In the latest instalment of our FM executive interview series, we sat down with Neal Grant, Derwent FM‘s Head of Business Development, to talk about his company, industry opportunities, the challenges of Covid-19, new technology and Game of Thrones…
Tell us about your company, products and services
We deliver a range of hard and soft FM services which combined mean we can offer a total facilities management service for our customers. We cover a national spread of sites from Glasgow in the north down to Bournemouth on the south coast, we have also started delivering services in Ireland. The majority of services we deliver in house through our skilled workforce, with specialist services such as lift maintenance delivered through our select group of supplier partners.
Our services are delivered with sustainability and customer experience as the key focus areas, all underpinned by total compliance across every aspect. We are one of the first FM companies in the country to achieve the energy management ISO 5001 accreditation, illustrating our drive to lead on sustainability, and also have a wide portfolio of long term partnerships centred on customer excellence. Social impact is a huge part of our business also, this is reinforced by each and every penny of our profits being fed back into social housing delivered via our parent company. We therefore deliver an FM package with an ethical approach and a clear beneficial social impact all centred on sustainability.
The structure of our business means that we are ‘small enough to care but big enough to deliver’. As a business with circa 250 employees and £18million turnover per annum, our size means we can tailor and adapt our offering for our clients in a flexible and focused manner, whilst also offering the security of our £800mil+ parent company, Places for People, to meet all financial surety requirements.
What have been the biggest challenges the FM industry has faced over the past 12 months?
The industry is still recovering from the Carillion fall out, trust in the outsourced market has dipped as a result and even SME suppliers are looking to spread their risk from a supply perspective in case a similar scenario repeats. The skills gap in the country around reliable, experienced tradesman remains and recruitment of electricians, heating engineers etc also remains challenging particularly outside London.
Given the new threat of Covid-19, it remains to be seen what impact this will have on the FM sector in the long run but in the short term simply delivering services when social distancing is so important is incredibly challenging but not insurmountable at the moment. Additionally, the threat to the skilled workforce as the case numbers begin to increase could become a problem.
And what have been the biggest opportunities?
The wider focus on climate change and managing our impact represent huge opportunities for the sector. These opportunities are not just reputational, in the form of minimising our impact on the environment and ensuring our future generations actually have a sustainable planet, but there are huge financial savings to be made from delivering more sustainable buildings. We know as a business, if there is a focused approach to reducing energy via ways of working or strategic capital replacement works, clients can save vast sums from their bottom line as well illustrating their green credentials which is incredibly important now for their staff and customers alike.
What is the biggest priority for the FM industry in 2020?
Covid-19 will clearly change the landscape for the duration of this year and beyond. Initially the focus will be purely on delivery services and ensuring compliance and service standards are maintained. I suspect however by the end of the year we will be asking how we can change our ways of working which will bring in questions about social impact and environmental focus to make the whole sector more durable and sustainable.
What are the main trends you are expecting to see in the market in 2020?
Clearly Covid-19 will be key focus for the sector this year. How businesses react to the virus, building in resilience and management of their workforce and suppliers will be key now. As the economy shrinks, which we can say for sure it will, there will be balancing act for the sector to deliver value for money whilst retaining their workforce and ensuring delivery whilst managing social distancing for a period of time.
In addition, sustainability and energy management will continue to be a key focus not only in 2020 but beyond. Only in the last 2-3 years, partly due to the rise of Extinction Rebellion and the clear change in weather conditions, finally the population has begun to understand how significant our contribution to climate change is. There is a link within this arguably to globalisation and the Covid-19 virus also, so going forward a local, sustainable approach to the FM sector will become increasingly important through 2020 and beyond.
What technology is going to have the biggest impact on the market this year?
Digital apps for the clients and customers will transform how clients and customers interact with their FM suppliers, which we have already seen in our business in 2019. Everybody has smart phones these days with which they run their lives in effect, therefore having a means of communication and reports for clients on these devices is key going forward to drag the sector into the 21st century. Delivering smarter, instantaneous communication to our clients and customers in 2020 will be key.
Decarbonisation of the national grid will have a large role to play over the coming years also. Given the energy savings for the clients, removing gas fed equipment and installing electric dependant M&E systems such as air source heat pumps will become increasingly important.
In 2022 we’ll all be talking about…?
Hopefully Climate Change in a positive manner as oppose to Covid-19.
Which person in, or associated with, the FM industry would you most like to meet?
Given how much of a focus sustainability is and will continue to be, David Attenborough would be a fascinating person to meet and discuss how industry has affected the natural world.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learnt about the FM sector?
I find it surprising how far behind the curve many building owners are when we talk about energy consumption and savings. There are huge benefits, both from a financial and reputational perspective, and I find it incredibly surprising how little attention is paid to this.
You go to the bar at the Facilities Management Summit – what’s your tipple of choice?
Any local ale – Tom Long from Stroud Brewery is the ideal scenario.
What’s the most exciting thing about your job?
Feeling like you are making a positive difference, both for your workforce but also your clients.
And what’s the most challenging?
Time away from a young family.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
‘There is no substitute for hard work in life’.
Baptiste or Game Of Thrones?
I’m sorry to say Game of Thrones.