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Place Community Managers' Garry Murray seeks deeper FM-OA ties

FM providers and OAs must work towards a common goal, says CEO of Place Community Managers, Garry Murray

CEO of Place Community Managers, Garry Murray
© ITP Media Group
CEO of Place Community Managers, Garry Murray

There is often a disconnect between the roles played by facilities management (FM) providers and owners’ associations (OAs) in terms of communication and collaboration, according to Garry Murray, chief executive officer of Place Community Managers, a full-service OA management company.

“FM providers do not understand our role and we do not understand their role, and that is a problem because we ultimately represent them to the client, as we are the ones that do the tenders and present reports,” he says.

“There is a sort of disconnect. We both need each other to develop our service with the same common goal, which is maintaining the asset.”

Murray joined Place Community Managers in 2011 and his role involves formulating the company’s strategy, supporting his leadership teams, liaising with shareholders, generating new business and, most importantly, developing every member of staff.

Prior to Place Community Managers, Murray worked in FM, leasing, and sales for a large mixed-use golf project in Bahrain. His experience has taught him that “people are in business for themselves”.

Place Community Managers is based in Dubai [CW Archives].

Speaking to Construction Week's sister title facilities management Middle East, he adds: “FM people are caught up in doing their own operations, which is understandable. We also get caught up in our own operations. But we need to understand that we are actually one big team, even though we might be three or four different companies. We need to collaborate and be open with each other.”

Murray laments that, often, no information other than financial details is shared. “FM companies spend a lot of money on computer-aided facility management (CAFM) systems, or on developing their back-end, help desk, and training centres for their stuff. There is a good chance we might not find out any of that,” he adds.

Murray says that the FM community and OAs need to find ways of sharing resources and developing better operational practices and processes. At the moment, the priority for many companies is to drive down prices. However, when two or more firms get into a price war, lowering their prices in a battle for business, it strains the market, he says.

WINNING JOBS

Another reason that FM companies need to work more efficiently with OAs is in order to win contracts.

“We see a lot of FM companies re-inventing and using the Internet of Things (IoT), which is great, but what we have also found is that the FM providers are only implementing smart strategies on key projects,” Murray says.

“They need to implement these strategies across their entire operations, on all projects, irrespective of how big or small it may be. What they actually bring to the table should benefit the client, the OA, and ultimately themselves – because you will not lose work if you do a good job. They need to be consistent.

“When something happens at 3am, the OA manager is not there. It is the security guards and the technicians. Our job as an OA manager is more administrative: making sure we have the experts in place to do certain things, and monitoring them.

OAs and FMs must work together [CW Archives].

“There is a difference between monitoring the FM service provider and being a service provider, and it is important to understand how that works.

“The OA manager does not just issue tenders to FM companies. We know the buildings and the pain-points. We know what the owners care about, and that is what FM companies need to deliver,” explains Murray.

“FM is not just about electricians and plumbers. It is also the concierge, cleaners, and customer services.”

TECHNOLOGY AND FM

When it comes to the question of how mature the region’s FM industry is, especially in terms of its adoption of new technologies, Murray says he believes there is still scope for improvement.

“It is great having technology, but it is important to know what we are actually getting from it and why it is being used. People should not be using technology just for the sake of it.”

To illustrate, he gives an example of a complaint received by Place Community Managers regarding a contracted security firm failing to meet job performance expectations. In this case, the residents of a particular building complained that the on-duty security guard was unavailable during working hours.

You can make savings. You do not need to have several heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (Hvac) guys in the building, 24/7. You can get them in and out once a week, or once a month, which means those overheads can be shared.

“It is difficult to prove such a thing,” Murray says.

“One solution we offered was to invest in a monitoring technology such as a chip that will be tagged at strategic locations – as the security guard walks in, it will tag the phone. That report will come to us, so we will know exactly which locations the guard has visited, and at exactly what time.

“This type of technology can also be used to manage manpower, because you can see, for example, that instead of five guards you might only need four. Then you could be able to save AED50,000-60,000 ($13,612-16,334) a year.”

Murray says that a similar type of technology could also be used to monitor leaks in buildings via water sensors: “The most important thing to be able to do in a skyscraper when there is a water leak is to protect the elevators – they are the most expensive part of the building. We should connect that to the building management system to alert us.”

INPUT OR OUTPUT?

Murray goes on to discuss why he prefers performance-based contracts over input-based ones. “I personally feel output-based contracts are ideal because they can be adjusted,” he says. “You can make savings. You do not need to have several heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (Hvac) guys in the building, 24/7. You can get them in and out once a week, or once a month, which means those overheads can be shared.

“However, the problem with that is we need to submit budgets in advance to the land department, which means we need to submit the contract and set the price,” he continues. “Everything needs to be listed in the contract.”

OAs and FM operators only interact with end-users when there is a problem. What about every other minute of the day, when things are going right? People do not bother to acknowledge when everything is working fine.

Murray says that if the same services can be delivered with half the manpower, it means the employees are well-trained. However, when proposals for a smaller staff of better-trained workers are put forward, clients might feel that getting a bigger – if less capable – workforce for the same price offers better value for money.

“It is not always a win-win situation,” admits Murray. “The market is opening up, though, and is being more flexible with output-based contracts.”

Currently, the GCC market is evolving, according to Murray. “What worked last year may not work this year. If there are 10 steps in a process, can I reduce this to seven? This is something we should all be thinking about.

“I do not think people respect FM enough, including the FM companies themselves. I do not think they sell themselves, because they are seen by everybody as manpower.”

The mark of the best FM companies is that they keep buildings and plant rooms spotlessly clean and well-maintained, Murray says.

CHALLENGES

Price wars are the primary concern in the FM industry, Murray reiterates. “FM companies are in a price war with each other. They are in a constant tendering loop.

“An FM company will easily get 200-300 tenders in the space of two or three weeks. Everybody is just fighting for contracts,” he says.

The second key challenge facing the FM sector is to convince clients, OAs, and end-users of its value. FM companies need to invest in improving their client relations in order to highlight to clients and end-users the good work that they are doing, he adds.

I do not think people respect FM enough, including the FM companies themselves. I do not think they sell themselves, because they are seen by everybody as manpower.

“FM companies need to understand that if their security guard is sleeping while on duty and he gets caught, then it needs to be documented. At the same time, when things are going right, that needs to be documented, too.

“OAs and FM operators only interact with end-users when there is a problem. What about every other minute of the day, when things are going right? People do not bother to acknowledge when everything is working fine.

“There are also a lot of small FM players entering the market. Not every FM company has to be large, with 10,000 employees. It is fine to have smaller companies entering the market, but we also cannot have companies that find spare parts from unauthorised places and undercut the market. That is an issue.”

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