William Thomson tells Becca Wilson how technology plays a vital role in operating a multi-purpose venue like ADNEC.
Managing an 55,000m2 exhibition centre is not an easy job for a facilities manager and the task becomes considerably harder when you are faced with balancing a fine arts exhibition one week and a sporting exhibition the next.
But for William Thomson, operations manager of all Emcor Facilities Services' Abu Dhabi projects, including the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC), it's part of every day working life.
Thomson and his 15-strong team are responsible for all mechanical and electrical (M&E) work, planned preventative maintenance (PPM) and reactive maintenance for Abu Dhabi's new exhibition centre, ADNEC. He will also manage specialist subcontractors for works like lifts and BMS maintenance.
With phase one of ADNEC complete, the contractor and builder, ETA, is currently assessing when the defect liability period (DLP) will finish. Thomson says he expects it to end in around six to 12 months. In the mean time, him and his team are auditing and supervising ETA while devising their own PPM programme.
Helping Emcor devise its PPM plan is a computer-aided facilities management (CAFM) system, developed by FSI FM Solutions.
"We utilise a CAFM system, FSI's Concept. We've got the assets on board and we're now starting to devise a PPM program based on what's being carried out now. The system allows us to make the necessary changes and prioritise maintenance tasks.
"It also allows us to make a document history of faults and how much they cost so that we can tell the client that in X number of years, a piece of equipment will be costing them more than what it would to replace it. This is just one of the benefits of a CAFM system."
Other benefits include space planning, employee data, safety information, architectural and engineering planning and design, general administration services and telecommunications integration.
Another system to help maintain an efficient operation is the building management system (BMS), installed by Johnson Controls.
"The BMS monitors and controls various critical components. For example, you can alter the air conditioning and change the temperatures in the halls as required.
"We have many different exhibitions going on that require different temperatures, so the BMS is crucial.
"For example, there is a fine art exhibition and there's some very expensive art being exhibited so we have to be really careful with the temperature," explains Thomson.
Other systems, like the fire system, will be linked to the BMS to form a single integrated package. The CAFM system will stay as a standalone.
At the time of writing, Johnson Controls was busy integrating all the systems to create the one platform. It was also in the process of training the Emcor staff on how to use the BMS, so they can operate it once integration is fully complete.
Over the summer period, the BMS has been storing information on energy consumption and costs. Thomson expects the information gathering to continue for a further six to nine months before collating the data to produce trend reports.
"We need to make sure we collect data over both the summer and winter period as they require different needs due to the outside temperature change. It's a balance because the peak loads are during summer with the weather, but the exhibitions are during the winter.
"Six to nine months of data collecting will give us both types of operations," Thomson says.
Once collated, Emcor will report back to ADNEC on where energy savings can be made and costs can be cut. The summer months will allow the FM team to carry out modifications and maintenance to make sure ADNEC is ready for when the exhibitions start again in September.
Another area of technology Thomson hopes to implement is personal digital assistants (PDAs). By implementing PDAs, the FM team will be able to remotely receive jobs and update the job status. The helpdesk or person issuing the job can track the work status and manage the work order to ensure it is done within the given timescale.
The PDA is a great technology tool for any of today's facilities managers. Its wireless capabilities allow technicians to download work orders without having to return to the office and in Dubai's traffic, this will guarantee cost and time savings for companies.
But Thomson says Emcor would have to restrict the use of a PDA to certain management.
"I think PDAs would only work at a certain level, because there is a range of spoken languages and only a certain number of staff who can fluently read English. It would be impossible to give all the workers PDAs. I want to bring them in at supervisor level as most of them have the capability of fluently speaking and reading English."
Thomson has been in Dubai and employed by Emcor for the past six months and within that time has encountered a number of challenges.
"I find the amount of time it takes for things to happen really frustrating, but I'm quickly realising that this is the way it is out here. It's a learning curve for me," he says.
Thomson also explains that he is used to multi-skilled workers who can perform a number of different jobs. However, these people are getting more and more difficult to employ.
"Maintaining the level of staff skills is hard because the resource is becoming more and more difficult to hold on to. Getting the right people with the right skills level is a challenge. Most people here are only single-skilled, this causes problems," he explains.
FMs coming from a more established FM arena in places like the UK, for example, can find the move to the Middle East a two-pronged approach.
While Thomson's frustrations are some many ex-patriot FMs express concern over, there is also the chance for people coming from established FM markets to bring their wealth of knowledge and experience with them to educate the sector in the Middle East.
For example, Thomson often uses his knowledge and experience to overcome operational challenges. "Even though the design of the building is stunning, sometimes I've found that there are access problems. We'll talk with ADNEC and discuss the options, but I won't do anything unless it is a safe option. For example, instead of the FM guys using ladders to access things, we have implemented mobile lifts and scissor jacks."
Open and honest discussion with ADNEC is one part of the job Thomson really enjoys. "We've got a great relationship with ADNEC that allows us to bring ideas to the table. It's their choice whether or not they take them on board. The problems we have experienced in phase one are ones that can be avoided in phase two. Hopefully we'll be involved earlier so we can help iron these problems out."
The current contract with ADNEC is worth around US $545,000 (AED 2m) a year.
"At the moment, I could suggest that the contract is open-ended. We're in continuous dialogue with ADNEC and as far as I'm aware, we'll be heavily involved in the second phase," says Thomson.