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Tue 29 Jul 2008 04:00 AM

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Wave of the future

Tomas Gulisek, principal for Burt Hill, on the firm's entrance into the FM market and the next wave in Dubai.

Tomas Gulisek, principal and lead architectural designer for Burt Hill, speaks to FM Middle East's Jeff Roberts on when FMs should get involved in the design process, Burt Hill's entrance into the FM market and the next wave in Dubai.

Facilities management is many things to many people, what is it to you?

As architects, we are touched by many different disciplines and FM is one of them. I often compare architects to movie directors because, like movie directors, we are involved in several different trades and we have to be familiar with a little bit of everything.

If you have design architects or project managers overseeing FM, it isn't natural. They'll often oversee FM as a side task during the project. It's not really the best way to do it.

Like everything else in Dubai, it goes in waves. First there is a huge demand on a certain task, and once it’s completed, there is a shortfall...I believe FM will be the next big wave in Dubai.

I've always been quite intrigued by FM because I've always like to work with complex databases. Back in the States, I worked with several people that were involved in helping the client build databases from technical drawings and other information that was provided by different consultants.

I first got involved in facilities management because during the design process, architects get involved a bit but it's not in a hands-on experience. However, Burt Hill is beginning to provide an add-on service in which we provide a lot of technical information to our clients and get involved a bit more in FM.

We will be providing MEP, structural, architectural and interior design solutions. Basically we're specifying all of the elements of the building. We are, obviously, quite closely involved in commissioning and construction administration too.

We are used to collating and storing all of this information on all our projects anyway, so it's very natural for us to move into an FM role. Right now we're working on constructing a massive database that will include all of this information in great detail.

These libraries of information are even more valuable today because we're dealing with sophisticated software packages where all the information is stored in virtual models. Are there projects in the region in which Burt Hill is acting as the primary FM?

In the UAE, we haven't yet tapped into the FM market. It's one of the things that we've done a lot of through our US office, where we did a lot of FM work for healthcare clients. We would be very interested in getting into the industry in this market too. It's on our radar.I'm not saying we'll get into it instantly because a lot of our product is just now in the building stage and FM, by nature, is a by-product of finished projects. Right now, we don't have any contracted FM work yet. It's a little bit further in the future.

Is it feasible to think that Burt Hill will eventually offer full-scale FM services in this region?

Just a few weeks ago, we were having quite an interesting charrette in our US office in which we were looking at the scale of Burt Hill services for the future. FM was definitely one of the services that was highlighted and something that will be targeted.

Realistically, we're looking at between one and four years to move into that sector in this region. There are other considerations and other items on the list but FM was one of them that we're keeping a close eye on.

Given that FM is a massive field that includes a huge range of services and disciplines, in your opinion, how early does an FM need to be involved in the design process?

Realistically, based on my experience, the FM group is involved quite late. I'm seeing the same thing on almost all of our projects in the Middle East as well. Ideally, we'd like to get them on board as soon as the concept design is approved so when we're moving into schematic design and detailed design phase, these guys should be on board.

There is a lot of decision-making and value engineering is happening without their input and that, in particular, is when FMs can really help the project in the long run.

But, as you know, a lot of the decision-making here is not long-term. I was stunned when we started designing big projects and I realised that, even in Western markets, a lot of the planning extends 10, maybe 20, years, which is not a very long time when you consider a building's entire life-cycle.

It's clear that the industry is not always looking at sustainable solutions. If you ask me, the FM should be involved right after concept design.

What are the pitfalls of not having FMs involved early?

I'll give you a good example of the same. What happens when your hotel operator gets involved too late in the process? If they're not involved in the process, as an architect, you're basically producing your product in a vacuum.

If an FM isn't involved, the rest of the team starts making generic decisions that will work in terms of operation, but may not be the best for the overall future of the project.Many times we hear that certain activities will not be affected because of the cheap labour in this market. Is that always going to be the case? Will we always be able to afford certain things being done really cheaply? I don't think so.

I've been through some very large facilities in the UAE where the back of the building was poorly designed or misled in design and when the FM group came on board, they almost turned their back on the project because they wouldn't be able to make a profit on it. It simply wasn't a viable project.

That can be quite scary because, at the end of the day, success or failure of a project comes down to return on investment (ROI). That's why investors invest in these projects and it's also why developers build them.

Which companies does Burt Hill usually contract for FM services?

We usually use a very selective process but in this market, that type of contracting is done at the client level. We can help them with RFIs or RFPs but we're not closely involved in selection of FMs for the projects we build.

Is that standard practice in the industry?

As far as I understand it, that type of contracting is usually done on the client level. When we have been involved in facilitating certain tasks in overseas projects, we were closely involved. In this market, on the other hand, I've not had a chance to experience that.

Burt Hill has been in the Middle East for the past decade but personally, I've been here for four years, so most of my projects are just being built right now.

In this region, there are so many projects that have been in the design stage for years and years, but now, they're finally being built. Do you think we're on the cusp of an FM boom?

It's interesting. Like everything else in Dubai, it goes in waves. First there is a huge demand on a certain task, and once it's completed, there is a shortfall on what will be the next task or contracted service. I believe FM will be the next big wave in Dubai.

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