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Perspectives from an FM Innovator: Austin Sanders, CPMM, FMA

I First met Austin Sanders 20 years ago when he worked at Sprint as a facility manager. Over the years, our paths have continued to cross as we’ve worked together on various accounts.  Austin brings a unique perspective to facilities management. He has worked both as an in-house FM (as he does currently), and as a third-party facilities manager with companies like CBRE and JLL. He currently is the global head of facilities for NetScout, where he manages a global portfolio across the US, London, Dublin, India, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

We recently caught up with him to talk about both roles, the state of facilities management and where innovation fits into today’s FM job. Here’s our interview.

How did you get into facilities management to begin with?

Austin: I was finishing my degree at Texas Christian University and at a job fair, Pitney Bowes offered me a position at a Sprint site. Within a year, I went to work directly for Sprint. I didn’t have a notion of what to expect until I got into facilities management. Then I realized all the entities and hats you had to wear.

What are the Pros and Cons of Being an In-house FM?

Austin:  The pros of being in house are that you get to build your own team, create your metrics and have total ownership.  The main downside is fewer opportunities for promotions because once you go in house, there’s only one of each position – one FM, one coordinator, one senior manager, one director. It’s typically a pretty flat organization, so you have to create career opportunities for yourself. Get your designations, and make yourself marketable. Otherwise, you are going to get stagnant. My designations have helped make me marketable, and I continue to try to learn daily. I’m always looking for the next step.

Do You Encourage Your Teams to Pursue Education?

Yes, I’m a big promoter of education. I do monthly one on ones with my teams and education is the thing I harp on more than anything.  One of the biggest honors I have is to see people I mentored now in roles as managers and senior managers.

What about Third-Party Roles – the Pros and Cons?

Working for a third-party service provider offers plenty of room for promotion and growth, because the firm is acquiring new clients on a monthly basis.  However, the downside is if the client doesn’t see your role as a partnership, it can be a dictatorship. Where I have seen the relationship work well is when the third-party firm had the same exact performance evaluations as the client. Both teams had the same metrics, goals, and were working side by side toward the exact same things.

The other side is when the relationship is more of a dictatorship. Sometimes there was a strong solid line between being a contractor and an employee. Even the badges were a different color, and with that a lack of respect was created.

Another con is the lack of ownership. You’re not enabled to set your own goals or metrics or set your own structure.  If you are working with a new client contact, it is important to be proactive. Find out what their vision is for the department. Then link up that vision with what your FM knowledge to meet those needs. Have a preset weekly or biweekly meeting with that person. Create processes and procedures, and document them with metrics to the client contact to ensure the processes are in line with your client’s vison.

Let’s Talk Innovation.

Austin: One innovation I assisted with fielding and implementing was creating an app that improved the efficiency of our traveling teams. When a team member arrived at its destination, we could use the app to pull up any company buildings in our area. Using the app, we could conduct building inspections from our phone, take photos and write all documentation on our phone. Then, just press a button, and it goes to a repository in the cloud and it automatically cuts work orders.

When I arrived at NetScout, there wasn’t a conjoined facilities management program in place. I manage teams all over the world, so I created our first global FM meeting and from that we created monthly FM Forums. FM Forums are where we all come together to discuss current and upcoming events at each site and share best practices. I communicate new processes and procedures along with answering questions on the spot, so that everyone feels a part of the team.

What’s the Future of Facilities Management?

Austin: There’s tons of new innovation and communication on the horizon and the days of carrying a clip board are gone. Things like smart technology and artificial intelligence are going to make the facility manager’s job a lot easier. But, if you are not tech savvy and stay current with new technological innovations, or join some of type Professional Facilities Management Association to stay relevant, this probably will not be the career for you.

If you are interested in connecting with innovators like Austin and sharing facilities management success stories across all sectors, I invite you to join us in the Facility Innovation LinkedIn group. Let’s work together to move the innovation ball forward!

-Thomas Holland
APEX Surface Care