Not many would envy a man who likens his task to that of managing a luxury hotel and manning a cruise ship — at the same time. However, P.R. Vijayakumar, Managing Director of Pacific Owners’ Association Management Services, says it is the only way to ensure best performance at a property.
“We treat a building like a hotel in terms of staff appearance, cleanliness, courtesy, and related factors,” he says. “We also run every building like a ship, which means having all utilities and facilities shipshape, at all times. You simply cannot go wrong with these norms.”
Vijayakumar is referring specifically to facilities management (FM) in Dubai’s freehold residential buildings — a mammoth task that is overseen and supervised by association management firms such as his. “Ensuring proper and appropriate FM will lead to an increase in property value, ensure longevity of the property, and bring pride to the owners,” he says.
Typically, the selection of an FM firm is done by the Association Manager, on behalf of and under the direction of the owners’ association (OA). While some boards do get involved in the process, the OA Manager is ultimately responsible for the building and has the necessary experience to make the final decision, explains Vijayakumar.
At a high-rise in Jumeirah Lakes Towers, OA Board Member Marjoleine Buker recalls the process of changing an FM contract, from a company associated with the developer to one best suited for the building. “Together with our OA Manager, we invited tenders from nine FM companies in Dubai, although only four responded. Our parameters were capabilities and financial stability, and experience with similar projects.”
The fire at Tamweel Tower in 2012 was also a cause for widespread concern among OAs, as well as for ordinary residents in JLT.
“We chose an FM company that we believe is well equipped to handle emergencies and accidents,” she adds.
Across Dubai, as an increasing number of OAs continue to be formed within freehold communities, the task of appointing an FM company is gathering steam. New players without established credentials, FM companies closely linked to the developer, lengthy contracts of one and three years, and ineptness are just some factors that affect the ongoing relationship between OAs and FM firms. Fledgling OAs would do well to remember some of the basic principles when choosing an FM firm.
Around the world, most FM organisations are now half the size they were 20 years ago, by learning how to evaluate their core competencies, and by augmenting their services with outsourced service providers.
In the UAE, where the industry is nascent, successful organisations are the ones that are customer-focused and data-driven. They don’t need to be large, but they have to be smart. An understanding of finance means sound decision-making around data and the ability to use facts prudently. Communication skills are crucial, the more articulate an FM team, the better it will be able to understand and execute the needs of the owners.
As a service, FM encompasses multiple disciplines to ensure smooth functionality of the built environment. A great FM company will know how best to integrate its people, place, processes and technologies. Dealing with a wide assortment of contractors is another much needed skill-set, and facility executives must know what questions to ask contractors, and how to evaluate their answers. The sheer variety of these subjects could range from landscaping, air-conditioning and engineering, to malfunctioning elevators and mould-infested walls.
FM involves skills and strengths in different sectors. The traditional route to success in FM is by rising through the ranks, which means an FM manager may have started off as a mechanic or technician before transferring into FM. Alternatively, a degree in engineering or FM makes a team leader more qualified by virtue of being well-versed in diverse concepts. When interviewing an FM company, ask about accounting and budgeting, efficiency and building management systems.
Capability is a broad spectrum term when it comes to FM: maintaining up-to-date programmes, adhering to schedules, and ensuring that the building is prepared for the most unthinkable events form parts of it. As challenging as it is to juggle a variety of existing roles, suggesting and implementing new measures is equally important.
Ask what initiatives have been undertaken at other projects, and how long they took and how much they cost. Using allocated resources to the utmost potential is achieved by meticulous planning and budgeting.
The prowess of an FM company can be measured by the extras it brings to the table, including mobilisation, energy and water savings, cost and compliance management, and emergency preparedness. Facility managers play a critical role in the business continuity after accidents. Although most FM companies may not be able to present local case studies, outsourcing can easily bring in relevant expertise.
Soaring energy costs and concerns about environmental impact are two factors that every FM firm must pay heed to. In Dubai, these factors include waste reduction and recycling, water management, district cooling and home automation.
FM affects occupant behaviour and thereby, the occupancy rate of a building. FM companies continue to face challenges posed by varying occupancy rates and densities, which in turn affect usage of power, water and cooling, besides others in a building.
While technology can help identify patterns, and places to allocate resources to, being aware of how to leverage these together with the right people is critical to the success of the FM firm and also the buildings they manage.