Participants in Progress

fmME talks with experts in Qatar's FM industry

ANALYSIS, Facilities Management, Fm industry

fmme talks with experts in Qatar’s FM industry to learn about the sector’s involvement in the projects being planned in the country in the run-up to World Cup 2022 and National Vision 2030

With Qatar set to invest up to $200bn in construction projects in the run-up to its hosting of the FIFA World Cup in 2022 as well as its National Vision 2030, there’s little doubt that now is a good time to be a part of the country’s construction market.

But while there’s a lot of talk today on the dollars and designs for all the new projects being announced, leading experts from Qatar’s FM industry are saying that it is important that their sector’s input be also taken into consideration when planning and designing these new developments.

“The role of FM in any country has increased in importance over the last few decades, and the rapid growth and investment Qatar will see in the run-up to the World Cup will see the demand for quality service delivery companies expand,” says Tony Hampson, general manager, OCS Qatar.

“We must, as an industry, ensure that we are involved in the process of design and build from a very early stage, since as organizations start to consider building lifecycle costs, the role of FM starts to play a far larger part,” Hampson says.

Much like its neighbours in the rest of the Middle East, Qatar’s FM industry is a relatively young one, when compared to the more developed markets present in Europe and North America. But even so, the sector has seen much growth in the past few years, says Imad Al-Khoury, managing director – Middle East, SNC Lavalin O&M.

“The FM sector in Qatar has come a long way since we first launched our operations here in 2006,” Al-Khoury says.

“Slowly but surely, we have witnessed much growth in the past eight years. Our main business is from real estate developers and the government sector, and their awareness about FM has definitely increased, with the concept of outsourcing FM to specialist providers now getting wider acceptance.”

According to Youssef Abillama, CEO, Maintenance Management Group (MMG), this increased awareness about FM, combined with the upswing in Qatar’s construction market, means that the country’s FM sector is poised for major growth in the next few years.

“Qatar is smaller than the more experienced UAE market, but it is catching up because of the boom in its construction sector,” Abillama says. “The FM industry in Qatar is driven by major events and is very connections-based, so it is somewhat less open than the UAE. However, I think that growth rates in Qatar over the next few years will be higher than the Gulf average.”

Scott Bethel, general manager, Transfield Mannai, agrees with Abillama’s assessment of the Qatari FM market. “The FM sector in Qatar is a competitive environment with new FM companies regularly entering the market,” Bethel says. “The market is essentially in the early stages of development with a great variance in capabilities, skill level and experience of the various providers in the market.”

But Bethel also notes that Qatar is home also to FM companies who have been in the country for a while, and they can especially contribute a lot to the discussions on the country’s upcoming projects. “There have been many lessons learnt over time,” he explains. “And this knowledge can be used to assist in the design or redesign of both existing and future facilities.”

However, this doesn’t mean that Qatar’s FM professionals should wait around to be invited to participate in the conversations about these new developments—according to Hampson, the sector needs to assert itself and make sure its voice is heard by the decision makers in the construction industry.

Hampson says: “The FM industry needs to show its willingness and capability to influence designers and the people commissioning buildings to consider the impact early decisions have on how the building is run, its costs and long term usage.”

“Qatar has a sustained growth program that will require a similar growth in the FM companies required to manage these new assets, and also ensure that they are maintained to the maximum designed performance,” he adds.

Aligning themselves with good partners in Qatar is a good way for FM companies to do just that, he adds, putting forward OCS as an example for the same. “As a company with a strong Qatar partner in Tadmur, we look to work with the whole group’s capabilities from design, to build, to fit out, and finally, FM delivery, and thereby offer a seamless, joined-up approach,” he says.

Given their knowledge about life-cycle costing, Bethel adds that FM companies and professionals who want to be taken more seriously by clients can also make a financial case for why they need to be involved in the design phase of Qatar’s new projects.

“The key to creating a successful long term sustainable facility comes from involving all stakeholders—owners, developers, architects, engineers, constructors and facilities management providers—from the very outset of the project,” Bethel says.

“It is widely understood that approximately 80% of the life cycle costs of a facility is in the operation and maintenance, and approximately 20% in the design and construction,” he explains.

“When you apply that theory to simple items such as light bulbs—say, the type of bulb, the lifespan, and electricity usage over a 30 to 50 year timeframe as an example—it can result in saving millions for the owner, as well as help in reducing the carbon footprint.”

Al-Khoury concurs with Bethel’s opinion, saying, “We would love to be involved in the design phase of any asset, because our input would definitely have a dramatic value on the actual operations and maintenance of the asset once it is built.”

“Currently in Qatar, the concentration is on the infrastructure works, which are in line with not just for World Cup 2022, but also with the Qatar National Vision 2030,” Al-Khoury says. “Eventually, when the infrastructure work is complete, that is when our services will start being in demand.”

“They are building roads, metros, metro stations, stadiums, sports facilities, etc., and they will need someone to maintain them,” he continues. “So I see growth definitely coming soon, because after the infrastructure and construction phase comes the services stage, which is where we excel. But we need to be involved on the design phase in order to have optimal results in the lifecycle of the property.”

Abillama notes that while Qatar’s FM sector is definitely headed for growth, the industry should also be wary of hurdles to overcome along the way.

“One of the major challenges we are facing in Qatar is recruitment, be it top executives or labourers,” Abillama says. “There are difficulties in securing visas for the labourers, and the NOC rules make it hard to appoint someone already working in the country at executive levels. We therefore have to bring in talent from overseas, which is costly, and they also take time to become familiar with the Qatar market.”

“Another issue is Qatar’s very high carbon footprint,” he adds. “Energy costs are extremely low, and so there has been very little incentive for a green policy.” Abillama adds that MMG, for its part, has been very active in promoting the use of environmentally friendly FM solutions in Qatar.

The company, a member of both the Middle East Facility Management Association (MEFMA) and the Qatar Green Building Council (QGBC), is the chair of the new Facilities Management Interest Group that was set up recently in Qatar. With guidance from both MEFMA and QGBC, the group aims to introduce change in Qatar through self-regulation, with the goal of promoting changes to policy and governance.

There are also signs that clients in Qatar are seeking to involve FM in the early stages of their projects, or are looking for more specialist providers and solutions to take care of their assets. Msheireb Properties, for instance, looked out for total FM provisions at its 31-hectare Downtown Doha (previously called Heart of Doha) development, while leading Qatari telecom provider Ooredoo has also been floating FM tenders to manage all of its sites located in the country.

Al-Khoury also points out that the upcoming FM Expo in May, which will be a stand-alone event as opposed to being a part of The Big 5 as in previous years, is a good sign for the region’s FM industry as a whole.

“We need to start look at the sector by itself,” he says. “And this is what is happening [with the FM Expo], and we are very happy about that. As an industry, we should increase our interactions with clients, marketing, public relations, etc. so as to increase awareness about FM internally in the market.”

These changes happening in the industry can therefore be indicative of the way the FM sector will be perceived in the future, Bethel says.

“With the world focus clearly shifting to sustainable solutions for future development, we will see a more holistic approach to considering the whole lifespan of a facility or development,” Bethel predicts. “This will thereby result in a better overall outcome for the stakeholders as well as the end users, who will ultimately occupy these environments in the long term.”

Hampson adds, “It is imperative that construction, fit-out and FM companies become more aligned, as this offers the end customers a more integrated and cost effective approach to taking a concept from design to realization. Therefore, the FM companies that will succeed and grow are the ones that can translate the customers’ ‘what if’ to the reality of ‘what is.’”

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