The many faces of soft FM

Aiming to gain insight on what is driving and challenging the soft service market, fmME reaches out to the industry’s leaders for an inside look.

In the world of facilities management, soft services is an ever expanding market.
In the world of facilities management, soft services is an ever expanding market.

In the world of facilities management, soft services is an ever expanding market.

Traditionally comprised of physical security services, the cleaning sector, pest control and front office staffing, soft services has grown to include newcomers, such as health and safety and catering. As each segment has its growth points, as well as its challenges, a first-hand account from leaders in the industry, helps to paint the soft picture.

Taking a look firstly at the security market, Emrill has established a solid reputation as one of the region’s most effective providers of security. With a force comprised of guards, officers, CCTV operators and mobile patrolling units, the company manages both large-scale horizontal communities and vertical rises. The latter includes residential skyscrapers, the Princess Tower and 23 Marina.

“At Emrill, we have intensive security induction programmes to ensure that all of our new hires meet our stringent criteria…we are also developing innovative technology to enhance our services by tracking and analysing provision on our sites through cloud technology” comments Aranui ‘Nui’ Puki, security consultant and security operations manager at Emrill services.

The FM company’s security arm recently garnered international attention, when they successful assisted in the evacuation of the Torch Tower, a residential tower in Dubai Marina that recently suffered damages due to a fire.

When pressed on the challenges of delivering an effective security service, Emrill’s security operations manager explains that the biggest issues are often language and cultural barriers.

“Training employees to deliver a high quality security service is important, but it is also important for them to speak and communicate well in English. This is a big challenge for the industry,” explains Puki.

As one might expect, adherence to strict government regulations also plays a significant role in how all FM security companies manage service delivery. The most recent directive introduced by the Department of Protective Systems (DPS), called for fitness testing of all security personnel. As a result, Emrill encourages its staff to maintain a good level of fitness by particpating in sports and regularly attending the gym.

Commenting on the regulation, Puki shares: “This is a great initiative and ensures that only the fittest security guards are responsible for keeping our community and city safe.”

Compliance with government ruling is also a tough challenge with fellow FM companyTransguard Group. Quite possibly the most recognisable security brand in the UAE market, thanks in large part to the group’s cash management business, Transguard currently employs over 4,000 security personnel across the country. Their presence can be seen across a variety of sectors, such as aviation, banking, commercial, hospitality, logistics, residential and retail.

“From a security perspective, all private security companies are regulated by the police. In Dubai, this falls under DPS and in every other Emirate with Private Security Business Department,” explains Simon Currie, director of Transguard Security Services.

He adds that each organisation carriers strict requirements in order to obtain a security license. As the criteria evaluates both financial and operational capabilities, both law enforcement departments have their respective audit and compliance teams. Regular meetings are held with the local security community to keep them updated and to ensure standards are diligently kept.

“If these regulations are not met or breached, fines can be imposed on security staff and companies. In severe cases their company security license can be revoked,” says Currie.

Transguard’s physical security consists of man managed guarding services, which include CCTV and control room operations, as well as static positions. Driven by customer demand, the group has also incorporated car park management, concierge staff, asset protection and event security, into its core service mode.

Over the last few years, the group has fostered a reputation within the sector for the deployment of technologically advanced security systems, alongside the physical presence of their personnel. As technology continues to advance, the question arises whether technical security will one day trump and diminish manpower. The director’s response is an unequivocal, no.

“Systems can and do enhance security solutions and surveillance within any setting, but there will always be a need for people to review and then act, as and when situations arise,” explains Currie.

While primarily known for its security service arm, Transguard is also quite active within the health and safety (H&S) sector, a relatively novel segment of the soft service market. In fact, the FM provider has implemented an entire division dedicated towards developing and implementing practices focused on the well-being of their staff.

Employing a wide range of professionals, the division focuses on creating both proactive and reactive H&S procedures. These can include more practical exercises, such as fire and emergency preparedness, as well as assessments in the form of risk management, accident investigation and workplace safety audits. Though not a traditional facility management service, the segment is quickly gaining traction amongst the ranks of FM companies, Transguard included.

