• International Workplace
  • 25 October 2016

Interview: Kath Fontana, Chair of FM Board, RICS

It will not have escaped anyone involved in facilities management that large strides have been made recently to move the discipline of FM onto a truly international footing. At the forefront of this progress has been the partnership between RICS and IFMA – further cemented at World Workplace in San Diego this month – where the Chair of RICS FM Board, Kath Fontana, has been playing a central role.

In her first interview on the collaboration, David Sharp discovers what it could mean for FM education.

Kath Fontana is not one to waste words. Managing Director at ISS Technical Services in the UK, she is ambitious not just for her own career but for the advancement of her industry: the development of facilities management from an opportunistic service stream to a recognised profession. The vehicle she sees as best being able to deliver both goals is the venerable RICS, now not just home to chartered surveyors but to a host of qualified professionals who share an interest in measuring and managing performance in the built environment.

As one of FM’s earliest practitioners in the UK, Fontana recognises it’s had a long way to come.

"By the time I come towards the end of my career, I’ll have been in this industry for 40 years. In the beginning, there weren’t any standards at all. I know people might argue that there were, but I don’t think so. In the early 90s when I started in FM it was like the Wild West!"

That must seem like a lifetime ago to her now. As Chair of the FM Board at RICS where she is two years into a three-year term, Fontana has overseen a steady increase in the amount of tangible facilities management output. She is keen to acknowledge the contribution made by her predecessors at RICS, but is strident in pushing forward.

The Strategic Facilities Management guidance note produced three years ago is to be augmented by further professional statements; RICS is actively considering a new standard FM contract; Fontana is supporting the ISO panel developing the new framework for global standards in FM; and then there is RICS’ collaboration with IFMA. There is substance behind RICS’ goal of becoming the body of excellence for strategic FM globally. 

The IFMA-RICS collaboration is especially interesting from an education perspective. IFMA’s 20,000+ membership is located largely in North America, with members gaining credentials from its centrally managed training programme. There are a number of routes to RICS, but all ultimately require a degree of experience – usually in addition to professional or academic qualifications – before the benefits of chartered status can be conferred. RICS arguably has greater global reach, and the infrastructure and learning and development expertise to support the growth of FM around the world.

Fontana picks up on this last point, noting that there are two key strands to the collaboration: standards, and education. Where it comes to education, it would seem that RICS will take on the mantle of rolling out the suite of professional development and training, delivering IFMA and RICS courses online.

If the partnership is able to deliver even half of what it is capable of then it could signal the start of a new wave of lower level courses and qualifications that are aligned with, and support progression through, the various levels of IFMA and RICS membership. There is undoubtedly a demand for greater competence in the discipline of facilities management in emerging markets, which is a major opportunity for the two organisations to seize on.

It’s obvious that in the early days of the IFMA-RICS relationship there are still a few wrinkles to iron out if true alignment is to be achieved. Received wisdom from the San Diego launch is that the internal communication of the partnership could have reached wider.

But Fontana asserts there is good reason to believe that cooperation of this kind can bring benefits, pointing to the International Property Management Standard (IPMS) published by RICS last year as a great example of a valued-added project involving collaboration between 70 different international organisations.

She also makes it clear that RICS does not necessarily see the IFMA-RICS relationship as an exclusive one.

"We see this as an entirely collaborative and open process. Our aim is to embrace all facilities management organisations. I would like to think that many – if not all – of the different regional FM organisations will be part of setting standards across the globe. As an FM practitioner myself, that’s what I want to happen.  And speaking as someone working in a global firm, one should be able to passport [one’s qualifications] to every country.

So I think it’s really important those regional FM organisations do get on board, and we embrace that, and we encourage it, and we want it, very much. But whilst also respecting the heritage and the legacy of FM in those countries. So it’s a collaboration, but a very focused and intentional collaboration – not just an MoU.”

The starting point of the next phase is to gain input from the global FM community to define a career path – into which IFMA will presumably input the data from its Global Task Job Analysis (GTJA). The survey tool was launched in San Diego, and will inform the goals of creating standards and professional development for the facilities management industry and generating a suite of professional qualifications for the discipline of FM.

With the end of her tenure as Chair of the FM Board at RICS in her sights, Fontana is looking to close out a number of projects while leaving a healthy development pipeline for others to pursue. The third edition of ‘Raising the Bar – Enhancing the Strategic Role of FM’ is currently in preparation, with very early signs suggesting that – while some progress has been made since the first edition in 2012 – the bar arguably still sits too low.

Looking to the next five years, she sees a world where FM is a more recognised professional discipline:

“I would like to think that there will be thousands of chartered facilities management surveyors. That we’ve got a set of professional standards that are well established, and that they line up to the ISO [International FM Standard] which will also have been published.

If we had a set of global professional standards that different organisations have signed up to and embrace and endorse, that would be fantastic. And then sitting alongside that a standard form of contract. So we’d have a recognised level of competence, a recognised way of procuring things, and a recognised way of doing things. Those three things for me would be really fantastic things to have happened.”