Facilities Management (Managing Assets)

The Janus Side of FM

When I was growing up, I knew a kid whose name was “Janus.” Never having given him or his name much thought after fifth grade, it had not crossed my mind to wonder why his parents had issued him forth with that name. That is, until recently when I came across the name “Janus” in an article I was reading.

In case you are not up on ancient Roman history, let me share this: “A very old Italian God, Janus…is commonly depicted with two faces...one regarding what is behind and the other looking forward to what lies ahead. Thus, Janus is representative of contemplation on the happenings of an old year while looking forward to the new.”

So, you ask, what does this have to do with facilities management? Simple.

So many, too many, facility managers spend their time looking backwards — at what they’ve done in the past and how they did what they did. When dealing with building occupants, some are not as interested in learning what their expectations or future needs might be. Rather, their feet and minds are firmly entrenched in the status quo — or before.

Do You Have a Plan?

On what do you base your five- or 10-year FM business plan, if you have one? Do you pretend that things are not going to change, and if they are, you have no control over your department’s future? Or worse yet, do you knowingly or subconsciously try to prevent this environment from changing? One would hope that you could look forward and champion the FM cause in concert with your institution’s strategic business plan, even if your retirement (or a better job opportunity) is just around the corner.

Does your institution have a master plan (building and land-use plan)? Does it show an optimistic array of new buildings, or others being torn down? Did you create the opportunity and take advantage of it to offer your input into the development of that master plan? Odds are that you were in a leadership position in the planning process, on behalf of the institution. How forward-looking were you as you led the way? Did you encourage visionary thinking from your own staff?

I can’t underscore enough how important it is to have access to credible and accurate data from the recent past to provide a solid foundation in projecting the future! What’s that expression? “When you don’t know where you’re going any road will take you there?”

Harness the Data

It is to be hoped that your department’s CAFM or work information management system is capable of providing credible data regarding current performance of assets, guiding your elaborations regarding disposal versus rejuvenation. Are you able to incorporate this “wisdom,” based on most recent experiences, into plotting the future of the institution’s assets, simultaneously underwriting the long-range strategies of the academic priorities of the institution as well as those of Facilities Management? (Side note: It is becoming increasingly apparent to me that we, and even our senior level managers, do not fully appreciate the significance of the difference between “facilities maintenance” and “facilities management.”)

Let Go of the Past

The significance of Janus is that he can look back and, having learned from the past, is able let go of it as he turns around to pass through a different doorway that takes him to the future. Okay, so he’s a god and we are not (even though some of us think we are, or act like it). Having said that, I am convinced that we must be business leaders on our campuses. This does not mean that we must forego technical expertise in favor of being business leaders. It does mean, I believe, that there are times when business savvy needs to take the lead. Several paragraphs back I used the word “wisdom.” It is to be hoped that, as we progressed through time, we did not get hung up on meaningless data and shallow information. Instead, one would hope that most of us glean from the past enough knowledge to arrive at wisdom. The best available CAFM can produce endless streams of data and information, but it is up to the educated, experienced mind of a true facilities management professional to synthesize all that data muck into something that s/he can apply to the continued evolution of the institution.

So, how does this relate to the kid I knew so many years ago? Looking back now, I can recognize that his name fit him, or vice versa. He never let the past bother him, but he did learn from it. He never jumped twice off a high bridge into water that was too shallow.

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Pete van der Have is a retired facilities management professional and is currently teaching university-level FM classes as well as doing independent consulting. He can be reached at petevanderhave@msn.com.

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