Consultants in the Kingdom

The FM sector in Saudi Arabia has significant potential for growth

ANALYSIS, Facilities Management, FM, Fm sector

As the pace of development speeds up in Saudi arabia, the fm sector in the kingdom has significant potential for growth

With a recent report by MEED Insight noting that there are $417bn worth of construction projects lined up in Saudi Arabia’s future, it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out why FM companies are making a beeline for starting their operations in the Kingdom.

The country is, after all, seeing some amazing developments being planned and executed, and FM expertise can play a key role in ensuring that these properties, once built, are operated and maintained effectively and efficiently.
“The FM industry in Saudi Arabia is exciting,” says Linda Engstrom-Condon, associate, consulting, AECOM Middle East. “There is significant potential for growth and development.”

“Many of our clients who are developing large-scale projects are paying more attention to international and regional best practices, and they are also beginning to demand a change in how FM is managed and delivered,” she says.

“Through our consultancy engagements, we have helped to implement that shift,” she adds. “For example, by tendering FM services on an output-based contract, using an integrated service delivery approach.”

But that doesn’t mean that the FM market in Saudi Arabia is an easy one to navigate—on the contrary, FM in the Kingdom remains a challenging prospect, mainly because of a lack of understanding in the market about what FM actually is.

Mick Dalton, AECOM’s senior director for facilities management in Saudi Arabia, notes that while there may seem to be an abundance of FM companies in the country, a closer look at their services and offerings will indicate a different story altogether.

“FM in Saudi Arabia is still emerging, despite there being 120 companies portraying themselves as FM providers,” Dalton says. “Most are manpower supply companies, or simply operations and maintenance contractors.”

According to Barry Clarke, general manager of Qatar and Saudi Arabia at Macro, another FM consultancy with operations in the Kingdom, the FM market in the country has a long way to go in terms of achieving maturity.

“The Saudi Arabia facilities and asset management market has huge potential and some very exciting opportunities,” Clarke says. “However, these need to be maturely handled from the client side and professionally responded to from the industry side.”

“The market still needs to be mature, and thought needs to be given to client education or awareness across a number of areas, including procurement strategies, quality agenda, local talent development and acquisition, identifying what is needed when and how, and then articulating this,” he explains.

“In addition to this, more emphasis needs to be placed on value and quality, as opposed to lowest price wins,” Clarke adds. “The sector will grow and mature to meet demand—it’s just a question of how long that maturing will take.”

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The maturing of the market in Saudi Arabia may be a slow process, but it does seem to be moving in the right direction. An indicator of this can be seen in the growth that UGL Services, DTZ’s FM business in Saudi Arabia, has seen in the past couple of years.

Since 2011, the company has expanded from its central location in Riyadh to both the eastern and western regions of the Kingdom, providing its multinational clients with both IFM and FM consultancy services in a variety of sectors including healthcare, telecom, aviation, education, and retail.

“The FM market in Saudi Arabia still remains immature,” says Richard Naylor, CEO – Saudi Arabia, UGL Services. “However, we have continued to see a growing awareness of facilities management, versus the traditional operational maintenance approach historically found through the Kingdom.”

“Clients are starting to understand and recognise the benefits that FM can bring to the whole life of their assets,” Naylor says. “Ongoing awareness seminars and training, as well as the arrival of international service providers continue to help with this ongoing educational process.”

Naylor also notes that the significant public spending commitments made by the Saudi Arabia government in the healthcare, education, aviation and public transport sectors bodes well for the FM industry as well.

“With this increased level of infrastructure spending, combined with the growing awareness by the clients about the importance of maintaining these assets, we believe there is a strong growth forecast for the Kingdom,” he says.

With this prospect in mind, and given the existing state of the sector in Saudi Arabia, FM organisations like UGL are taking it upon themselves to raise the profile of the work that they do, and at the same time, change the way they interact with their clients.

“Our original business plan set out to target six key sectors,” Naylor explains. “Those chosen sectors were derived from where we have a strong global presence, such as aviation and education and where we could see forecasted growth for the Kingdom.”

But as UGL started to engage with the relevant sector stakeholders, the immaturity of the market quickly became apparent, says Naylor.

“It was at this stage we identified an opportunity to assist and engage with our clients much further ‘upstream,’ in the form of FM consultancy,” he notes. “It wasn’t long before we were providing FM design reviews and developing FM business strategy for a number of those key clients.”

“In many cases, this early engagement with the client’s team has evolved into an opportunity to continue our service delivery through the provision of ongoing IFM services,” Naylor reveals.

A change in the way they do business has been taken up at AECOM as well, according to Engstrom-Condon. “We have gone beyond consultancy,” she says. “We now have senior FM resources seconded to clients to deliver real-time advice on matters, such as setting up FM departments and implementing changes to how FM has been delivered traditionally.”

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“Through the work we have done on the FM consultancy side, we have been able to develop relationships and demonstrate the significant impact good FM can have on an organization,” Engstrom-Condon explains. “We have also delivered integrated consultancy services, where key objectives have been to support Saudization through capability building-exercises and mentoring.”

Macro too is making a concerted effort with respect to the Saudization campaign that is happening in the Kingdom. “We are currently reviewing our Saudi Arabia strategy, and that review will certainly focus on supporting the development and employment of local talent, which will be based on a number of initiatives,” Clarke says.

“We will also be supporting any initiative in educating clients on facilities and asset management best practice,” Clarke adds.

“We already use our consultancy experience and knowledge to do this, however, this is only the tip of the iceberg.”
“A more concerted cross industry approach and alignment is required and this is where trade associations and the government need to engage on a variety of fronts – the key to this will be identifying champions and vehicles to promulgate the message,” he explains.

“Saudi Arabia is probably the only country in the Middle East with the right balance of local labour resources to internally address servicing the market at all levels,” Clarke declares. “The industry needs to act as the catalysis to improve the industry image and awareness, and stimulate the interest and desire for young professionals to join the industry.”

Naylor agrees with Clarke, saying, “Attracting and retaining young Saudi talent into what has been historically seen as an unskilled labour industry remains a challenge to all the FM service providers in the country.”

Naylor adds, “Unfortunately, a large share of the existing market still remains cost driven, and until the clients recognises the value of maintaining their assets during its life cycle, and the benefits of improved customer service, the FM market in Saudi Arabia will remain a challenging environment.”

But Naylor is still optimistic about the industry’s future. “With the help of the good work being done by the present international service providers and organisations such as MEFMA and industry publications, we believe these inaccurate historical perceptions are slowly starting to change,” he says.

According to Dalton, increasing client awareness is key to the success of the FM industry in Saudi Arabia. “If the client understands the impact of FM, both operationally, commercially and strategically, they will invest time and money in getting it right,” he says.

“We have organized events and site visits for our Saudi Arabian clients to other locations in the Middle East, aimed at building an understanding of best practice within the industry,” Dalton says. “But this can’t happen unless clients are in tune with the real value that FM can bring, and that is another challenge that we face as an industry in the Kingdom.”

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