18 July 2019

Facility Management Evolution Series: 1960s

Analysis of the article “The Evolution of FM” by Nancy Johnson Sanquist, former VP of Global Strategic Marketing at Planon

Over the years, I have frequently found myself looking into the history of facility management and asking, how did we get where we are today? I’ve become increasingly curious about the origins of the technological breakthroughs that have contributed to our present-day view of Facility Management (FM). What has particularly sparked my interest is an article by Nancy Johnson Sanquist, former VP of Global Strategic Marketing at Planon, and also an IFMA fellow and AIA associate. 

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In “The Evolution of FM,” Sanquist dissected the technologies that have had the largest influence on the FM industry over the past decades. After reading the article and understanding her perspective, I was able to put the pieces together and learn more about how the FM industry came about and operates the way it does today; with such high importance placed on computers and their seemingly never-ending capabilities.

Focusing on FM growth, Sanquist’s ideology provides a thought-provoking analysis of the predictions of future technological developments and their impacts , beginning in the 1960s and stretching all the way to 2018. The overarching theme remains how the technological developments of each decade have provided incremental contributions to FM today. This insight allows us to better understand the current industry, and also enables us to gauge future capabilities.

1960s: The introduction of computer influences within the built environment

I’ll begin with the 1960s: a period where computers were available but were incredibly expensive and only used by very few professions for a specific purpose. Despite this specialised usage, many theories were formed about the future of computers and how much influence they would have on our society.
What were they capable of? How would our lives be affected by these machines? In particular, how could computers impact design and creative capabilities for professionals such as architects or engineers? The possibilities seemed endless; at this point, we were only just being introduced to these life-changing machines and were in awe about what could be.

Minsky’s calculated predictions about the upcoming impacts on facility management

In “The Evolution of FM,” Sanquist references an Architecture and Computer Conference held in Boston in 1964 at the Sheraton-Plaza. At this conference, a large amount of strategic speculation took place, exemplified by a quote included by Sanquist from attendee and American cognitive scientist, Marvin Minsky regarding his prediction of computer capabilities over the next 30 years. “For in no more than 30 years, computers may be as intelligent, or more intelligent, than people.”

A bold statement at the time, but now we can say that his estimates were not far-fetched. Minsky continued, “The machine may be able to handle not only the planning but the complete mechanical assembly of things as well. Some computers now have scanners attached to them so they can see drawings; eventually computers will have hands, vision and the programs that will make them able to assemble buildings, make things at a very high rate of speed, economically.”

Your ears may have pricked up a bit with Minsky’s predictions. It’s no secret that given the current state of FM technology, we know that his thoughts turned out to be spot-on. An example is our present day visual abilities such as Planon’s AutoCAD Integration or Computer-Aided Design process which allows architects and engineers to create precision technical drawings through computer capabilities and integrate them into Planon using the Space and Workplace Management Solution. All these opinions from Minsky may leave us wondering – what comes next in the FM timeline? And what is next for the future of this industry? Next time, we’ll explore the growth and expansion that took place during the 1970s and 1980s.

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