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Looking down the wrong end of the telescope?

23-01-15 12:10 BIFM

Value is subjective.

What one person sees as value could be different to others. It depends on circumstance, objectives, desires and wants. I own a bike which cost me about £150. I use it for the occasional weekend jaunt, quite often punctuated with a visit to a country pub for some light refreshment. I have a friend that has spent thousands on bikes which to me is a complete waste of money but, then again, I’m not going down ruthless tracks in the Alps at an alarming pace. So, for him, the thousand pound ‘bicycles’ are great value as they make that experience that much better. So, you buy your ticket you make your choice.

So, when this week I read about the BBC being criticised over the running cost of New Broadcasting House I was curious to see where they were placing their value. The report said that the broadcaster should be making “better use of space to achieve value for money”, and there are some useful statistics highlighted such as the cost of running New Broadcasting House being three times higher than the UK average. Whilst averages are useful I think it is slightly skewing to benchmark the running of a prime example of estate in central London with the rest of the UK. It would be interesting to see what is included in that figure.

Now, the BBC has made some good progress on rationalising its property portfolio but I think that there also needs to be consideration on how they are delivering as an organisation as a whole rather than thinking about a property as an overhead cost that you need to reduce in order to demonstrate real value. I’ve had many conversations about efficiency versus effectiveness. It reframes the debate from one which looks at the size of the property based on the number of people that work there to one which looks at how a building can support the organisation in achieving its objectives.

It also begs the question as to how do other business functions quantify their investments? In 2013 Sky spent £264m on advertising, in 2014 they reported that they had made £1.2b profit. I suspect that had something to do with various products and services that were targeted at customers through various ad campaigns.

So what does that have to do with property? Well, Sky will have set themselves a target on how much profit they wanted to deliver. They will have identified how they plan on doing that through their various revenue streams and they will have designed their campaigns to support that.

What if all organisations assessed their workplace and viewed them as investments to support activity designed to deliver on their corporate objectives e.g. providing people with the necessary tools and environments to make them as productive as possible; something I know that Sky value equally alongside their other business investments which is demonstrated as they look to launch their new bespoke building for staff development in West London.

So back to the BBC. I’ve heard Alan Bainbridge, Property, Estates and Projects Director at the BBC, talking about MediaCity. He described the thought process, outlining how it was structured on ‘activity driven design’ after an analysis of how people worked; something he spoke to FM World about back in August of 2012. What caught my attention though was when Alan said that the BBC aims to be ‘the most creative organisation in the world’ so they set about creating an environment that would deliver just that.

Now, creativity is difficult to measure, you’d have more luck searching for dark matter, but you can measure results. The Dr Who 50th Special was shown in 98 countries in 15 languages and in the UK it was watched by 12.8m people plus an additional 3.2m on iPlayer. BBC News Online had 19.4m visitors worldwide for their coverage of the birth of HRH Prince George and their weather app has been downloaded 6.3 million times.

When you look at the BBC’s objectives they aim to ‘make the most creative and distinctive output’, ‘innovate online to create a more personal BBC’, ‘serve all audiences’ (it reached 96% of the UK adult population in 2012/13) and then, where we started in all this, ‘improve value for money through a simpler, more efficient and more open BBC.’

My humble opinion is that on the face of it they are doing well on the first three; again, subjective. It’s the fourth where this report sits but it needs to be linked to the others. Who’s to say that if cost was reduced, saved or removed from the workplaces that the BBC provides that the programmes wouldn’t suffer? Their technology platforms wouldn’t develop? Who knows? They might lose all the people behind these successes who don’t particularly like the office environment any longer. Just look at the merit that is given to the office design of an innovative organisation such as Google. It matters. 

You may have guessed that I’m not a big fan of measuring property performance based on square foot. I know that it’s necessary to know these figures but looking at them in isolation is deceiving. Workplaces are crucial strategic investments that support organisational objectives and whist it will always be a cost line on the budget we need to make sure it is seen as an investment, like marketing or IT spend is, in order to succeed as an organisation; although I think we have some way to go yet.

Chris Moriarty
Head of Insight and Corporate Affairs
BIFM - the professional body for facilities management

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