fmME 10th Anniversary: Leaders reveal future plans

GCC’s FM leaders review their innovation investments over the last 10 years, and outline how they will prioritise technology in the next decade

Potential in waste: Shehail says technology can boost business efficacy in waste management.
Potential in waste: Shehail says technology can boost business efficacy in waste management.

The GCC regional FM industry has witnessed a significant transformation in the last 10 years. In 2006, Burj Khalifa – then known as Burj Dubai – was under construction, and its developers had only just awarded Depa Dubai a $160m (AED590m) contract for fit-out works. Meanwhile, paint manufacturer Dulux had introduced its tough Weathershield line comprising anti-carbonation and water vapour permeable features, and UAE telecoms giant Etisalat had formed a specialist FM unit as part of a wider restructuring exercise.

The phenomenal efforts of the GCC’s FM leaders cannot be overstated whilst emphasising how long the industry has since travelled. For instance, Dubai Land Department’s Real Estate Regulatory Agency (RERA) ratified the Middle East Facility Management Association (MEFMA) in September 2009. In 2010, property developer Tamouh launched an FM business – currently operational under the Eltizam Asset Management Group banner – at the annual Cityscape Abu Dhabi event.

However, some of regional FM leaders’ greatest successes have been a result of intangible attitudinal shifts.

Three years after MEFMA was established, RERA CEO Marwan Bin Ghulaita called on Dubai’s property market to prioritise FM services for its ‘crazy buildings’.

Speaking at the MEFMA Annual Conference 2012, Ghulaita added: “I can say there are a lot of crazy buildings, and you are probably seeing them every day. From the outside, they look fantastic and amazing, but whenever you go inside… it is a different story. This is what engineers and investors have been telling me.

“A lot of problems originate with the design itself, because when we started with the real estate boom, nobody gave any consideration to involving FM from the beginning,” Ghulaita added.

Four years later, it is worth reviewing how, if at all, this narrative has changed. Speaking to fmME this July, Chandan Singh, chief operating officer of Dhofar Global, said the regional FM sector’s “biggest challenge” remains early involvement: “In my view, the FM industry’s biggest challenge remains raising awareness and educating owners and developers about the involvement of FM in the design stage to make the facility more beneficial in terms of lowered operational costs, enhanced building life cycles, and the creation of a better built-in environment for occupants.

“Strong emphasis on value-for-money solutions for building maintenance is a challenge we must first and foremost contend with,” Singh added.

REWRITING BEST PRACTICE

Macro chairman and industry veteran, Bill Heath, is hopeful that this practice will soon be replaced with a more collaborative approach. The company, which was recently awarded a four-year total FM (TFM) contract with The National Museum – Sultanate of Oman, boasts a portfolio of elite regional clients such as Al Ain Zoo, Qatar Petroleum, and Dubai Trade Centre District.

Speaking on the eve of fmME’s 10th anniversary, Heath points out how the significance of life cycle planning has evolved in the region, and how it should take shape in the future.

“The concept of working across the full life cycle of a building means that we can cater to a client’s needs from start to finish,” Heath explains.

“Macro’s consultancy team is often involved at the design or construction phase [of various projects], with the integrated FM (IFM) team operating the building once its development is complete, along with our own helpdesk, CAFM, and technical services functions.”

While Macro has recorded numerous milestones since its establishment in 2002, there is one that Heath is particularly proud of: “Our most notable achievement is probably the variety of contracts we have worked on in the Middle East – anything from large mixed-used developments to parks, museums and commercial complexes.”

He continues: “Our flexible approach means that we tailor each solution [we deliver], which makes every project unique. Over the last eight years, Macro has made significant investments in its CAFM technology capability to the extent that we now operate five separate systems of the same software, driven by client IT security requirements. Our CAFM systems have been deployed to support portfolios across the globe, and this is possible due to a multi-time zone capability.”

Having founded and operated Macro for 14 years, Heath is well-poised to offer insights about how the Middle East’s FM industry might shape up over the next decade: “We see a trend towards longer-term IFM contracts, with more output specifications as opposed to input specifications.

“Additionally, we’re seeing an increase in demand for technical due diligence (TDD) services as investors look to identify potential properties for acquisition. This involves an appraisal of building condition; regulatory compliance; operational delivery, management, reporting, and performance standards; remedial works cost estimations (repair and replacement); and look-ahead capital costs for asset replacement. This provides some evidence of positive market sentiment,” Heath adds.

