Outsourced buildings

Facilities management is a clear trend amongst firms in the FMCG trade. Stuart Thomas, general manager, ServeU, explains more.

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By  Laura M Barnes Published  October 9, 2005

|~||~||~|What is facilities management? Facilities management includes everything. That includes MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing), security, cleaning… whatever the customer requires. Another aspect we are involved in is consultancy at the design stage, so that we can properly operate the building when we take it over; there are a lot of times when buildings are designed beautifully architecturally, but how to operate the building has not been considered, even basic things like window cleaning. They don’t even put in brackets, for example, or something for people to abseil down. We are getting heavily involved in this, as are a lot of other FM companies. Another key aspect is energy management/energy saving. Buildings are designed superbly well, but quite often do not take into account energy savings. We go in either at the design stage or retrospectively: we go into a building, make a survey and, with the owner’s agreement, make changes to the operating procedures of the building in relation to the air conditioning, primarily because that is the main energy consumer. We get savings of up to 35%, which is effectively profit. There are many aspects to FM regardless of the type of building. FM is primarily an outsourcing business, which is relatively new to Dubai and the Middle East. In Europe and the US, outsourcing has been going on for many years. We basically go in and take over the running of the building, irrespective of what kind of business it is, leaving the customer to get on with their core business. They may be very good at manufacturing, but why should they concentrate on running a building; let them get on with their core business. That it is the next phase of FM within Dubai and the UAE. Although it is playing catch up, it is playing catch up very quickly. How big is the market here? It is becoming, like the construction industry, a very big market, and because it is still a relatively new concept in the Middle East, there is still a long way to go in all respects, whether it is MEP, security, cleaning etc… Again, it is probably 15years behind, but it is catching up very quickly. In between two and five years, I predict it to be on an equal level [with Europe and North America.] A couple of years ago in the UK, for example, a man would sit outside a factory and was poorly paid. Now, because of industrial espionage, security is very high in Europe. Companies like Motorola have an exceedingly high level of security, as it is a very competitive market. In Dubai, every security company has to be registered with the police, all of the security officers will have to take a test and if they fail they have to undertake a training course with the police and they have to be licensed. We have just completed the exercise ourselves where all 200 people involved with security at ServeU has been registered. What proportion of companies is taking up FM services? To a certain extent it is high, but not in comparison to Europe. Industrial facilities management is not as popular as commercial FM, because at this stage, in industrial FM, margins are very tight. Right now, it is about educating the clients about the benefits of outsourcing and the money and time they could save, but it will get there. Who are your clients? A lot of major players. We are a company of Union Properties [a property developer], but we are not solely reliant on it for business. UP forms a relatively small part of our business. Any customer is a customer, irrespective of who they are, and we are out to grow the company, but at a controlled rate. A lot of FM companies buy business, but they run them at a loss. We can’t do that, we have to control the growth of the company in order to give the right level of service. It is easy to go out and get business if you go out and buy it, but I am responsible for achieving profits. Buying business at a low rate just does not work if you are want to have the best paid staff and the best level of service. As a management team, we have a very strong sense of corporate social responsibility in regards to health and safety, for people and for the environment. Every one of my staff has my number, irrespective of who they are. Another aspect of corporate responsibility is that no ServeU vehicle can go over 100 kph, which is good for the environment and for the reduction of accidents. I take this very seriously. We do not have limiters or GPS, but all of the drivers use company vehicles with the logo, so if they are caught going in excess of the limit we take it very seriously. We offer the same service to everybody. It is about offering the right products at the right time and at the right price. We have now got a computer system that issues every job, with details of the service level agreement. We have service level agreements with all of our customers on a monthly basis, where we discuss the work and if there are any shortfalls [in performance.] There is a great habit here of manufacturing paper and using this for issuing reports that nobody ever actually reads. I am great believer, and again it is new here, in an open book policy, where we tell the customer how much something costs us. This is what we charge and this is what we are making. Again, I have been doing this for 20 years, and for me it is the way of doing business, but it’s new over here. What is in the service level agreements (SLAs)? The SLAs are generally monthly, depending upon what work we are doing, whether it is MEP, security or cleaning. My relevant manager sits down with the client and asks if they are happy with the service, the callout time, efficiency, cleanliness etc. We are also very keen to ensure that the appearance and manner of our staff is at a high standard, especially if they are working in a commercial building, as it impacts on the client. The SLA impacts on everything that we do. It also helps us to improve ourselves and monitor ourselves. Ideally, we would like everything to be excellent, but in the real world it isn’t. Also, we have to take into account that what a customer sees as good or very good varies greatly, so that is why these SLAs are good as a discussion document rather than simply filling out a form. It is a process of dialogue. What are your future plans? We are controlling growth at the moment in order to maintain service levels. We want to have the best clients and be the most profitable, but I will not jeopardise service levels for the sake of expanding the company.||**||

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