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DMA Group The History of FM

The History of Facilities Management: When Did It Become a ‘Thing’?

Facilities management is a crucial aspect of modern business operations, ensuring that organisational environments are efficient, safe, and supportive of productivity. But have you ever wondered how this essential function evolved into the comprehensive discipline we recognise today? When did it become a ‘thing’? By tracing its history, we can get a better understanding of how it has shaped, and continues to shape, the way organisations operate, from early maintenance practices to sophisticated, integrated management systems.

Early Origins

Ancient Civilisations: The concept of facilities management can be traced back to ancient civilisations where the maintenance of public buildings, roads, and infrastructure was crucial for societal functioning. The Roman Empire, for example, had complex systems for maintaining aqueducts, public baths, and roads. These architectural marvels were essential for transporting water from distant sources into cities and towns. The maintenance of these structures required an organised system of inspection, cleaning, and repair to ensure a continuous water supply. This system can be considered an early form of facilities management, highlighting the importance of operational efficiency and resource management even in ancient times.

Industrial Revolution (18th – 19th Century)

Factory Maintenance: With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, the need for systematic building and equipment maintenance became apparent. Factories required regular upkeep to ensure smooth operations, which included tasks such as lubricating machinery, replacing worn-out parts, and ensuring safety protocols were followed. This led to the development of more formal maintenance practices and the establishment of dedicated maintenance departments within factories. These practices not only improved efficiency and productivity but also extended the lifespan of the equipment and reduced the risk of accidents.

One notable example is the New Lanark Mills in Scotland, established by Robert Owen in the early 19th century. Owen implemented extensive maintenance schedules and infrastructure improvements to enhance productivity and worker welfare. This included the construction of proper housing for workers, regular maintenance of machinery, and the creation of communal spaces, laying early groundwork for modern facilities management.

Early 20th Century

Building Services: The early 20th century saw the emergence of building services engineering as a discipline. This included the management of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, plumbing, and electrical systems within buildings.

A great example from this period is the Battersea Power Station, completed in 1933. As one of the largest brick buildings in Europe, it required an advanced level of facilities management to operate efficiently. The power station was equipped with state-of-the-art boilers, turbines, and electrical infrastructures which were meticulously maintained to ensure its smooth operation. This example highlights the critical role that facilities management played in the operation of large buildings even in the early 20th century.

Post-World War II (1940s – 1950s)

Office Buildings and Corporate Real Estate: The post-war economic boom led to the construction of large office buildings and corporate facilities. Managing these complex structures required dedicated personnel and systematic approaches, laying the groundwork for modern facilities management.

An exemplary instance from this era in the UK is the construction of the BT Tower, formerly known as the Post Office Tower, which was completed in 1964. Serving as a telecommunications hub, the tower required comprehensive facilities management to ensure its numerous systems operated flawlessly. Its advanced telecommunications equipment, complex electrical wiring, and structural elements demanded consistent and precise maintenance, illustrating the evolving necessity for specialised facilities management in prominent buildings in post-war Britain.

1960s – 1970s: The Birth of Facilities Management

Formalisation of the Field: Facilities management began to emerge as a distinct field in the 1960s and 1970s. During this period, organisations started recognising the growing need for dedicated management of physical assets, infrastructure, and workplace environments. This shift was driven by the increasing complexity of building systems and the desire to improve efficiency and effectiveness in managing these assets.

1980s: Technological Advancements

The introduction of computers and software tools in the 1980s revolutionised facilities management. Computer-Aided Facilities Management (CAFM) systems began to be developed, allowing for more efficient and effective management of facilities.

A prominent example is the implementation of a CAFM system at Heathrow Airport in the 1980s. This innovative technology facilitated the management of vast and complex infrastructure, from airfield operations to terminal facilities, ensuring optimal performance and safety. Furthermore, facilities management at Heathrow Airport evolved to support strategic goals, such as passenger satisfaction and operational efficiency, showcasing the critical role of facilities management in achieving business objectives whilst maintaining high standards of service delivery.

It is from this point that facilities management started to be seen as a strategic function that could impact an organisation’s bottom line. The focus shifted from merely maintaining buildings to enhancing the workplace environment and supporting core business objectives.

1990s: Integration, Expansion, and Professional Bodies

The 1990s saw the rise of Integrated Facilities Management, where all aspects of facility services (maintenance, cleaning, security, etc.) were managed under a single contract or by a single provider. This approach aimed to improve efficiency and coordination.

Facilities management began to expand globally, with multinational companies seeking consistent standards and practices across their operations worldwide.

The formation of professional bodies such as the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM) in 1993 in the United Kingdom played a crucial role in formalising the profession. These organisations set industry standards, provided training and certification programs, and created a platform for professionals to share knowledge and best practices. As a result, facilities management evolved into a respected and essential discipline, contributing significantly to organisational success and sustainability.

2000s: Technology and Sustainability

Smart Buildings: The early 2000s introduced the concept of smart buildings, which integrate advanced technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and data analytics. These technologies work together to optimise building performance, enhance energy efficiency, improve safety, and increase occupant comfort. By continuously monitoring and adjusting various systems such as lighting, heating, and security, smart buildings represent a significant leap forward in the way we interact with and manage our built environments.

Sustainability: There was a growing emphasis on sustainable practices in facilities management, including energy efficiency, waste reduction, and green building certifications like LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the world’s most widely used green building rating system. This shift is driven by the increasing awareness of environmental impact and the need for long-term resource conservation. Companies are now prioritising eco-friendly materials, renewable energy sources, and sustainable maintenance practices to reduce their carbon footprint and promote a healthier environment.

2010s – Present: The Modern Era

Digital Transformation: The integration of digital technologies has transformed facilities management. Modern tools such as Building Information Modelling (BIM), advanced CAFM systems, and IoT-enabled devices provide real-time data and insights, enhancing decision-making and operational efficiency.
Focus on User Experience: The role of facilities management has expanded to include enhancing the user experience. This includes creating flexible, healthy, and engaging work environments that support employee wellbeing and productivity.

Resilience and Adaptability: Recent global challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, have highlighted the need for resilience and adaptability in facilities management. This includes ensuring the safety and health of occupants, managing remote and hybrid work environments, and being prepared for future disruptions.


Facilities management has evolved from basic maintenance and building services to a complex, strategic discipline integral to organisational success. The profession has grown and adapted over the centuries, with significant advancements in technology, sustainability, and strategic management shaping the modern practice of facilities management today.

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