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FM in Saudi Arabia: Fit for a king

Building growth provides huge potential for FM sector in KSA

Saudi developers are thinking about the whole life cycle of built assets.
Saudi developers are thinking about the whole life cycle of built assets.

As the pace of development speeds up in Saudi Arabia, the FM sector has potential for growth to keep its building stock in prime condition.

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 facilities management (FM) companies are all hurrying to start 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, a provider of consultancy services in asset and facilities management across the 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.

Aecom’s Mick Dalton, who leads the FM practice for one of the company’s important clients in the Kingdom, notes that while there may seem to be an abundance of FM companies in the country, a closer look at their services 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/awareness across a number of areas, including procurement strategies, quality agenda, local talent development and acquisition, identifying what is needed 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.”

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 expansion that UGL Services, DTZ’s FM business in Saudi Arabia, has seen in the past few years.

Since 2011, the company has grown from its central location in Riyadh to both the eastern and western regions of the Kingdom, proving 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, Saudi Arabia CEO for 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, continues to help with this ongoing educational process.”

Naylor also notes that the significant public spending commitments made by Saudi Arabia’s 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.

“Once we started to engage with the relevant sector stakeholders, the immaturity of the market quickly became apparent,” he says. “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.

“It wasn’t long before we were providing FM design reviews and developing FM business strategy for a number of those key clients,” Naylor says. “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.”

A change in the way they do business was 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.”

“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 organisation,” she explains. “We have also delivered integrated consultancy services, where key objectives have been to support Saudisation through capability building-exercises and mentoring.”

Macro, too, is making a concerted effort with respect to the Saudisation campaign underway in the Kingdom. “We are currently reviewing our Saudi Arabia strategy, and that review will 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,” he 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 says. “The industry needs to act as the catalyst to improve its image and awareness, and stimulate the interest and desire for young professionals to join.”

Naylor agrees with Clarke, adding: “Unfortunately, a large share of the existing market still remains cost-driven, and until clients recognise the value of maintaining their assets during the life cycle, as well as the benefits of improved customer service, the FM market in Saudi Arabia will always remain a challenging environment.”

He adds: “Attracting and retaining young Saudi talent into what has been historically seen as an unskilled labour industry remains a challenge to all service providers. However, with the help of the good work being done by present international service providers and organisations such as MEFMA and industry publications, we believe these inaccurate historical perceptions are slowly starting to change.”

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 organised 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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