“FM companies are now beginning to appreciate the direct relationship between good health and safety practice and its positive impact upon operational efficiencies, quality of delivery and ultimately, budge,” explains Paddy O’Duda, director of health and safety.

The director also adds that the rise of social media has enabled the community to express, “their areas of concern directly and in real time.” The end-result could have a significant impact, whether positive or negative, on the way FM organisations approach their service delivery.

The trickiest part of H&S however, lies with measuring its effective impact. Is the accumulation of man-hours without report of accident or injury alone, a sufficient method of calculating effectiveness? According to O’Duda, FM providers have in fact, a number of options to measure impact at their disposal.

Some companies prefer to employ a quantitative analysis that would factor in concrete variables, such as the amount of time lost due to staff injury, or the frequency at which accidents occur. A quiet period with a handful of minor accidents for example, would likely be looked upon as an indicator of good progress. Another approach would be for FM providers to work aside a building’s tenants, gathering feedback on the overall service and performance of staff.

According to Transguard’s health and safety director, the most effective measure of a good policy, highlights the means by which an organisation can reduce its operating costs, while at the same time reducing work incidents and injuries. All the while enhancing the corporate image.

“The key differences between an effective and poor initiative are simple to outline, a good initiative will have apparent objectives, areas of responsibility and accountability, producing clearly defined results. A poor initiative will lack all of the above,” explains O’Duda.

Also active within the realm of H&S is integrated facilities management provider Farnek. The UAE-based FM company has implemented ISO 18001:2007 accredited systems and procedures into its training programmes. Farnek maintains a close working relationship with the Civil Defense, who oversee and approve the safety standards that the company puts into play.

From their head office located in Al Quoz, Dubai, Farnek’s training centre conducts a number of H&S programmes for the organisation’s employees. This includes courses on safety and product knowledge training, which is ideal for cleaning staff as it educates them on the utilisation of different chemicals and relevant application. There is also a training programme for staff to familiarise themselves with the company’s own software application, iauditor.

“Iauditor, which is an apple-based software programme, can provide continuous audits on-site for cleaning and maintenance as well as general safety for our other services, such as external façade/cradles. Any non-compliancy is highlighted immediately (based on the software) for further immediate action,” explains Jennifer Peltenburg, director of Business Development & Marketing for Farnek.

Of course as part of their employment into the company, all personnel undergo a four-day induction programme that covers all areas of service. Part of this induction includes modules for understanding H&S, as well as additional programmes for teams engaged in high-risk services, such as external window and façade and scaffolding.

Peltenburg adds: “There is also cross-training with clients. For example, Dubai Airports conducted their own training on H&S regarding the airport operations, in addition to our trainers who ran courses on the use of chemicals.”

As the segment continues to grow, the FM company sees increasing demand for emergency drills in relation to fire safety. Farnek, along with other FM providers, will need to continue working closely with the nation’s Civil Defense forces, participating in annual seminars, as well increasing familiarisation with emergency protocol.

“These drills are essential to ensure that residents understand the evacuation procedure and that they are cooperating with the emergency services to vacate the premises in a safe and orderly fashion,” explains Peltenburg
Another relatively new segment within the GCC’s soft service market is catering. While not instantly recognised as traditional FM, the truth is that many facilities management companies in the region, have long outsourced their catering function to specialised service providers.

Operating within the UAE market for over a decade, Royal Catering developed its own balanced approach to FM. Beginning its operations in the western region of Abu Dhabi, the company opened its own facility, which initallly catered to roughly 600 engineers from the oil and gas sector in Ruwais. It later expanded its operations to include FM for the labour industry.

“After 10 years of operations, Royal Catering owns and operates three large facilities ranging in capacity from 3,000 to 12,000 people. We provide fully integrated services including accommodation, catering, laundry, housekeeping and maintenance,” comments Jean-Pierre Garat, chief operating officer of Royal Catering.

According the COO, one of the reasons that the majority of UAE-based FM providers avoid adopting a catering function is due to strict government regulation. Organisation such as the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA), restrict catering licences to dedicated catering companies, leaving most FM businesses illegible.

Though Royal Catering enjoyed significant growth over the years, its upward journey hasn’t exactly been a smooth one. Garat shares that catering has always been perceived, “as a less well-paid industry compared to other sectors.” Similar to the hospitality industry, there is often a shortage of experienced talent.

