Why GCC's FM sector needs consulting services

A collaborative and accepting approach towards FM consulting services will enhance the life cycles of the region’s landmark developments, consultants tell fmME

Long term vision: FM consultancies have the expertise to guide O&M plans to achieve long-term targets.
Long term vision: FM consultancies have the expertise to guide O&M plans to achieve long-term targets.

As the regional IFM sector expands its reach with technological programmes and initiatives, the significance and functionality of wireless networks cannot be overlooked.

For instance, wireless connectivity is beginning to assume greater importance as BMS and BAS manufacturers implement it to improve product efficiency. In turn, FM operations that rely on wireless networks include not only building automation operations, but MEP and security and surveillance monitoring as well.

According to Gislene D. Weig, senior consultant at PlanNet Consulting, construction materials play a key role in determining the operations of wireless networks. “The type of construction has a direct impact on wireless coverage and the reliability of the wireless link, and therefore needs to be accounted for,” she said, according to facilities.net in July.

“For example, concrete and metals such as steel and lead can block Wi-Fi, or at least cause multi-path interference where radio signals are unintentionally split into multiple paths.

“In buildings with those materials, be sure to plan ahead to ensure adequate coverage by accounting for the number of wireless access points, plus the locations and spacing between them. Radio frequency (RF) propagation map software can help with initial coverage prediction and device locations,” she added.

Weig’s views underscore the significance of communication between construction and FM teams – an operational aspect that is oft ignored in the region’s property sector. As Chris Bond, director of consultancy at Macro International explains, operators could greatly benefit from more collaboration between design and operation plans.

Macro provides consultancy expertise – such as FM design reviews, life cycle and service charge cost modelling, and building handover and transition management, among others – to projects in the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, with competencies across the MENA region. Its previous and existing clients include King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC), King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD), Qatar Petroleum (QP), Deira Tower Estates (DTE), and Eagle Hills Jordan.

“[Operations are] even more effective if the FM consultancy is involved at the design stage, since the ability to influence and improve the building from a user operability and maintainability viewpoint decreases as you move from design through to construction as cost and programme [effects] escalate,” Bond tells fmME.

“A focus on the operational phase of a building, early in the process, is even more important when you consider that, as a rule of thumb, the cost of operating a building is four times that of the design and construction phases, over a 25 to 30-year period.

“The need to work closely between the design, construction, and operational phases is essential to create a desirable and profitable product. A great deal of thought should be applied to the FM strategy, and how the building is going to be maintained and operated once complete.

“Buildings need to be flexible, and be able to cope effectively with daily demands such as waste management collection, cleaning, and access – services which have a direct effect on the occupants’ experiences.”

Operational concerns during occupancy range from cramped egress areas to slow commercial elevators. While construction suppliers and contractors may be – and often are – held accountable for these failures, it isn’t altogether unlikely that FM operators have to deal with these concerns until the matter is elevated with building owners or owners associations.

Bond says better design-FM collaboration could lead to improved operator agreements as well.

“[Operator contracts can be improved through] properly structured agreements based on service delivery models, and effective key performance indicators (KPIs) and service level agreements (SLAs) which are tailored, specific, and measurable. Advanced contract models will consider more developed performance standards, which allow clients to incentivise service providers to improve the quality of operations, rather than a sole focus on penalisation for service failures.

“We often see modified construction contracts used as operator agreements for FM services delivery. These are not appropriate as they may include items inappropriate for service delivery – liquidated damages and milestone payments, for example – and exclude items essential to ongoing effective operations, such as performance measurement and handback.”

A healthy stream of communication between design and FM teams not only benefits the building’s O&M operations, but also improves the project’s overall development value.

Salim Hussain, principal architect at Atkins, says maintenance designs play a key role in the building’s – and its owner’s – market reputation.

“Anyone involved in constructing a new building is keen to have their building photographed as soon as it is finished, shiny and sparkling, as any newly finished building is. Months and years of toil have resulted in the proud moment when the dream has become a reality,” he remarks.

“Very rarely though does this pride relate to five years post completion, when the façade has become dusty and light bulbs in the atrium are not replaced making the ceiling an astronomer’s curiosity.

“Whilst the obligatory davit system will have been specified and installed, how many of these are used for cleaning the façade and maintaining the pristine newly-finished look? It is true that some of these systems are employed, but these are usually for a few buildings that have owner-occupiers with some vested interest in maintaining a building that represents them.”

Hussain says buildings that incorporate safe and cost-effective maintenance programmes should be prioritised by designers, “regardless of whether the client has expressly requested it”.

He continues: “There are many reasons for this not to happen, such as, for instance, the pace at which design and construction takes place, lack of client interest, lack of statutory requirements, and the assumption of the absence of a mature FM offering, to name a few.

“Another classic reason cited is that the Middle East environment is such that when you have finished cleaning one end, you have to start again at the other. By this token, none of us would ever have our cars washed – but you will always find a queue at the car wash,” Hussain adds.

“Also, contrast this approach with building owners in Europe, where [the weather often] is wet and grimy if not dry and sandy. There is a pride in the built environment whereby owners and landlords regularly maintain buildings.

“This pride needs to be reflected in our buildings in the region, for buildings, much like cars, are a machine – and all machines need maintenance and care to keep them looking and operating at their best.”

Increasing maturity in the region’s property markets could boost local demand for FM consulting services, experts agree. Macro’s Bond says these services could even be deployed as differentiators in a busy property sector.

“There will be increasing demand for asset and FM consultancy services as the need for effective input from design onwards will grow, particularly to differentiate asset products in an increasingly competitive market,” he explains.

“This is an opportunity for the industry to grow its service offerings, for example the increasing use of technology in asset management, operations, and monitoring.

“Building information modelling (BIM) is starting to be incorporated regionally at the asset design stage. The industry is going through a learning process in terms of BIM’s application not only in design, but through to operations, and the benefits of ‘one version of the truth’ concerning asset data, history, and condition.

“BIM, with its ability to create, identify, monitor, and track assets throughout their lifetime will change regional FM practices in terms of the approach to asset management.

“Additionally, the use of technology to capture, tag and monitor existing assets – for example through the use of bar-coding or RFID (radio frequency identification) technology – is an increasing trend, geared towards providing owners with greater control of their buildings,” Bond explains.

“We are also seeing a buoyant market in the demand for consultancy services, as owners in particular are focussing on increased asset longevity through improvements to performance standards and maintenance delivery, which ultimately improves the asset user’s experience,” he adds.

Atkins’s Hussain echoes these views, adding his company is already witnessing a rise in the number of FM-aware clients it deals with.

“Attitudes are changing, and at Atkins, we are seeing more requests for the inclusion of an FM consultant as part of the design team,” he explains.

“This sends a clear message that not only does the client understand the value of the asset they plan to construct, but they also appreciate the long-term approach to the asset. Life-cycle costing is becoming more frequently employed and – crucially – adhered to, thus making designers review their choices more carefully. At the same time, this is making clients accept a marginally higher capital cost against a much reduced running cost.”

Returning to his previously cited example of lighting failures in newer buildings, Hussain adds: “By including FM specialists who appreciate the practicalities of operating a building, we can understand that not only is there time associated with changing the [original] bulb, but it may also include closing revenue generating areas that impact the bottom line in a more dramatic way than including maintenance systems at the outset.

“To many clients, when the cost to change light fittings is shown in this light, they are willing to accept the capital investment for longer-term gain. It also ensures that strategies for maintaining the building are not an afterthought and thus spoil the design intent,” he concludes.

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