Facilities management (FM) is a critical aspect of the built environment that deals with the maintenance, repair, and ongoing supervision of a building’s physical assets to ensure the preservation of that property’s value.
In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), there is a widely publicised narrative that promotes alignment of the asset and facilities management sectors with global industry best practices. This narrative includes the emphasis on sustainability, the increase in adoption of smart technology and the importance of analysing the performance of assets over the whole life cycle. Buzz words and phrases such as life cycle cost modelling, BIM (Building Information Modeling), CAFM (Computer Aided Facility Management) and the IoT (Internet of Things) are constantly mentioned within articles published on this topic or during property-based exhibitions held in the region. As important, well intentioned and forward thinking as these dialogues are, the unfortunate reality on the ground, however, is far from the picture being illustrated. That is not to say that all FM service providers in the UAE are not delivering in these key areas, but rather the market overall is not and, crucially, investment from property owners in supporting such measures is noticeably absent.
The majority of multi-occupancy assets in the UAE utilise very little to no technological innovations in the delivery of facilities management services. Life cycle planning – a systematic, comprehensive approach to managing a building over its entire life span – is seldom considered and if it is, it is not done wholistically and often focuses on short-term CAPEX expenditure forecasting. The reason for this is largely due to a prevalent, short term cost saving mind-set which is preventing the improvement of existing built assets in the UAE. Doing ‘more with less’ has been taken too far, with the result being simply less being done! Satisfying the minimum statutory requirements has become the norm in the UAE and not the minimum expectation as it should be.
As an example, a three- or five-year facilities management contract would not be uncommon in other markets. It is, however, rare in the UAE. FM contracts in the Emirates are often procured annually with owners expecting asset managers to re-tender the provision each year. This only serves to propagate short-term thinking and, as FM providers cannot guarantee a consistent workload, there is little incentive for them to invest in the resources necessary to adequately maintain the asset. When combined with a very competitive FM market incorporating a wide disparity in competence, the result is a commercial race to the bottom that has damaging consequences to built assets. The assets are then left with long lists of deferred maintenance, inefficient plant and equipment and poor-quality documentation. With each change of provider, the FM service delivery approach changes and as- built records, often put under the custody of the service provider, become increasingly inaccurate or lost altogether.
Understandably, a building owner’s leading interest is often commercial. However, the field of view by which their commercial interests are traditionally measured is too narrow. Commercial interests will always be integral to the procurement of FM services but satisfying such interests should not be at the expense of the physical asset and its effective operation. Ironically, prioritisation of the short-term commercial interests of owners and stakeholders ultimately leads to the dissatisfaction of the very same owners and stakeholders due to dilapidation of the asset, manifestation of health safety risks, reduced appeal to owners or tenants and escalation of repair and renovation costs associated with deferred works or substandard, cheap and quick-fix maintenance.
A clearly defined facilities management strategy would be the prescription to this.
It is well-known that considerable value can be added to a project when facilities management consultancy services are engaged at the very beginning of a project’s life cycle. That is not to say, however, that the value which can be added by developing and implementing an FM strategy for an existing asset is inconsequential. In fact, having been operational for a period of time, the existing asset, its users and the strengths and weaknesses of its current processes and procedures provide a wealth of data, allowing a strategy to be better defined as a result. According to Architecture 2030, approximately two-thirds of global building stock for 2040 is already in existence today. This means that there are bigger gains to be had by focusing on improving the operation of our existing buildings than upcoming assets.
A well-defined FM strategy is symbiotic with the objectives of the owners and stakeholders and becomes the reference point from which the long-term management aims, and property life-cycle plans are delivered. Such a strategy should cover, as a minimum, a definition of the owner’s objectives for the asset, service requirements for the asset, roles and responsibilities, standard operating procedures to be followed, contract selection, procurement, document management, performance management, change management, life cycle cost modelling, risk identification and management, business continuity, along with overall strategy monitoring and review.
Given the huge costs expended in designing and constructing assets in the UAE, a comparatively small investment in developing an FM strategy would provide a more wholistic view of costs and prioritise long term cost efficiency. It would also provide road maps to achieve stakeholders’ long-term objectives and weed out incompetent service providers, thereby improving the standards of operation and maintenance and, most importantly, protecting and extending the service life and relevance of the asset.