Serco set to serve up successful FM menu

John Ashcroft, managing director of Serco Middle East facilities management (FM), talks to Construction Week about the importance of good maintenance practice on large building developments in the UAE.

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By  Colin Foreman Published  September 24, 2005

Serco set to serve up successful FM menu|~|John-Ashcroft-200.gif|~|John Ashcroft: ‘Traditional maintenance practices are no longer enough in the UAE construction market.’|~|How well thought out are most developments in the UAE when it comes to maintenance?

Recent changes in the UAE construction market have meant that in many instances, traditional maintenance practices are no longer practical. With the advent of complex, often multi-functional developments, and their associated high price tags, developers and owners are recognising that maintenance practices are assuming far greater importance, as they are a significant cost factor in the life cycle of a project.

Therefore, designing-in operational efficiencies and designing-out maintenance at the concept stage, is, and will continue to be, a major factor in the success of new projects.

Has the nature of FM work in the UAE changed as the projects and buildings have become more ambitious?

The increasing number of private communities and iconic buildings has added a new dimension to the FM business. FM providers are now being asked to manage and maintain a far greater range of portfolio services within a single contract — a one-stop shop.

We are seeing an emerging requirement for the management of additional services such as road maintenance, waste management, street lighting and security, through to building functionality and service charge calculations.

We are also being asked to assist owners and developers at the concept and design stage of new projects to design-in FM operational efficiencies, as that is where value can be added over the life of a project.

FM work is now much more complex and there is a growing recognition that, to use an old adage, you get what you
pay for.

To be the best, quality of service is vital. Few FM companies in the UAE can provide such a comprehensive portfolio of the right quality.

With the shift from mainly low-rise buildings and small residential compound communities, towards increasingly
ambitious and complex projects, developers and owners are realising the added value that FM providers — such as Serco — can offer. Services include FM consultancy at the concept stage, through construction, to full FM operations all under one roof.

What mistakes are made by developers
and how are these normally dealt with?

Prestigious, high profile projects and cutting-edge developments start as someone’s ‘great vision’. The intellectual rigour occurs when converting this vision into reality; getting the balance right between idealism and realism is hard.

There is a need to recognise that the end of construction does not signify the end of a project, but merely the first stage in the whole life of a new community. The most successful developers in the UAE understand this concept.

The secret to achieving the idealism/realism balance is simple: developers not only need architects and designers at concept design stage, they also need strategic FM consultancy to ensure that the project is seen in its entirety from an end-users’ and owner’s perspective.

Without designing-in FM operational efficiency from the outset, the developer initially and owner latterly, will often find themselves ‘fire fighting’ throughout the life of the
project. Rectification of original error normally involves retrofitting to various degrees, which not only is time consuming, disruptive and expensive, it also disappoints the end-user, with subsequent damage to the owner’s and developer’s reputation.

The message is clear: without the assistance of FM operational consultants from the very earliest stages of a project — ideally prior to design — the developer will be challenged to deliver his promises.

How do you think these problems can be prevented in the future?

The keys lie in education and a true understanding of what FM really is. Journals like Construction Week can play a major part in addressing the education aspect, by raising awareness and stimulating discussion surrounding the contribution that FM can make to the overall build lifecycle process.

There is a popular misconception that FM just involves the maintenance of buildings; this is definitely not the case. FM needs to be seen as equally essential from the outset of a project, as architecture, finance, design and construction.
Enlightened developers in the Region are reaping the
benefits of early FM operational involvement in projects. Hopefully, the word will spread.

FM companies with the right portfolio of skills can and
do save the developer, and ultimately the end-user,
significant management and maintenance costs.

What type of projects would benefit the most from a more strategic approach to facilities management?

Serco is involved in a number of projects throughout the
Gulf region where we are providing what we term strategic FM: early operator involvement from FM operational consultancy through construction, to site FM management and maintenance.

Strategic FM can be applied to any market sector. For example, we are currently using our techniques and processes in a variety of complicated projects such as hospitals, schools, universities, airports and urban developments, both in the UAE and further afield.

Our experience tells us that generally speaking, the larger the project, the greater the number of end-users who will ultimately rely on the development. Equally, the larger the project, the greater the risks and cost implications associated with the project and the greater likelihood of issues arising. It is the larger, more complex projects where we can really add most value.

A key point to realise is that if we are involved from the
outset in the designing-in of operational efficiency and designing-out maintenance and we provide the wrong consultancy advice, we suffer the consequences of putting it right. It focuses our minds and underpins our commitment.

How is PFI (Private Finance Initiative) used for FM work in other markets like the UK and would that be applicable in the UAE?

PFIs in the UK are a perfect example of the benefits that FM companies can bring to large value and financially sensitive government projects. These projects are often also referred to us as PPPs (Public Private Partnerships). Put simply, PFIs involve the provision of a service or range of services wrapped around a major asset, eg, building complexes or prime equipment.

A PFI allows the customer to have the benefits of the service without necessarily having to purchase the asset up front to achieve the service. A simple analogy is you do not have to buy an aircraft to travel in one. Rather, the asset is financed independently by a special purpose company, which will include the FM provider’s parent company, and in effect is leased back to the customer over the life of the contract. Involving an experienced FM operator from the start has been critical to the success of such projects from concept to full operation.

In return for making a financial commitment, the FM operations company secures a long operating contract; typical contract durations often exceed 20 years. Serco is currently involved in 14 PFIs. The UK PFI business model is easily transferable. Both the Governments of Abu Dhabi (UAE University) and Oman (Staff Training College) have brought in Serco at the concept stages of these two PFI projects to assist with strategic FM.

Do you think that the UAE will use PFI-type arrangements more often in the future?

There is no doubt of the benefits that can be harnessed when bringing in private organisations to assist with large government projects. This has been recognised in the UAE
by the formation of The Emirates Foundation under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, whereby top private companies have been encouraged to consider
implementing Private Public Partnerships (PPP’s) and PFIs within the UAE.

With such high level government support there must be a strong future for such initiatives. Serco and Mubadala’s involvement in the UAE University in Al Ain is one such PPP/PFI example.||**||

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