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December 03, 2015

To measure is to know … nothing!

I recently had an interesting conversation with a marketing consultant that touched on metrics. It made me think of the quote by Lord Kelvin, “When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it.” Within facility and real estate management, we seem to consider this of high importance as well.

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So what was the conversation about? The marketing expert told me that their company’s website had seen a 15% increase in website visitors for three consecutive years. And he smiled proudly, even a bit arrogantly. For me, as a non-marketing specialist, this was a great opportunity to ask a few silly questions:

  • What are the exact numbers? Growing from 10 to 12 visitors is less impressive than growing from 100,000 to 120,000 visitors. Unfortunately he didn’t know.
  • Why didn’t the traffic increase by 30% or 40% or even more? His answer was, and I quote, “My target was 10% and I over succeeded, so don’t doubt my achievement.”
  • What’s the average number of visitors and average increase for a comparable company in your industry? He didn’t have any idea, “but I’m sure we’re on the right track.” And then he left the scene.

This is a great example that shows that measuring in itself is not that valuable. Yes, once you measure, you can identify deltas, improvements, or regressions. But what do the numbers imply? Is a 15% improvement good and is it good enough? Without being able to compare and validate the numbers with peer organizations, the measuring itself tells you nothing. It doesn’t bring any value to your senior management.

In the field of facility and real estate management, I have also come across many statements about facility costs per workplace, occupancy rates, maintenance costs per building, square feet per full time employee, and many more. Whether these statements were based on good data and consistent measurements, I don’t know. What I do know is that without a point of reference by which the numbers can be measured, they are worthless. 

Fortunately, in the FM and RE industry, there is an increasing number of standards available, such as BOMA, EN15221, ISO, OSCRE, FASB, or LEED. Standards provide a method for measuring and comparing performance. Local and global initiatives such as CoreNets’ global real estate benchmark BenchCore, IFMA’s green initiative with Energy Star, or Leesman’s workplace effectiveness standard (Lmi) allow Facility and Real Estate Managers to compare their measured data with peer organizations. This truly transforms measured data into actionable information and knowledge that supports senior management in making the right decisions and taking the right actions to achieve the business goals.

Measuring is only the first step in this process. Comparison is the next. And standards are essential to comparing similar measurements. If you don’t act, your CFO will. But probably not in your department’s best interest.    

Jos Knops
Director Global Product Marketing