Outside looking in
Duncan Waddell, managing director of FM Intelligence critically assesses the UAE property and FM markets.
Duncan Waddell has set up his own facilities management magazine, is a founder, past Chairman and Life Member of the Facility Management Association of Australia, and is currently the managing director of his own FM consultancy, FM Intelligence. FM Magazine caught up with him to ask his assessment of the UAE’s property and FM markets.
How has facilities management evolved since your early days in the industry?
I suppose the major evolution that I think has taken place is the growing awareness in companies that the facilities manager – or whatever he or she might be called – needs to play a much more active role in line with the changing pace of the organisation. In other words, that they are actually aware of what’s going on so they can be far more proactive in the way they can support any changes that are happening. So, rather than being left to the last minute, they are actually engaged during the course of the change management focus.
Companies need to be far more flexible these days because of changes within their own marketplaces. And if you’ve got a lot of change going on within a company because of marketplace changes, facilities management needs to be alongside all of that to make sure that it can be effected successfully to support all the employees as well as the ultimate goal of selling more products and services as far as the company’s concerned.
There is still a reticence to see it [FM] as being a key component of a management team, but I think it’s growing. I don’t think the UAE is anywhere near as developed as the Western world – specifically Europe, North America and Australia.
I think the UAE is poised between experiencing ongoing success with its projects and falling into the potential decay that a lot of major developments can fall into when they've been so rapid.
What’s your assessment of where the UAE is in its development of FM?
I think the UAE is poised between experiencing ongoing success with its projects and falling into the potential decay that a lot of major developments can fall into when they've been so rapid. There’s obviously the need for prompt profitability and return, but buildings aren’t built for a one-year picture but a long-term return. Therefore it’s essential that that long-term strategy is taken care of by the person who’s most capable of looking after it.
People in the UAE need to be more aware of the divide between the developer and construction, on the one hand, and the ongoing maintenance on the other. There is a need to close that divide.
I think people in the UAE need to be more aware of the divide between the developer, designer, and construction on the one hand, and the ongoing facilities management and maintenance on the other. There is a need to close that divide. In my experience, successful organisations are now getting involved in developments that are actively engaging the facilities manager or operations person involved during the course of design and construction. This is to ensure that potential long-term operational issues are managed and thought about before they become a problem. Now that’s not happening in the UAE. Or at least it’s only happening in projects that have started in the past year. There are a lot of projects that were started five years ago that don’t have those benefits.
The issue is to cross that divide; you’ve got the development, design and construction and then the handover needs to take place. And, unfortunately, so often it’s left to the last minute and you create more problems that way. I talk to a lot of
the larger local organisations here and I still see that there are gaps – even though people talk about it closing. There are still significant gaps and lessons to be learnt, which is a real concern.
There’s a lot to learn from the experiences of China, where the rate of decay on newish buildings is significant because, in general, they’re not being maintained properly.
One of the things that I’ve seen really lacking here is an ESD approach to buildings; an environmentally sustainable development approach – even some of the basic things. I believe it’s only now that some of the developers are saying “Well, we have to manage our waste”. There’s a huge cost to waste. You put all these thousands of people into these developments, what do you do with their trash? And that’s just their hard trash. Then there are the issues to do with waste water - either grey or brown. There are all those sorts of other things to be managed as well.
Do you think the GCC’s booming freehold property market will help close this gap as homeowners become more aware of lifecycle and service charge issues?
Certainly. When a user goes to look at a building in future, it won’t be “That looks fantastic, I’ll just grab it”. It’s
going to be “Well hang on, what are the issues to do with maintenance? And I want you to cap my service charges. I don’t want to be paying constantly increasing service charges.” Better use of water, better use of energy. Are the services appropriate? “How often are you going to have to rip up the tiles? Are the designs or materials appropriate for the wear and tear that’s going to occur within the building? Are the lifts suitable for what I’m looking for?” Even down to “How do you clean the windows effectively?” Very basic questions to ask but they all have an impact on the service charge.
