anywhere in the world.
The question is: What will we do with it to improve everyone’s quality of life?
When World FM Day was recognized on August 28th, Lionel Prodgers, principal, of Agent4FM, offered a five-minute history of Facilities Management at the Google HQ in London. Prodgers is a principal with facility/asset management consultants, Agent4FM. www.agent4fm.com