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Factors affecting innovation in the Facilities Management service sector

November 16, 2018
Posted in Resources
November 16, 2018 GraemeH

Why is it that innovation and the introduction of it, is one the top challenges for organisations within the industry?
In a competitive support sector, clients are increasingly looking to service providers to demonstrate innovation. Often this is understood to be technology but that is not always the case.

There are generally five categories or types of innovation within the sector:

  1.  Technological Innovations: Examples include the introduction of software systems or apps
  2. Product Innovations: Developing new services to specifically match customer need – again often involving technology.
  3. Environmental Innovations: New ways in which to lower or monitor energy consumption, reduce the carbon footprint, or strategies to deal with issues of CSR, recycling and waste reduction – again, more often than not, employing new technology to achieve this.
  4. Organisational Innovations: Concerning new approaches to staff management, training and recruitment as well as a focus on more positive use of internal space to benefit staff and the productivity of the working environment. Dare we say it, often underpinned by technology.
  5. Process Innovations: Introduction of new techniques, equipment or software to increase efficiencies. Yes, underpinned by technology too.

The burden of deploying new innovation to a large and dispersed workforce should not be underestimated. For many this is an inhibiting factor and rightly so. Buying or building something new is easy when compared to getting adoption of that innovation.

Seen as a cumbersome task, many choose to not even attempt to change something that has been working OK for a time. The risks to brand and reputation are high if it goes wrong.

Confidence in the change you are introducing is therefore vital. Perhaps this is why many do not ‘innovate’ by building their own technology (which, as we know, underpins almost every innovation theme above) and instead buy market ready, market tested options instead. This is far safer and often much more cost effective.

Organisation size could also be a contributing factor to little or poor investment into innovation. Small organisations are far better at introducing innovation quickly and effectively, but may not be able to invest as heavily and readily. Whilst larger organisations carry the problems associated with scale and complexity, making the process of change much more challenging.

Although there is very little industry data which indicates how much is spent on innovation in Facility Management, thanks to significant amounts of research by others looking at the topic, it appears that the larger the service provider, the more likely it is that there will be innovation. The data suggests that bigger the company, the more likely they are to have robust innovation processes in place, as well as many sites on which new idea generation can take place.

Additionally, according to the findings within a Service Futures Report, the difference between in-house and out-sourced Facilities management could also be an element that decides innovation success or failure. The report cites that out-sourced Facility Management innovates more than in-house Facility Management teams and that the barriers for innovation for in-house Facility Management teams are often significant thanks to a mixture of poor outside inspiration, cultural inertia and lack of size and processes.

Could it be a case of lost-communication?

According to a report conducted by Sheffield Hallam research, with support from GRITIT, Servest Group and i-FM, generally, the FM sector believed “…that it is innovating generally…but the innovation is largely coming from service providers and not their clients.” The report suggests that there could be a lack of communication or marketing of innovative activities or processes at use from within service provider organisations, which is leaving clients unaware of the extra-value that they are getting from the companies that they are working with. When considering the barriers to innovation in the sector, could it be that a simple lack of communication is giving people the idea that there is little or no innovation happening – and in fact there is no barrier to innovation at all?

The use of technology is certainly prevalent in all areas of innovation. In fact, it is considered the game changer for businesses looking to improve delivery services, cut costs and enhance transparency for their operation. Factor in the changing culture and attitudes towards how people work, make business decisions and communicate, new technology and bespoke software solutions will be the way in which business will grow and remain sustainable in an environment of increased competition and reduced end-user budgets.

Innovation and the need to keep innovating is vital for the growth of the Facilities Management sector and the survival of organisations within it. Summed up perfectly by Kristian J. Sund in his research in the strategies, barriers, and enablers of innovation within the postal sector:

“In a changing environment, innovation is a key to adapting to change, overcoming organizational weaknesses, and adding value to the organization’s products and services” (Sund 2008, p. 6).


  • ‘How widespread is innovation in the facility management industry?’: Service Futures
  • ‘Changing times in Facilities Management’: Sheffield Hallam research 2016 with support from GRITIT, Servest Group and i-FM
  • SUND, K. (2008) Innovation in the Postal Sector: Strategies, Barriers and Enablers. Lausanne: EPFL. Conference Paper.
  • Internal and External Factors Influencing the Implementation and Diffusion of the Open Innovation Models: Andrea Stucki