By Jonas Ramos
With the FM big boys continually suggesting the industry can learn from India, Dilip Khatwani of Reliance FM tells FM Middle East yet another example to support this declaration.
Three years ago this month, six people sat around a table in an office in Dubai debating the future of the FM industry in the Middle East and asked "how can we ignite this?"
Discussion angled towards growth, knowledge sharing, research, the formation of an IFMA (International Facility Management Association) chapter and how a common platform could be reached to enable all these things.
Among the six and leading the way was Dilip Khatwani, chief executive of Reliance FM. Having seen the IFMA chapter transition in the South Asia region, Khatwani was and still is, determined to see the UAE and eventually the Middle East, go through the same process.
Why? Because he believes any industry growth happens with knowledge sharing and there should be a common platform where industry people can share experiences and knowledge. That platform could be FMBG and further IFMA which is resource and knowledge rich.
"I think the focus of IFMA or any other association/knowledge sharing group, is important to grow any industry, wherever you are. That's what we saw in the Indian FM market.
"As soon as it was formed, you saw a huge knowledge and understanding about the industry, people started learning faster and faster," explained Khatwani.
Being a member of IFMA since 2001, Khatwani had contacts within the organization and began his mission by speaking to the president of the association.
"I was in touch with the president of IFMA and we knew we had to spread the message fast. We started speaking to other like-minded people and sending mailers, informing them of the meetings and what we planned to do," he said.
If you thought it was difficult telling people about FM now, think about how much time and effort went into explaining it three years ago.
It certainly wasn't an easy process for Khatwani and his five fellow associates, but they managed to secure more members by mid 2004.
"Originally we were six members in the UAE and by June, we were able to pull in another 40 paid IFMA members."
The meetings took place on a regular basis and gradually generated more and more interest in the industry. However, in order for the Chapter to be formed the group needed to seek approval from the Government.
"We needed to have a minimum number of locals and decide whether the association should be registered as a company or a non-profit organization," explained Khatwani.
The year 2005 saw the beginning of this process but due to restrictions, time pressures and people's general unawareness of the FM sector, the group came up against a barrier.
Today, the group has seen the support and backing of many other industry figures. The launch of the first dedicated FM exhibition, FM Expo, in June 2006 helped to raise the profile of the industry and gain more awareness around the region.
Khatwani says "I think the FM Expo has definitely given the FM industry as a whole a bigger platform. It has showcased the FM business as being a good one to get into. It has been a good start to further enhancing the FM industry perception in the market."
Following the Expo, the FMBG (Facilities Management Business Group) was launched as a way of encouraging networking within the industry and increase awareness and commitment to the formation of an IFMA chapter.
"I think it's an industry which is happening," says Khatwani. "They (the organisers of the FM Expo and FMBG) might be coordinating this whole process but there are various FM companies and client FM depts. a huge mixture of people driving it."
Khatwani says there are no restrictions for people who want to come along and see what the meetings are all about. "It's absolutely open house, anybody can come and attend."
He sees the formation of a chapter as a big, positive step in the right direction for the industry. Khatwani explains that once it has been formed, it will open up endless opportunities for professionals in the Middle East to share knowledge and help build a successful and mature FM industry in the region.
Away from his interests in IFMA, Khatwani sees a positive and prosperous start to 2007 for Reliance FM.
"We don't want to limit our presence just in Dubai; although it's big and booming everyone should look at the long term. Along the process of developing and growing we ventured into other areas of the Middle East, we have couple of projects in Qatar and recently we have got a project in Kuwait. We're hoping to have more in Kuwait," says Khatwani.
Another market the company wants to tap into is Saudi Arabia. "I think it's the biggest market that hasn't really been touched. Industrial FM is a good field to get into"
"I think 2007 is going to be a big year for FM in the Middle East. It's a good idea for companies to start getting ready."
Khatwani adds "I see a big year for us (Reliance FM) in terms of getting more key projects - we see huge growth ahead of us."
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Bachelors degree in Marine Engineering and 20 years experience in the service industry, from merchant vessels to hospitals and hotels, to real estate and facility management industry in Asia and Middle East.
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