FM should integrate with construction

With increasing numbers of large-scale residential projects being signed off, facilities management is becoming an industry focus. Zoe Naylor reports on the need for more integration between FM and construction.

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By  Zoe Naylor Published  May 27, 2006

|~|123FM200.gif|~|Single FM managers are being brought in on new residential developments in Dubai to look after maintenance issues once properties have been released.|~|Facilities management is the hot topic around town this year as more and more projects come on line. While FMs traditionally enter the picture once a building is finished and handed over, there are growing calls for them to be brought into the fray much earlier. By bringing them in during the construction process — or even earlier — the argument is they will be able to influence design and help save developers money. “Proper FM is about taking operations and maintenance of facilities in the basement to the boardroom,” says Scott Wilson, managing director of Drake & Scull’s FM division. “One of the biggest challenges in the emerging and immature market of the UAE and Middle East generally — and it’s a cultural issue as well as a development issue — is the way the system has been run traditionally.” This typically involves hiring separate cleaners, security contractors and maintenance contractors for the FM part of a project. But all too often, employing numerous service providers ends up in poor quality specifications and no real understanding of service levels or service level agreements. “The end result is you get serious and premature deterioration in the assets, and what the client ends up having to do is huge replacement costs on buildings, plant and equipment because they haven’t been looked after properly,” says Wilson. Where assets in a building might and should generally last around 25 years, in this environment they often last less than 10 years. “Eighty per cent of the lifecycle cost of a building is in operations and maintenance,” says Wilson. “When it comes to the design and construction of buildings, we have all these professionals involved, but when it comes to the maintenance, there’s nobody there,” he adds. Wilson believes much of this can be attributed to the fact that people in this region rarely seem to understand the value of proper FM in respect to the long-term future value of their assets. He cites the example of Abu Dhabi, where the construction sector is really beginning to take off: “All this big boom in Abu Dhabi that’s about to happen is going to involve the demolition of hundreds of buildings that were only built 10 years ago. “The difference with 10 years ago, not only in terms of the market but in terms of the type of buildings that we’re now building, is that today’s buildings are very sophisticated.” While the technology may be different and systems may have changed, keeping up with and maintaining this rapid pace of development is another matter. “There are, for example, brand new buildings on Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road installed with systems that are supposed to be automatically controlling the plant and equipment.” “But because nobody knows how to maintain them, the systems are working by themselves and are causing major problems within the building, to the point where they’re actually having to switch these systems off.” Wilson cites another project in Qatar that incorporates seven primary building management systems and five supplementary building management systems: “These are designed to run the facilities and reduce labour, but because they are designed as stand- alone systems, we need 47 staff to manage them. We’ve recommended they integrate these systems into one, and then we’ll only need five people to manage them. The saving on labour alone on that is US $680,000 (AED2.5 million) per year.” Herein lies the argument for FMs being brought in at an earlier stage than is currently the norm — not only is there potential for saving money, but it could also help prevent much of the finger-pointing that takes place after a building has been handed over. When a building is finished there is usually a 12-month period (known as the defects liability period) in which the contractor guarantees to come back and fix any problems that may occur during the said period. All too often, the upkeep of the building is simply neglected during this time: “During that 12-month period people think they don’t have to do any maintenance. But that’s not what the warranty relates to,” says Wilson. “So a lot of companies here wait until the end of the 12-month period, by which time the contractor has finished the job, has disappeared and a year has passed — and only then do they start thinking about employing an operations and maintenance person.” This is often the time when FM specialists such as Drake & Scull enter the scene. But as Wilson says, being called in to a project at this late stage is rarely straightforward: “We go in and ask for all the drawings, operations and maintenance manuals and the extended guarantees and warranties, but all too often the documentation is lost. “In one Dubai project with 25 buildings it took us six months just to gather all the data to get up to speed,” he adds. “We identified the problems, produced a report and showed it to the client. Their response was ‘we’ll sue the contractors’ but that is impossible since they’ve gone.” Even basic logistical issues such as making sure there are provisions for stores, and providing access onto the premises can all too often be overlooked. Another key problem is that the energy and effort that goes into designing and producing a building often vanishes into the ether as soon as the contractor and consultant walk off site. “But if you bring the FM at the beginning or as part of the handover process, you can iron out those problems and you get proper transfer of the intellectual capital over to the facilities manager.” Another cause for grievance is the fact that the objectives of a facilities manager, and those of a construction manager and a design consultant, are completely different. “The last thing they [construction managers] want to do is to hand over documentation — they just want [to get] off the job. Whereas the FM manager is only just starting his job.” The obvious answer is to bring them together earlier i.e. get the FM involved at least prior to commissioning, and even at the design stage — an idea that is fast gaining popularity here: “What we’re actually finding is that we’re now getting tenders and enquiries for us to be a part of the design team,” says Wilson. The vast scale of development witnessed across the GCC region has prompted the rapid growth of the local FM market. This, coupled with an increase in the technology incorporated within today’s structures, means they must be managed properly. By introducing FM expertise earlier within a project, the smooth transition from construction to maintenance could be achieved more readily. “It’s not only about making sure that things are handed over and done properly,” summarises Wilson. “We can also add value in the design via the process of value engineering, whereby we look at the design in terms of what the building is going to be like when it’s finished and how it will operate.” The case for introducing FM earlier is a strong one: a failure to involve FM resources in the commissioning and handover process can result in the loss of contracts and vital operational knowledge. And a lack of properly integrated services and systems can mean hefty replacement costs down the line. With an estimated 80% of the lifecycle cost of a building being taken up with operations and maintenance, surely it is better to get it right first time round.||**||

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