Arizona State University graduate students Anna Thurston and Kristen Barlish are spending the summer contributing to an international collaborative effort to further define and develop the emerging field of facilities management.
Thurston and Barlish were selected by the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) Foundation, IFMA Spain and the European Facilities Management Network (EuroFM) to participate in the Facility Management International Profiles Definition Study. They’ll work with 18 other students from 12 countries.
Barlish is pursuing a doctoral degree and Thurston is studying for a master’s degree in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.
“This program will help to create a better understanding of the international variations within the field,” Thurston explains. Students will gather information on varying representations of the facilities management profession throughout the world, with the goal of arriving at a common understanding of the field and its operations.
Most of the students will spend the summer in Madrid, Spain, with travel and living expenses covered through the program. Barlish and Thurston will work remotely from ASU, using various social media and video-chat software to share research, ideas and progress reports with the team.
“We are trying to define multiple things,” Barlish says, “from defining the field to establishing descriptions of jobs, duties and departments within the field, and looking at how these concepts vary between countries.”
She and Thurston will be conducting interviews and surveys, as well as observing facilities management professionals. Research will include synthesizing existing research and literature with their data and findings to construct a well-defined representation of the practice of facilities management in the United States. Their descriptions will factor into development of a unified global definition of facilities management.
The field encompasses management of a building’s entire life cycle, from its design and construction to demolition or deterioration.
“Every building, from the Empire State Building to the Eiffel Tower has a facilities manager,” Barlish says. Some buildings require a fully staffed facilities management department that allocates specific duties to a team of managers responsible for construction, basic maintenance, renovations and building management.
The field has been gaining more recognition as a distinct industry and professional career as sustainability and green construction and maintenance become foremost priorities.
Barlish says construction professionals and land developers are realizing that entirely demolishing buildings as part of redevelopment projects can be a waste of resources. “Instead of building something entirely new, why not repurpose what is already there?” she says.
The sustainability aspect is what attracts Thurston to the field. Along the way to earning a bachelor’s degree at ASU in urban and environmental planning, she came to think of facilities management as a way of “applying the theories and concepts of sustainability that I had learned in my undergraduate studies.”
Growing awareness of the value of sustainability and environmentally friendly practices is enhancing the facilities management industry, creating the need for a deeper understanding and a universal definition of the field, Barlish and Thurston say.
Barlish received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in construction management at ASU, and is pursuing a Ph.D. in the field with a concentration in facilities management. She served as a visiting doctoral student at the Politecnico di Torino in Italy for the 2011-2012 academic year with support from the prestigious Fulbright Scholars program, enabling her to study Italian and European project management.
“I got interested in facilities management through the IMFA,” Barlish says. “I started a student chapter at ASU. I want to do something to really advance the field.”
Thurston is in the construction management master’s degree program at ASU with a facilities management concentration. After completing the program, she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in the field while working in the facilities services industry.
Written by Natalie Pierce and Joe Kullman