TECH REALITIES

Navin Valrani, CEO of Al Shirawi Engineering Services Group (Al Shirawi ESG) echoes this optimism, especially in light of the steady speed at which FM operations are being technologically updated in markets such as the UAE.

In conversation with fmME, Valrani attributes this trend to the country’s Vision 2021 programme, but is quick to point out how the private sector is contributing to smarter FM practices: “Alongside the Dubai Plan 2021 and UAE Vision 2021, the FM industry is rapidly maturing, even during times of uncertainty.

“Spreading valuable smart practices to the FM world is [naturally] beneficial, but it has proven challenging due to tighter budgets. Ironically, these solutions are economically priced and are deemed to offer substantial savings throughout the life cycle of a property, with immediate recovery of initial investment.

“Continuous education and demonstration of those benefits through [examples] of actually implemented solutions is a catalyst [for increasing uptake], and Al Shirawi FM has the right team for this exciting challenge. We expect that more customers will be interested in extending their properties’ life cycles through partnerships and relationships that are strongly encouraged by the local sustainability vision.”

Valrani also stresses on the significance of CAFM and how the technology’s uptake, supported by the company’s “improvement-driven culture”, has boosted the company’s FM offering.

Asserting that the organisation’s best “is yet to come”, he outlines Al Shirawi FM’s varied technological advancements over the last decade: “We use a customer-focused and customisable CAFM system that helps us manage assets and resources more effectively and in an enabling and transparent fashion for our operations. Our technicians use handheld devices and update their projects’ database on the go. With our sister company Identigy, we’ve taken operational efficiency to the next level through smart systems that assign customer preferences to assets and adjust the way they are utilised.

“In effect, an asset’s life is prolonged and its energy consumption drastically reduced through this approach, while our manpower numbers are optimised too, making our services more economical.”

A COMPELLING CASE

While technology might have been viewed as a hot-button issue in 2006, the contemporary realities of regional FM mean tech tools make a compelling case when the benefits of their uptake are scrutinised. Eng Ansari, CEO of Adeeb Group, says the rise of sustainability in the Middle East has raised the demand for technology in the FM sector.

“The regional market has grown significantly, and with competition being very high, we are forced to be technology-driven at a [rapid] pace to cope with customer expectations,” he tells fmME.

“There seem to be enormous opportunities for growth through the alleviation of challenges such as energy savings, increased sustainability, and green buildings [by using] modern technologies like mobile apps, GPS, and smart watches. The industry has seen change and innovation driven by various factors, and customer demand is certainly one of them.

“For instance, traditional deals are evolving into service contracts on the back of increasingly professional helpdesks that centralise customer support. Technology has enabled improvements in information management, client facilities, and transparency of service delivery.

“FM – especially through extra-low voltage (ELV) and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) works – has tried to keep pace with client expectations.

“Accordingly, technological resources, such as CAFM, remote site access, complaint emails on the move, energy-saving products, and smart apps have been planned and introduced in our operations. Tech strategies are being developed by arranging on-the-go services,” Ansari adds.

CLEAN SWEEP

British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM), IFM.net, and FM Expo, in a report titled Facilities Management Business Confidence Monitor 2016, found that 37% of its 180 surveyed respondents intend to completely outsource their FM services, while 61% expect increased outsourcing of FM in the future. The report also noted that technology is viewed as an enabler of business growth by 87% of the respondents.

It is altogether likely that technology-savvy FM companies will be preferred bidders when outsourcing gathers pace in the GCC. The team driving Farnek, which has worked with clients such as Radisson Blu Hotel in Dubai and Movenpick Resort & Spa Tala Bay, Aqaba, seems to understand how outsourcing at the time of a tech revolution will benefit its portfolio.

Among the company’s most popular tech tools is the Hotel Optimizer, an internet-based software that analyses the consumption and costs associated with energy, water, and waste management in hospitality properties, as well as benchmarking a hotel’s performance with that of similar size, environment, and functionality.

Oberlin explains how the technology has helped Farnek’s overall service delivery: “Originally designed for the hotel industry in order to provide a holistic mechanism for analysis, the key readings generated by Hotel Optimizer provide managers with a simple means of setting challenging – but realistic – annual targets in the areas of energy and waste.

“In addition, hotel operators periodically receive an unbiased overview with a single click, meaning that their successes can be measured, which is a key motivator for the staff. Having launched the product a decade ago, we now have more than 100 hotels using Optimizer.”

