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Details revealed about book charting history of FM

Agents4RM’s Lionel Prodgers talks to fmME about his upcoming book on FM

Lionel Prodgers, Agents4RM.
Lionel Prodgers, Agents4RM.

What is your current role at Agents4RM International, and for how long have you held the position?

I’m managing director of independent consultancy company, Agents4RM International. I set up the firm in 2008 and have held the position ever since.

The group comprises three operating companies: Agents4RM UK, Agents4RM Gulf – which I run out of Dubai – and our recently announced venture, Agents4RM Australasia, which is based in Melbourne.

As well as managing the business, my day-to-day role is as a senior consultant advising clients on a range of assignments, but is mostly focused on improving FM performance and standards.

Which organisations did you work with before establishing Agents4RM?

Immediately prior to Agents4RM, I was the managing director of ARK e-management, a specialist technology company that I sold in 2007 but continued to consult for. During that period, I was involved with Siemens for three years as the managing director of Siemens Facilities Management.

Prior to that, I was the managing director of Chesterton’s property and asset management division in the UK. This included the FM company Workplace Management, which was developed from a business that I started in 1984 and sold to Chesterton in 1994.

Which projects has Agents4RM worked in the Middle East, and which developments is it currently engaged with?

Our work in the Middle East has been interesting and varied. In the past few years, I have worked with international service provider OCS in negotiating three separate joint ventures in Qatar, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia.

Moreover, in Kuwait, I reviewed the headquarters operations for the National Petroleum Company. We are supporting two projects in the UAE with our information management system and advising an organisation with a strategic review of its operations.

In Saudi Arabia, we are advising a large corporate on its support services and plans for relocating to new headquarters. We just completed an advisory assignment as part of a larger consultancy group for a kingdom-wide government project as its FM subject matter expert.

What led you to write a book about the FM industry?

It’s an idea that I have had for a few years, but due to business commitments did not have sufficient time to devote to it.

Having founded what is regarded as the UK’s first FM company in 1984 and spent many years helping nurture FM internationally with varying roles in professional associations, I’ve been in a unique position to witness the many influences that have shaped the profession over the last 30 years.

After discussing the idea with Brian Atkin, a respected academic and the author of Total Facility Management, we agreed that this was a much needed project and agreed to co-author it.

Did a market gap pertaining to the history and perception of FM contribute to the book’s development?

In some respects, yes. I fear that there is a degree of superficial understanding of how the significant growth in global FM has come about – it is not by chance.

The very term ‘facilities management’ conjures varying inferences and perceptions, so I have believed for some time that there needs to be an authoritative book on the macroeconomic influences, commercial milestones, technology drivers, and personalities that have over time, influenced the discipline as we know it today.

What are the challenges currently faced by the Middle East’s FM professionals?

In some respects, the Middle East is no different to the rest of the world, in that the term ‘facilities management’ may be understood by those engaged in it, but there is very little comprehension of the discipline or the value it can deliver outside of its own network. We have to communicate the benefits of FM much more clearly.

FM service providers in the region are seemingly competing in a downward spiral by cutting margins to win tenders for high-profile developments.

I question whether this is sustainable, and it could be that the region faces the same growing pains of mature markets – with a plethora of mergers and acquisitions, coupled with business failures – as providers try to find that sweet spot of operational and financial success.

Could integrated or total FM services elevate the sector’s regional perception?

It is interesting to note the increasing number of enquiries in the UAE for FM consulting advice at the early design stage of development projects. This indicates a growing interest in the positive impact that IFM or TFM can offer over the life cycle of complex developments.

It takes time for these benefits to be realised – as it has in other mature markets – but once they are recognised, it should become accepted practice.

Which topics relevant to the Middle East does your book cover?

The biggest frustration for me in the Middle East region is that the term ‘facilities management’ is implied to mean property maintenance, cleaning services or even outsourcing.

I hope that the book will help explain the more complex aspects and real benefits of FM and inform, as much as possible, the wider business community about global FM best practice, as well as how and why it has evolved to provide tangible benefits to numerous sectors.

What does the future hold for the Middle East’s FM professionals?

As the famous UK mobile phone advert slogan goes, the future is bright! Even if only half the infrastructure and major development schemes in the pipeline across the GCC come to fruition, the demand for intelligent management and delivery of high-quality maintenance services will continue unabated. However, it will remain highly competitive among both, the established FM companies and the newcomers that want a slice of a tantalising market.

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