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Sat 26 May 2007 12:00 AM

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Services: get in early to avoid disappointment

Facilities Management remains a fledgling concept in the regional construction industry. But, as Christopher Sell reports, efforts to champion its cause from the early stages of a construction project have led to some major deals being signed in the UAE.

Facilities Management is an often over-looked aspect of the construction industry, incorporating a diverse range of specialities from lighting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, technology and access, and control, to list just a few. All of these and more are faculties which are imperative for a modern building to function properly on a daily basis.

The overriding perception is that FM can be considered once the supposedly more important aspects of the process - design and construction - have been completed. But there is a growing school of thought that FM companies should be involved at an earlier stage of the overall process; the theory being that a coordinated and measured approach to the build will be advantageous in the long term.

To align the construction sector to international standards, it is imperative that professional FM companies are involved in the project at an earlier stage. - Mick Dalton, senior director asset management, Emaar

Yet the sector is being stifled by a lack of recognition from the wider industry. Certainly, its has a wide remit, but a lack of definition is not as much to blame as the rest of the industry's unwillingness to understand its relevance. Mick Dalton, senior director - asset management, Emaar, explains: "Facilities Management is still not understood or appreciated properly, and is often the last to be consulted. To align the construction sector to international standards, it is imperative that professional FM companies are involved in the project at an earlier stage."

This doesn't happen at the moment, he adds, as it doesn't translate on the ground, mostly due to poor understanding of the concept of FM, poor communication between various partners involved in the construction and lack of engagement.

Paul Anson, director, Operon Middle East, agrees: "The problem is that FM is such a diverse industry. If you lined up 50 contractors or developers, they would all come up with a different interpretation [of FM]. They really don't understand that true FM is about international benchmarks of delivery, economies of scale, response times, service level agreements and key performance indicators."

Yet, slowly, Anson believes there is a move towards understanding what FM offers and this shift in thinking is down to a change in the property market over the last few years, with a greater emphasis on ownership, which brings with it higher demands. "I think the freehold movement has probably accelerated the recognition of FM. Because when people are buying properties, it is a different scenario. When you have an owner simply renting the villa, it is different to when you have freehold ownership, where owners demand better quality of services on their developments.

"The large scale investors that are buying these developments are becoming a lot more savvy, they are actually looking into the life cycle of the building and the costs required to maintain it," he adds.

Having an FM company on board wouldn't just alleviate problems further down the line, it would have financial ramifications as well as produce a better product. "The advantages of having on board an FM company are better feedback on design, improved quality, considerable reduction in costs and better customer satisfaction," says Dalton.

This approach has seen Operon set up a joint venture with RAK Properties to create a new FM company. The company will look after all the FM services for RAK Properties' developments, which are worth US $7.6 billion (AED27.9 billion). Alistair Burns, chief operating officer, RAK Properties, says: "RAK Properties identified that we wanted to set up an FM company. We also identified that we wanted to do it with a joint venture approach with an existing, experienced FM company."

The first contract for the joint venture will be the Mina Al Arab in Ras Al Khaimah. The contract, which will see the new company provide full FM services to the development, and will last around 15 years, is worth $272 million. The development, which will feature 10 hotels and 9,500 dwellings, runs for 4km of beachfront and is 6km2.

Anson explains that this joint venture will benefit the project in a myriad of ways: "For example, we have been involved in the use of irrigation. We have waste water coming from domestic waste into the sewage treatment plant, which is then turned into grey water, which is pumped out and used for irrigation." This will enable the development to save millions of dollars over the years, and if the company hadn't been involved at the early stages, Anson adds, the chances are that this opportunity would have been missed.

Additionally, the company has done an audit on where security guards or watchmen will be placed in the development. Anson explains that operating as a joint venture means they are privy to the developer's ear, and act almost as an in-house company. This meant that the company was able to offer input and suggest re-designs to various aspects, including changing double doors to single doors and eliminating multiple entries into areas, and swipe access cards for residents. "It doesn't sound a lot, but you go from 140 (security guards) down to 60. You are saving the salaries of 80 guys and that adds up over 20 years," he says.

But this joint venture is just one example; there is evidence that those operating in the region are still ignorant of FM and what it offers. This was illustrated recently, Anson says, when he paid a visit to one of Doha's new museums currently under construction. "The building is about to receive artefacts in time to open to the public and they haven't even thought about FM. And this is a multi-million dollar iconic Islamic museum, its incredible - they just haven't thought about it." This is in direct contrast to the set-up in the UK, for example, where contracts are termed at five years in length with the option to renew and in many cases are positioned at 20-25 years in length. It is a struggle for potential clients to understand a five-year contractual commitment because it isn't often in their mindset.

"A number of developers are changing but it is a hostile move as they are not used to it. You have the hurdle of developers recognising that FM does in fact play a part in operating and maintaining the building and then you are saying, get them involved at the design stage also - this will take time," Anson explains.

What is clear is that for any significant change to take place within the industry, education is paramount. Only once this has happened may you see architects and developers incorporate FM input from the outset - or at least be more aware of this tranche of the industry. Dalton is effusive that a professional FM approach is imperative for any project and must include all aspects of construction, including the exteriors, entrances, deliveries and floor layout.

But ultimately, things within the FM industry will only change if those directly involved demonstrate a willingness themselves to push the agenda. Anson concludes: "FM companies, whether new or established have to recognise they have a responsibility to educate the market, and that requires them to be proactive rather than reactive."

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