Oberlin is also particularly proud of Farnek’s colour-coded cleaning mechanism, which he says helps avoid cross-contamination of bacteria. Meanwhile, he’s also quick to highlight the operational and environmental advantages of Farnek’s carbon-neutral transport fleet.

Hitches & Glitches, part of the Farnek Group, sells, delivers, installs, and services smart home automation systems dedicated to automated gadgets and devices for smart homes. The company also offers a range of lighting services, temperature control devices, and energy saving technologies.

Farnek’s GPS-enabled fleet is a component of its cohesive technology offering, which includes its Time Attendance Solution with Exeo. Combining Google Apps and Android for Work systems, Exeo builds Android-based apps for Farnek, allowing the company’s technicians mobile access to real-time data and reports.

Oberlin explains the mechanics of Farnek’s platform: “Our remote system allows us to monitor critical assets and effectively and efficiently deal with any issues as and when they arise. We use a Cloud-based system that is [remotely] accessible and is scalable to as many devices as you need, including smartphones and tablets.

“From scheduling resources and reserving rooms to emergency and planned maintenance requests, each task is tracked to ensure visibility, control, and improved efficiency.

“Eliminating paperwork not only improves business management, but also significantly enhances client service and cuts costs. With the burgeoning labour costs that are associated with the GCC’s total cleaning expenditure, we are undoubtedly going to see an increase in automated technologies,” he asserts.

WASTE NO MORE

Bee’ah, led by group CEO Khaled Al Huraimel, also understands the relationship between technology and FM, as is evidenced by the company’s recent history of product and service innovation. Its waste collection operations feature the Smart Routing feature, a GPS-mapped system that allows collection vehicles to receive signals from full bins in order to rapidly dispatch and collect waste.

Meanwhile, Bee’ah’s Smart Systems technology, comprising vehicles fully-powered by electricity – such as fleets of public cleansers, sweepers, washers, leaf collectors, and litter pickers – is a first in the UAE and across the region. These systems are easy to use, operate at low levels of noise, and are “completely sustainable”, chief development officer, Fahad Shehail, says. All of Bee’ah’s vehicles now use low-sulphur diesel to curb emissions.

Shehail elaborates on the latest tech addition to Bee’ah’s product line: “Our latest innovation is Wi-Fi bins, which have an open connection to the public and are double-streamed for increased solar capacity. They are come equipped with sensors to detect semi-full capacity levels. Additionally, the bins’ solar panels provide energy to an internal compactor, which allows them to collect five times more refuse before needing to be emptied.”

Bee’ah is expanding its geographical reach into other regions across the UAE and the GCC, and has established its operational presence in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and key Saudi Arabian markets such as Jeddah and Riyadh. The company has committed its activities to improving operational efficiency, and Shehail says this is evidenced by its Waste Management Centre, which includes the world’s largest Material Recovery Facility.

These efforts have nabbed the company more than 40 regional and international awards, and its School of Environment has already educated more than 200,000 students since it was launched in 2010.

“In less than 10 years, Bee’ah has reached a 70% diversion rate of waste from landfill,” Shehail proudly adds.

“The creation and successful adoption of innovative and smart technologies can help increase efficacy and productivity in the waste management and recycling industry. This could lead to significant reductions in manpower and transportation costs for waste management companies in the future.”

Technological advancement “will be the future of Bee’ah”, Shehail says.

“As such, employee development programmes will evolve to further train employees about advanced technology that can be optimised for a sustainable community in the future,” he adds.

A COMPREHENSIVE EFFORT

With every sector of the regional FM industry incorporating technology in its operations, it is worth examining how TFM services might evolve in the years to come.

Jamal Abdullah Lootah, CEO of Imdaad, says technology is at the heart of the company’s future waste management policies – especially since this approach will eventually tie into its overall product and service offering.

“Waste management is becoming an important policy and environmental agenda, and it is at the heart of sustainability discussions in major cities around the world,” Lootah tells fmME.

“The concept of circular economies is changing the way we look at waste by ensuring that all waste is repurposed and recycled to ensure that nothing goes back to landfills. For Imdaad, it offers an enormous opportunity to improve and innovate its waste management system by using software, data analytics, and robotics, and contribute to the UAE’s vision of creating smart and sustainable cities.”