To fill this gap, Royal Catering integrated a training element into its business model, focused on the professional growth of its employees, as well as creating development opportunities. Another simple trick for staff retention is simply having the best kit on hand.

“We have found that one way to retain highly qualified staff is to provide the latest kitchen equipment which in turns helps to ensure consistency of service and quality,” explains Garat.

Finally, possibly the most recognised segment of the soft services market, the cleaning sector is also the most poised to grow. This is thanks in large part to the numerous residential, commercial and even national infrastructure projects popping up across the region.

Hoping to capitalise on the rising opportunities is specialised cleaning service provider RonsEnviro Care with over 15 years of experience in the market.

“We have a team of professionals with vast experience in the field of specialised cleaning capable of providing the highest quality standards. Our state-of-the-art equipment has been a vital factor in sustaining our commitment towards quality, reliability and efficiency,” explains Joseph John, managing director of RonsEnviro Care.

With numerous projects that include government institutions, hotels, shopping malls, residential and commercial complexes, Rons specialises in offering highly technical cleaning services. Grease trap cleaning, water tank cleaning and biological dosing systems, are just a few examples of what the company delivers.

Rons’ approach to the market with its business model is one of adaptability. Rather than simply focusing on a single core service, John explains that the business continues to adjust to the demands of the market.

“Management discovers that the products or services created for a particular customer group may be useful for other groups as well. The business model is modified and expanded to include the new markets the company intends to reach,” explains John.

When pressed on it how it manages to thrive within a price-driven environment, Rons’ managing director is adamant that totally transparency and disclosure is what helps win tenders. Aware than many competitors in the market intentional omit prerequisite services in order to deliver a competitive price, Rons often takes the high ground despite expectation.

“The term price driven does not necessary imply awarding contracts to companies with the cheapest rates. Often times, the procurement department of certain organizations are expected to present solutions to requirements at the most competitive rates.

“This simply means that clients look for quality services with the most reasonable pricing,” explains the managing director.

As one of the biggest FM companies involved in cleaning, Abu-Dhabi based Khidmah also employs one of the largest forces of 1,200 and climbing. With operations mostly focused in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Dubai, the company maintains a large presence in the residential market, but also holds contracts in tourism, commercial and medical sectors.

Despite its size and scope, the company still face a number of trails, operating in the UAE market. According to Jayne Ludlum, soft services manager for Khidmah, the biggest challenge has been managing the costs of labour.

“During the tender process, because it is price driven, 85% of the costs is usually related to labour—labour costs are very sensitive. We are constantly working on reducing overheads for accommodation, however there are things that cannot be reduced, such as visa costs, medical and flights home,” explains Ludlma.

She adds there needs to be additional support from the government in establishing a minimum wage. This would assist cleaning FM companies maintaining the costs of its labour force.

While not part of their standard policy, Khidmah has on occasion worked with clientele who volunteer to buy large equipment and keep it on site. These include heavy duty machines such sweepers and scrubber dryers that can cost up to roughly $68,000 (AED 250,000). The FM provider maintains the machinery over the course of the contract, and following its completion, the client retains the equipment. If serviced properly, these units can last up 15 years.

Another challenge Khidmah faces with its workforce lies with the induction of fresh recruits. With each intake of staff into its ranks, the company usually experiencing friction with certain employees, who struggle to adjust to a change in lifestyle, the regulations of the region and interacting with other nationalities.

To help the transition process, the FM provider conducts mandatory courses on health and safety, cultural training, as well as familiarising staff with health and hygiene protocol.

Even beyond the initial induction programme, employees have access to counselling service to assist with integration into UAE society.

Ultimately however, the biggest game-changers for any FM company is influenced by the market. When pressed on what she sees as the next step for the industry, the soft service manager asserts that clients need to become more aware of the basic needs of FM cleaning providers in order to provide a high quality service.

“The basic standard of BICS (British Institute of cleaning science) states that there must be some kind of cleaning locker, to store safely and securely, chemicals and equipment. In many cases, when you visit a site, you find that there are no such facilities,” explains Ludlam.

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