Another thing that also comes into it is that I don’t believe that design engineers or architects are being challenged enough to talk about the operating costs of their specified plants and equipment. I don’t believe that they’re being responsible and
accountable for the decisions and the recommendations they make. In Australia, architects and design professionals are having to start taking responsibility for the functionality, usability and safety of their specifications.
I think it will come to roost here but… this marketplace is still heavily deregulated when it comes to controls. There is no one setting standards, and what standards may exist I don’t believe are being policed by people who have sufficient training and education to know what to look for. So it’s a matter of catching up, but the problem is you don’t want to be catching up when it’s too late.
What would be your key message to those working in facilities management and related industries?
When it comes to facilities and asset management – or whatever you want to call it – one of the single most important issues that I find people lacking in is an understanding of the need to take a strategic, planned approach to what they’re doing.
They’re too busy rushing off fighting all the fires rather than necessarily taking a step back and thinking about what’s got to be done.
Yes, you still need to make sure that things happen on a day-to-day basis, but the important thing is to actually have a plan. Most people don’t have one. Because it’s easy to go and do the doing rather than thinking about doing the doing! That’s the first thing.
The second thing that I think is really lacking in this marketplace is the need to focus on performance measurement and management. I’m not talking about standard forms of benchmarking, I’m talking about how do you encourage people to perform
better than they currently are? How do you challenge people to train their people to think differently? How do you train people and encourage them to be innovative with different solutions? People aren’t taking the time to think about those particular issues.
It’s that sort of thinking that needs to be reflected within contracts between providers and the companies that they are responsible to, which ultimately has an impact on two major stakeholders: one is the ultimate user of the facility; and the
second is the owners of the facility who are trying to derive a profit.
So the facilities manager or asset manager or operations director or whoever it may be is the lynchpin in making all that happen. And until such time that there is someone who takes the time to think about that, the marketplace will not lift itself to the next level of performance. And if the industry here is really serious about lifting its performance, it has to be able to embrace change and be able to be measured for accountability and responsibility in their performance.
The other area that I see, from a strategic point of view, that is not here is the use of information management and information technology to assist in overall facilities management services. And I’m not talking about security systems and or building automation systems either. I’m talking about entire systems that are linked to ensure that there is live information being made available to the people who need to make decisions, who need to respond to customers’ needs. There’s not a lot of thought being given to that from what I see. Yes, there are a lot of smart buildings around, but I don’t think they’ve gone that extra step. And that might be because of cost, but again I think that’s a very shortsighted position to take.
What are some of the most common gripes of your property management students, who are responsible for large portfolios of property in the GCC?
The most common theme is constantly being squeezed for money. People are paying millions and millions of dirhams to build buildings, and already they’re squeezing the operations and management budget. I don’t understand that. Surely the person who built the building knew what it was going to cost to run before they built it. Or maybe the question is, did they really? And the answer is, I doubt it.
The second thing is getting decisions made; getting people to understand the need to make critical decisions about maintenance and operations that will have an impact on customers: be they shoppers, be they tenants, be they owners.
Resources: finding good, trained people is another one. Being able to have the time to sit and think and plan. There’s a whole list of things but I think one of the strong things that comes through is the benefit of a forum for people to be able to talk with one another and share problems and solutions.
This is where an FM association could benefit the industry… Significantly! While there are some other great FM Associations to have an alliance with internationally, my experience is that the most benefit to be gained for the industry and FM
professionals in the GCC region will be by establishing an association or institute servicing the needs of the ‘local’ environment. I certainly would be pleased to support such a move, but the desire for the establishment of a local association has to emanate from local professionals.
One of the things that I find about the UAE is that people are not so willing to share information with others. But you set up a professional industry body to do exactly that - to share. We started the FMAA [Facilities Management Association of
Australia] by having a few monthly lunches where a few people got together and had a guest speaker. It grew and grew and grew with membership numbers now being approximately 1,500 from around Australia. You only need five or six people to start. In many circumstances, it will be driven by the professional practicing facilities manager rather than by the suppliers to the industry.