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How will ISO’s new standards influence FM in the Middle East?

The new facilities management ISO definition is here, and stakeholders believe that it could usher in a new era of FM service delivery within the Gulf region, Nikhil Pereira reports

ANALYSIS, Facilities Management, FM, ISO, MEFMA, Middle east

Three facilities management (FM) standards were revealed by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) late last year.

Due to be published in the coming months, the new ISO 41000 standard paves the way for a framework that will better define FM, its functions, and its positive impact on both emerging and developed markets worldwide.

The Middle East Facility Management Association (MEFMA) has now encouraged the regional FM sector to get FM ISO certified.

The process began back in 2012, when Stan Mitchell was appointed as the chairman of the Technical Committee (TC) 267 Facilities Management — the committee that was responsible for writing the standard.

Mitchell says there is provision to create 30 standards within the family of ISO 41000. “It’s about establishing framework, criteria and measurement for any type of organisation in creating a facilities management regime against which it can be benchmarked,” he told the British Institute of Facilities Management.

The FM sector as we know it has not been around for as long as some of the more established sectors, such as mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) or hospitality. As a result, the new ISO standard for the sector has been welcomed by operators with open arms.

Regional FM veteran Bill Heath said at a panel discussion in 2017: “Most engineers and professionals wound up in FM by chance, and the transition was taking place in the late 1980s. Then, the traditional operation and maintenance function spun off into an industry [of its own].” He believes that a professional standard will serve the sector well.

There are currently three standards (see box out on page 23), and Imdaad group CEO Jamal Abdulla Lootah sheds light on their implications for the regional FM sector.

“The management system standard, ISO 41001, targeted for publication in 2018, is expected to raise awareness about the FM field, provide support to the industry, and implement and maintain effective FM procedures across all global sectors,” says Lootah, who also serves as president of MEFMA.

Lootah believes FM is one of the world’s fastest-growing professional disciplines, but that has suffered from a general lack of understanding and awareness of its importance. “[This] is unfortunate, and something that will get rectified through the implementation of ISO standards,” he says.

There are several accreditations and certifications that FM operators can acquire in order to maintain the highest levels of service. The British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc) training is tailored towards soft services, whereas the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting (NICEIC) standard is a British-based, globally accepted benchmark for power-based operations. There are also several other accreditations that are applicable to the FM field. Managing director at Emrill Facilities Management Alex Davies sheds light on how the ISO standard will tie all of these together.

He says: “NICEIC and BICSc [certifications] have an important role in ensuring that individual trades and technical roles within FM are carried out with high levels of competence. But the coordination and integration of these functions is about much more. According to the new standard 41011:2017 Facilities Management Vocabulary, FM is described as an ‘organisational function which integrates, people, place and process within the built environment with the purpose of improving the quality of life of people and productivity of the core business’. I think this captures the [overarching] nature of FM and the impact that good FM can have on each of our daily lives,” Davies says.

Imdaad’s Lootah says the regional FM community will greatly benefit from adopting the globally accepted standards. “A number of enterprises – including those based in the Middle East – are now working towards complying with the set standards, but admittedly, much still needs to be done to further highlight the importance of FM in today’s modern set-up.

“Implementation of ISO standards is nonetheless a major step towards accomplishing this dream and serves as a big victory for the entire FM industry.”

Being ISO certified will be beneficial to FM operators if it helps them to win new contracts or retain existing ones, and operators say it is not going to be just another certificate that forms part of a checklist. “I believe that, over time, [the FM ISO standards] will become standard industry practice [...]. Initially, I am not sure what value the clients will place on the standards, but it will be incumbent on FM service providers to prove to the customers the value of these standards,” Davies says.

“It will be equally interesting to see how demand organisations choose to apply another set of ISO standards, the ‘ISO 41012 – Facilities Management – Guidance on Strategic Sourcing and the Development of Agreements’. Combined with changes from both sides, these standards have the ability to truly transform industry practices within the facilities management sector,” he adds.

One UAE-based asset management firm, speaking anonymously, states that FM companies that are ISO certified will be in a favourable position to win new contracts, but that factors such as an increase in service fees would be something to watch out for. At this stage, it is not clear what fees FM companies might incur in order to achieve ISO 41000 certification. And, of course, any increase in costs to operators would likely be passed on to clients.

To date, ISO 9000 – which is now a family of quality management standards – has been the most popular accreditation within the FM field globally. There are currently more than one million companies and organisations in 170-plus countries that are ISO 9001 certified. While it may take time for the new ISO 41000 standard to attain the same level of acceptance as more established standards such as ISO 9000, or the ISO 14000 series on environment management, the new standard will set the precedent for a sector that is expected to be worth more than $50bn in the GCC by 2022.

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