Imdaad has already invested in FleetMAN, a GPS-based fleet and asset tracking and monitoring platform that uses a web-based system developed by Dubai Technologies. FleetMAN allows the efficient management of Imdaad’s vehicle fleets from initial acquisition to final waste disposal.

Lootah is also proud of Imtedaad – formerly known as INOC – Imdaad’s asset management centre that nabbed Technological Implementation of the Year honours at fmME Awards 2016: “Imtedaad is an intelligent command and control centre that takes advantage of the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) concept, leading Imdaad to pioneer a smart building solution in the region.

“Indeed, Imdaad is among the top IFM companies in the region that have consistently included technology as an essential part of their service offering and made it a priority to push its uptake and development within the FM sector.”

TUNED IN TO TOMORROW

The uptake of technology will pave the way for smart buildings – and smarter employees – in the next decade, experts tell fmME.

Macro’s Heath says FM companies will have to update their operations to achieve these goals: “With more smart buildings being built – and existing buildings needing to be made smart – FM companies need to be on top of their game.

“Apart from innovative energy management solutions, sophisticated CAFM systems, apps used for asset tagging, planned preventive maintenance (PPM), and logging reactive jobs, we predict that building information modelling (BIM) will play an increasingly significant role at the operational stage of a building – not just at its design stage.

“More importantly, teams need to be trained to understand and fully utilise available technologies,” Heath adds.

Al Shirawi’s Valrani is in agreement with these views, especially with regards to how design-FM collaboration can lead to better performing assets in the future: “Holistic solutions are invaluable to developers and end users alike.

“At Al Shirawi Interiors we design and build fit-outs, and Identigy strategises on the design of the smart system while Al Shirawi FM incorporates best practice for the facility’s maintenance. We essentially return to the basics, and starting this process early on saves time, effort, and costly changes at the time of the property’s testing, commissioning, and handover.

“We then take on and maintain the facilities through services that have been optimised based on the end users’ rights and preferences. Needless to say, behaviour can be influenced towards the benefit of the tenants and society at large. The assets are only used as much as is necessary, which effectively prolongs their life and optimises their performance,” Valrani continues.

“To close the cycle, we measure the property’s energy consumption and transparently demonstrate to the users the smart tech-driven monetary savings in real time. We also perform data-driven analysis and advise on further improvements, which means our holistic solution is unparalleled in the market.”

Valrani outlines how this total life cycle process will evolve as technology changes employee performance: “FM is a customer service industry and people are the key ingredient of success, so employee development programmes ought to become more strategic in their approach.

“Recruitment needs to focus on specific behavioural characteristics that will enable service excellence, and employee programmes need to focus on their long-term improvement across technical, soft, and cultural levels.

“As more and more smart technologies are incorporated in FM, technical training from experts will be critical from worker to managerial levels alike.”

Imdaad’s employee training initiatives incorporate these market demands – and more. The company’s Elham programme, aimed at the recruitment and development of UAE nationals, has already taken its nationalisation rate to 8.5% at middle and senior management levels each. This level of proactivity is likely to reap rewards for Imdaad as it looks to automate its waste management, green FM, and smart building activities.

Energy and water efficiency will also take centre stage at the company soon, Lootah says.

“There is a huge opportunity for the FM industry in the next five to 10 years as sustainability becomes even more important in managing global urbanisation,” he continues.

“Innovation can ensure continuous quality improvement and consistent property value enhancement while reducing costs and business risks, especially in building management.”

Farnek’s Oberlin also elaborates on how the increased rate of ongoing construction across the region will impact FM: “Based on our experience, we believe that specialist and niche cleaning services will come into play through different property classes, although we shouldn’t forget the sheer number of buildings that will be constructed during the next four years and beyond.

“For instance, it could be an issue for building owners to find professional FM operators that have the expertise to manage specialised projects as well as the manpower to do this on what will inevitably be a grand scale.

“Innovation, technology, and sustainability will be the key elements in this sector as we move towards 2020 and 2022,” Oberlin adds.

Adeeb’s Ansari is optimistic about what the future holds for FM in the Middle East: “FM companies are taking adequate measures to adapt to the changes that have been taking place with the inception of required sustainability initiatives in regional buildings. Technology has led to great developments in the industry as operations have been systematically controlled with the help of CAFM and other such tech tools.

“In the years to come, the market will come to depend on these practices, and therefore, FM will be a leading requirement in modern society.”

 

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