Smart thinking

New FM consultancy firm, Smart Life, aims to put Kuwait in the FM spotlight.

ANALYSIS, Facilities Management

New FM consultancy firm, Smart Life, aims to put Kuwait in the FM spotlight.

Back in late 2006, Fahad Jafar, managing director of STS (Strategic Technologies & Solutions), revealed his plans to launch a facilities management company.

Use the financial benefits of FM to engage the developers and building owners.

Just six months later, Smart Life Managed Services has been launched under the STS arm and is already involved in the high-profile Asian Olympic Complex Project in Kuwait, which includes the Olympic Council of Asia HQ.

Smart Life will provide services such as data and voice communications, pest control, access control and maintenance support to the 254,650m2 area.

Even though the UAE is currently leading the way in facilities management, other parts of the Middle East are starting to experience and actively promote growth, with companies from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain exhibiting at this year's FM Expo.

Why fm?

Kuwaiti national, Jafar, first took an interest in facilities management in 2004 when he finished his role as assistant under secretary for IT at the Ministry of Interior in Kuwait. During his time he was heavily involved in sourcing technological advancements for the ministry, to help meet the demands of the public.

"What I learnt at the ministry was that using technology to service people on a large scale is more like an art. It's not just following a technical approach to things. You have to think about the demands from the public, handle all the logistics, the politics and the attitude management. It's a difficult task," he explains.

Jafar believes this way of thinking and the knowledge he gained from the ministry has helped him to conceptualise what he calls, a smart life work programme.

"When I moved to the private sector, I looked around and saw there was a huge boom throughout the region in real estate development. Then I started reading that developers wanted smart cities and buildings - smart everything. That's when we decided to create the smart life work programme," he explains.

The programme is handled in 12 phases and covers everything from the initial design to benchmarking, construction management to project operation.

"It is designed to keep pace with the ever-changing real estate industry.

"We also make sure the programme speaks the language of the real estate owners and developers. With tenants now being more demanding, developers don't have a choice but to stay ahead of the game," states Jafar.

Dealing with demand

And it's here, with the developers and building owners, where Jafar sees the facilities management market suffering. He thinks that even though some of the big players such as Emaar have embraced facilities management, many developers, contractors and building owners still need educating.

"The facilities management market is in an advanced and challenging state in Dubai. Until now, the movers and shakers of the real estate market in the Middle East have had the desire to speak the modern language, but in reality their financial and business plans have not been paying any attention to facilities management," says Jafar.

If developers, contractors and building owners are to exploit new market opportunities and distinguish themselves from others, high-class customer service and delivery is key. Technological advancements can play a part in helping companies reach and retain that number one spot. Jafar explains that another difficulty the region faces is the number of mixed-use buildings.

"Mixed-use buildings are difficult to maintain due to the separate entities having different sets of requirements. It gets more complicated when one of the components is a hotel and you have an operator that doesn't want any interference. Even if it is for its own good, sometimes operators don't want to listen and it becomes more challenging."

The reason hotels don't want interference is due to their strict and controlled benchmarking. It is far easier for a hotel to keep services such as cleaning in-house so they can train and develop their own staff to deliver the highest level of customer service.

Mixed-use developments with a variation of tenants and multiple owners can lead to a complex decision making process. Jafar believes the way to get developers and building owners engaged is to show them the financial benefits to facilities management.

"We, as facilities management professionals, need to allocate resources to educate and make them aware of FM. My advice would be for the facilities management industry to show the developers the cost benefits and demonstrate how FM can contribute to revenue. It's all about money."

He thinks that showcasing financially successful projects which have benefited from facilities management being involved at the design stage, will be the driving force behind buy-in.

"Europe is more focused on the financial benefits, that's the bait that will drive the movers and shakers. They are the people who can make things happen. Money moves everything, especially in real estate," he adds.

While promoting the cost-saving benefits - Jafar says this should not always be applied to the workforce.

While cheap labour may enable companies to operate more cost effectively, the demand for quality constructed and efficiently run buildings is increasing.

"FM is based on people, on competencies. It's a customer service delivery. FM companies have a responsibility and they must pay attention to HR. Finding good people is very hard and this is a problem everybody is facing. Companies should make sure that some of the profits are reinvested into the people," he concludes.

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