The economic downturn has resulted in civil contractors and real-estate developers entering the MEP services sector, while MEP service providers are increasingly looking at facilities management to sustain them through the lean times. We take a closer look at some of the latest developments in the FM industry and what this bodes for MEP.
Mike McGeever, managing director of Transguard, which recently acquired MEP contractor MACAir, says there is a natural dichotomy between contracting and maintenance that the MEP industry, in particular, can take advantage of. "MEP maintenance and FM are two sides of the same coin: I think MEP maintenance is a sub-set of FM. I do not think you can be an FM company if you are not able to provide the full package. What we are doing is making ourselves a supplier of choice to enable customers to sit down and negotiate with us for all sorts of activities.
"Many MEP companies have aspired, and some have managed to become, FM companies, particularly in Europe. Similarly, single trick ponies - catering and cleaning companies - have also moved up the value chain to FM. I think MEP is just another example," says McGeever. He is careful to add that this does not mean a compromise on quality. "I do not think we are in a business of compromising on quality. I do not think you can, particularly with MEP, as health and safety issues are wrapped around it. Very often, particularly with MEP, security issues are also wrapped around it, so I do not think we can cut corners. Short-termism is inimical to long-term quality in both FM and MEP."
Atkins design director for building services Keith Hill comments that one way that MEP and FM can exploit the natural synergies between the two sectors is to look at implementing a scheme similar to the Soft Landings programme of the Building Services Research and Information Association (BSRIA) and the Usable Buildings Trust of the UK. Soft Landings aims to provide the necessary structure for project teams to stay engaged after practical completion of a project, working with the client during the first months of operation to fine-tune and debug systems, and ensure the occupiers understand how to control and optimally utilise their new work environment.
Interestingly, the Soft Landings process is designed to extend up to three years post-completion, with a framework that includes procedures and example checklists, which act as signposts for design teams to help end-users get to grips with their often unfamiliar and complex buildings. In addition, it allows for a full programme of post-occupancy evaluation that the project team can use to improve a building's performance and make it sustainable over the long-term.
"Systematic post-occupancy evaluation is widely recognised to be a hugely important step in the right direction, but it needs to be linked to a rational methodology for assessing the briefing, design and commissioning stages. This is where Soft Landings comes into its own, closing the loop between design, construction, operation, feedback and into design again. As the name suggests, Soft Landings aims to provide better buildings and a more effective service to the client," explains Bennetts Associates architect and principal Rab Bennetts.
"For too long we have assumed that new buildings will perform exactly as their design teams intend, from day one of occupation. However, we know that few new buildings are truly operationally ready at handover, and we also know that energy consumption is often far higher than anticipated. The Soft Landings framework provides a simple mechanism by which project teams can remain involved after practical completion in order to identify emerging problems, resolve causes of energy wastage and help the occupants gain full control over the building's environmental systems," comments BSRIA project manager Roderic Bunn.
Another opportunity is presented by the US $4 billion worth of stalled projects in the region, argues Langmead Associates (Bahrain) managing director Douglas Langmead. "Halfway through building, it stops, the money gets sucked out of the system, and the whole thing breaks down. You cannot continue to build, and your building is standing out in the desert. What happens if you leave your car out in the desert if you run out of petrol, and then you wind down your windows and lift the hood, and just leave it there and walk away? The battery dies, the tyres go, people eventually come and steal the engine, and you wind up with a rusting shell in the middle of the desert if you do nothing.
"What you have to do is something. You have to manage, operate and maintain stalled projects in exactly the same way as completed projects, whether they are built and unoccupied or half-built and at risk. All the elements of FM that occur in normal, finished projects have to be applied to unfinished projects. There is the same scope of work: things need to be looked after and systems maintained. Buildings will deteriorate very rapidly if not finished off and closed up properly. For example, all the distribution boards will rust and have to be replaced. Pumps will rust and fan coil units fill up with pigeon nests.
"Most stalled buildings in the UAE are in the hands of contractors who have not been paid. They say that they are maintaining these assets, of course, but that translates to leaving a watchman on-site. The risk of having a building sitting like that could mean technical and functional obsolescence in up to five years. We are talking about a dynamic property cycle in an economic environment with broad fluctuations. If you leave a building for up to three years and do not maintain it, then that is up to five years of pure rental income gone," warns Langmead.
A strong move towards promoting the lifecycle efficiency of the region's building stock was the official inauguration of the Middle East Facility Management Association (MEFMA) at the recent FM Expo 2010. Chairman Mick Dalton says it is critical for the FM industry to encompass the construction cycle in its entirety: "MEFMA aims to promulgate regional standards, and it will do this by seeking input from all sectors, including design and MEP. The critical question is: how can all the sectors contribute to optimal maintenance and extending the lifecycle of a building? The average life expectancy of a building in the Gulf is around 30 years. We need to push it to 40 to 50 years."
One of the initiatives in this regard is a mooted push from federal government to regulate the MEP industry, says Dalton. "There is talk at federal level of regulating MEP, cleaners and other trades. This is a good thing, but it is going to take a long time, and will not happen overnight. It is in our best interests not to employ the cleaner to do the BMS, or have the security guard as the MEP guy. We have to start doing things properly, which is where the challenge lies in regulating the FM industry."
Marwan bin Ghalita, the CEO of RERA, under whose auspices MEFMA resides, was also present at the association's launch. He admits that RERA came to the FM party quite late, when everyone was cash-flush and taking quick decisions and actions based on a buoyant market, often resulting in a total disconnect between service pricing and quality. "There are three issues in this regard that are raised repeatedly: transparency, sustainability and cost. Dubai is lucky to have experienced FM players that will allow it to leapfrog ahead of other countries."
However, this means that FM's importance in the entire design-and-build process will have to be ratcheted up a few notches. "This is what we are doing as a regulator. We are enforcing laws and regulations for any developer who will come to Dubai today, or some even with a project that did not start, to consider the FM homework before they even start marketing or selling the project. So things will be happening gradually as we introduce these laws. We do not want to stop development; we want to correct any deficiencies there may be in sustainability."
Jamal Lootah, president of MEFMA and CEO of Imdaad, says simply: "We have the highest tower in Dubai, the Burj Khalifa, which means we have to have the best FM, in line with Sheikh Mohammed's injunction for Dubai to be number one. MEFMA is the outcome of two years of hard work, encompassing not only the FM industry but government and ancillary sectors like MEP as well. We now have a big responsibility not only towards Dubai, but the entire Middle East, to introduce uniform standards. This will be a long journey, and will need support from all the stakeholders in order to make it succeed."For all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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