A good head start

By the close of the first quarter of 2015, Cofely Besix Facility Management has managed to clinch two critical contracts, each a first for the company in the region. Ian Harfield, CEO of CBFM, delves into the success story.

Ian Harfield, CEO of CBFM.
Ian Harfield, CEO of CBFM.

Following an incredibly successful 2014 year that included the acquisition of several notable contracts, Cofely Besix Facility Management’s (CBFM) business is well poised for continued success. In fact, with a key project win such as the three-year contract to manage Aldar’s HQ building in Abu Dhabi, as well entering into an agreement with Emirates Airlines to maintain its flight simulator building, one might say a downshift in momentum is called for.

But for the FM company that has for the last five years sustained between 20 to 30% year-on-year growth, as well as a business turnover of approximately $54.4mn (AED 200mn), the first quarter of 2015 is already picking up pace.
“The fantastic thing about the Middle East is that you’ve got the sheer volume of new projects coming in all the time…The differentiator for us is that we’ve been quite aggressive in the way we’ve been able to push it year-on-year,” shares Ian Harfield, CEO of CBFM.

Landing at the start of the 2015 year, CBFM achieved a company first after it was awarded its first regional data centre maintenance contract with Gulf Data Hub (GDH). Set for an initial period of 12 months, the contract will oversee the delivery of FM services across the 1.4 hectares of built up area on the 6.5 hectare site.

Consisting primarily of mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP), and technical maintenance, the contract will also include soft services such as cleaning, pest control and landscaping. A CBFM team of technicians, electricians and HVAC specialists will remain onsite to ensure the continuous operation of the facility without interruption.

“When you have a data centre, the critical thing is the environment in which all the processes and storage are kept. If the cooling systems for the building fail, then they lose everything,” explains Harfield on the importance of a maintaining a permanent presence.

Consisting of two buildings, the LEED certified data centre houses two separate MEP plants within both structures, each capable of generating 48-hours of backup power. In terms of the data storage, the power density delivered is roughly 1.2kW per square meter with the infrastructure delivering up to 30kW per rack.

Based in Silicon Oasis in Dubai, the facility will be run by CBFM’s Christophe Van Hamme and managed by operations manager, Bart Holsters. The two bring with them a wealth of experience managing data centres for Cofely in Belgium.

While limited to a single year, CBFM’s CEO calls the GDH contract an “interesting venture”, adding that the locally supported data management company has much potential to grow.

He asserts the brand aims to capitalise on a segment of the market that is, comparatively speaking, significantly smaller compared to the number of data centres currently in operation in Europe and the US.

Traditionally in the Middle East, the primary inhibitor for growth has been the poor quality of facilities. Previous technologies, such as storage tapes and compact discs, proved to be unreliable as they would either expire quickly or damage quite easily.

Now with improved technologies that ensure the safety of stored data, which includes everything from the ease-of-access of cloud, to climate control systems in storage facilities, biometric security and even back power systems, the risks of data centres is at a minimum.

Additionally, the advent of ‘Big Data’, as well as the increasing number of business and consumer applications, as well as the ease-of-access of cloud, the value of data storage and management facilities is more paramount than ever.

It an area that GDH hopes to continue expanding within, and one where CBFM aims to apply its services and play a role in facilitating.

“It is an entity that is setting up data centres across the region. And the key thing for them as a client is that they want somebody that mirrors their need for their systems to be working all the time,” explains the UK-born executive.
While certainly a significant addition to the company’s regional portfolio, the GDH contact is not the only major contract win for CBFM so far in 2015. Announced in the first half of March, CBFM achieved another company first in the Middle East after it was awarded a three-year port contract by Abu Dhabi Ports to manage the Khalifa Industrial Zone (KIZAD).

CBFM has been tasked to handle the day-to-day operation and maintenance of Khalifa Port’s trade and logistics hub, overseeing the site’s storm and ground water pumping stations, as well as its sea inlet/outlet facilities.

Commenting on the operation, Harfield explains: “The contract had to be mobilised in a relatively short period of the award to get the key operations in place and started.

Further supporting staff were then migrated across to support the maintenance duties to reach the full complement of staff to cover the day to day operations and maintenance of all the stations and facilities.”

Under the service contract, CBFM will coordinate with the local port authorities to oversee the sea water cooling system. A four-man team of divers and a supervisor will be stationed onsite to carry out daily underwater inspections and cleaning.

More than simply a pair of feathers in the cap, the addition of both the data centre maintenance and port contracts add a level of technical credibility to CBFM’s presence in the region. Hoping to position itself as a brand of, “high technical competence”, CBFM’s strategy is one devoted to carving out a niche within the Middle East’s FM market.

“We can demonstrate in a critical environment, we do perform, we can perform, and these are the list of customers that have critical environments of which we are supporting them in. This is part of our strategic view, moving forward. To move away from generalFM,” shares Harfield.

Adding to that point, he explains that the FM industry is quickly becoming more segmented, as it continues to mature. As a result, FM providers are lining up their services to tackle specific market focuses—the residential sector, commercial, and then industry and infrastructure.

Within the residential market, a segment driven heavily by cost over quality, home owner associations compromise on quality FM service in order to keep service charges low. It becomes a balancing act of weeding out what is optional versus a must have, while keeping residents happy.

Similarly, FM in commercial are finding a balanced mix between cost and quality. While entities want to keep their front office clean and HVACs in good working order, long-term asset management isn’t quite a part of the conversation yet.

Finally, the industry and infrastructure segment has triggered the call for FM services that are more, “intrinsic to the customer.”

The mentality is one of paying top dollar to get the job right the first time around. Segmentation brings with it more well-defined market lines, and even the supply chains are slowly repositioning themselves in those sectors to take advantage.

Additionally, the aging of structures across the market has opened a whole other level of technical discussion.

“The first five years of ownership has traditionally been the cheapest…But now when you get into the second five years of ownership, you need to start spending money on your building,” shares Harfield.

Looking at the next step for the industry, CBFM’s CEO believes that FM providers in the Middle East will soon begin integrating outsourced services into the core business model.

Already a common practice in the European markets, the idea is to introduce value-added services that go beyond the scope of traditional FM. These include the procurement of office furnishing and equipment, travel bookings and car hire, as well as the installation of IT systems.

Working closely with a network of service partners, FM companies would essentially become a one-stop-shop for clients hoping to meet their business needs.

The added luxury is that it would all fit onto a single bill.

“Instead of duplicating functionality, as a service partner, you provide the service. Whether the service is procurement, whether it is travel … the advantage is that it then comes consolidated into one service fee, and leaves the customer with one invoice at the end of each period,” explains Harfield.

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