Interview: Bill Heath, Macro International

Macro International’s Bill Heath elaborates on the current health of the region’s facilities management industry and how it continues reach to new heights

FM Sage: Heath’s experience in the sector dates back over 35 years.
FM Sage: Heath’s experience in the sector dates back over 35 years.

At a time when many businesses are opting to navigate turbulent waters by maintaining a low-profile, Macro International, the UAE-based wholly-owned subsidiary of consultancy and construction giant Mace, strives to keep its presence at the forefront of the market.

With an aggressive regional strategy for 2016, which aims to drive major growth in the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Oman, all from the confines of its Dubai-based head office, Macro continues to be a pivotal player in the advancement of the region’s facilities management industry.

“The business performed well last year with turnover growth of 15% and profit growth of 11%. Our client base expanded in all locations but in particular Oman and Saudi Arabia,” comments Bill Heath, managing director of Macro International and chairman of Macro Group, on the firm’s performance over 2015.

Though Macro has long established a solid reputation across the market with its consultancy service, a division of the business which has been involved with numerous high-profile clients, including Emaar, Qatar Petroleum and Emirates International Properties, the company’s operational arm has of late, taken the spotlight.

Recent additions to Macro’s portfolio include two separate, three-year operations and maintenance (O&M) contracts to operate both the Mushrif Central Park in Abu Dhabi, and the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center (DECC) in Qatar.

On both projects, the company will deliver a number of FM related services, which include parking and waste management, perimeter security, as well as landscaping and pest control. Macro has also picked up a notable contract with the National Museum in Muscat, Oman.

“These contracts highlight our operational capabilities that at times can perhaps be overshadowed by our high-profile consultancy credentials,” explains Macro’s managing director.

Previously comprised of FM operations management, fm24 help desk and the deployment of computer-aided facility management (CAFM) software, the team at Macro found that they had, “shortfalls in the MEP service aspects” that were often sub-contracted.

Driven both by client feedback and the need to create an integrated service, the company’s management made the decision to launch a MEP service, aptly called Macro Technical Services (MTS).

“Some of the MTS growth comes naturally as and when we win operational FM projects. MTS undertakes work that we would have normally sub-contracted,” comments Heath.

Commenting on how Macro aims to continue building the division’s capabilities, Heath shares: “Our focus is on the selection of staff, good training, building a team ethos and ensuring processes and procedures are understood and instilled. Providing good management support for site-based staff so they do not feel forgotten or left alone without direction.”

Developing FM talent in the market is another area that Macro is actively engaged with.

Highlighting the recent and significant influx of professionals entering the market with degrees acquired locally, Heath points to Macro’s own involvement in promoting the sector to prospective students.

Working in close collaboration with Heriot-Watt University, the company runs a number of presentations and conferences, highlighting the benefits of the field to both undergraduate and post-graduate students.

“Feedback from HWU students has always been very encouraging by appreciating the benefits of the early link between FM, construction and design. Some students even want to know how to move into FM with a construction degree,” beams Heath.

Elsewhere, Macro works closely with MEFMA, BIFM, and other institutional bodies in compiling case studies and industry reports, to be used as training materials for future employees.

When pressed on the current state of the GCC’s FM market, the managing director points out that there is strong encouragement from local governments, which have enacted a variety of initiatives to aid the sector’s development.
One such case lies with the regulatory frameworks for energy service companies (ESCO) set up by Dubai’s Regulatory and Supervisory Bureau for Electricity and Water.

The goal of the initiative is to regulate the refurbishment of over 30,000 buildings in the Emirate, to make them more energy efficient. Other initiatives on sustainability, health & safety and waste management have also been pushed forward as of late.

Another recent development which Heath has witnessed lies with increased interest in FM from “an acquisition/merger and investment perspective”.

Explaining it as a “natural consequence”, Heath asserts it stems from growing competition to expand into new markets, or for companies to widen their service capabilities, as well as increasing business scale and future growth generation.

“One only has to look at the major acquisitions that the CBRE Group has gone through in the past year. With regards to investors looking to take financial positions in FM companies, they are seeing long-term prospects for business growth – especially with the FM market in the GCC expanding at between 12% to 20% p.a.,” explains Heath.

“This growth is linked to the realisation of needing to maintain properties properly and also, the ongoing demand for new development projects which are always being brought to market.”

Heath expects to see great strides in “industry innovation via the use of technology”. Elaborating further, he believes the utilisation of building information modelling (BIM) will become more commonplace with FM operators benefitting from having access to shared data that is persistent through the entire asset life cycle.

Demand for increased systems integration will go beyond simply linking CAFMs with building management systems (BMS) and finance platforms, but may also include geographical information systems (GIS).

This will enable FM providers to access and monitor a project’s entire infrastructure, assets and resources. The ongoing demand for sustainable technologies and practices will also call for the implementation technologies designed to monitor and record building performance.

Lastly, at the ground level, mobile technologies will become more relevant with advancements in hardware and related software enabling a digital transformation of the workforce and their respective functions.

FM companies will also benefit from engaging end-users through the use of social media.

An example of this would be with residents utilising their Facebook to request a job, which would then be converted into a task within the FM provider’s CAFM system.

As one might expect, however, the road ahead does have its bumps, and one of the more prominent issues currently discussed in the market lies with the recent announcement of value-added tax (VAT) in the UAE by 2018.

Expected to be later adopted across the rest of the GCC, the development has raised many queries about how exactly VAT will be introduced.

“I think the introduction of VAT is naturally going to have an impact on the FM industry and it could come in a number of directions,” explains Heath.

He warns that without a clear understanding of the process and how it will be regulated the whole industry needs “a sort of waking up” that there could be a cost impact that gets passed on through the chain.

“The way it works in UK and other countries, you have VAT inputs and VAT outputs. They tend to balance out to a certain degree, but obviously there is a net result that the end users ultimately pay,” he adds.

Back in the present, however, the Heath remains quite positive on the industry’s progress despite the recent economic slump. While he admits that the recent oil prices and ambiguous economic conditions have made some building owners wary, the team at Macro continues to advise on the benefits of planned maintenance programmes, as opposed to fixing assets only when broken.

In fact, in many ways, the GCC market is ahead of its western counterparts, as more and more building developers and operators are opting to involve FM, right from the design stage. End-users are becoming aware on the achievable operational efficiencies, as well as the long-term risks to poorly maintained assets.

So Heath holds high expectations for the market and for the individuals who are active within it.

“Continued expansion and growth and a higher profile of FM as a profession... better career prospects will come from an ever expanding industry, with opportunities in all aspects of FM from customer care and technical management to finance and senior management positions,” he concludes.

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