In step with modernity, FM smartens up

The FM industry in the UAE is predicted to exceed Dh20 billion this year / Image Credit: Supplied.The FM industry in the UAE is predicted to exceed Dh20 billion this year / Image Credit: Supplied.

Facilities Management (FM), the new-age avatar of the maintenance companies of yesteryears, has come a long way from its humble roots. From sustainability to energy savings, eco-friendly cleaning solutions to on-time maintenance, the FM industry has been at the forefront of adopting innovative solutions to make sustainable urbanisation a reality.

Estimated to grow from $24.65 billion (Dh90.53 billion) in 2014 to $43.69 billion by 2019, the global FM industry is predicted to rise up to 93 per cent over the next three to five years. With smart cities, smart buildings and smart homes on the brink of explosive growth, it is natural that the industry is embracing smart technology solutions, not only for increasing operational efficiencies and managing the increasing complexity of legacy buildings and aging infrastructure, but also to improve reporting, compliance and staff deliverables.

Closer home, the boom in the construction and infrastructure related activities is fueling robust growth in the Middle East’s FM sector. The UAE industry itself is predicted to exceed Dh20 billion in 2016, leading the FM revolution in the region followed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

FM outsourcing appears to be a key factor impacting the growth in this sector, with the continued supply of residential and commercial properties creating steady demand for FM services. The positive performance of the wider construction sector and the maturing regulatory environment has laid a sound foundation for the smart FM market, contributing to its growth as stringent rules and higher standards necessitate professionally managed buildings and facilities. While these have been the key drivers from a developer’s perspective, end-users have also evolved considerably, demanding on-time delivery, anytime-anywhere service models and real-time updates. This has resulted in FM companies embracing tech innovations for smart FM to stay ahead of the pack.

Unique solutions

Leading UAE-based total FM firm, Farnek, is one of the first in the region to adopt a smart Time Attendance Solution via Google Apps Partner, Exeo, for more than 3500 employees. Launched during the recently concluded FM Expo & World FM Congress in Dubai, the online smart solution promises a host of benefits for Farnek and its customers by optimising its operational efficiency, introducing online learning, improving health and safety, managing risk better and overall delivering a higher quality of service.

Markus Oberlin, CEO, Farnek, tells PW: “Farnek was established in 1980 and has since secured itself as a market leader in sustainable and technology-focused total facilities management services by incorporating innovation into all aspect of the business. Farnek was one of the first FM companies to offer an online maintenance platform and in conjunction with Hitches & Glitches, (part of the Farnek group since 2014) signed an agreement with Gadgitech, a UAE distributor of smart home products. The aim for the company is to become a market leader in the smart home installation and maintenance sector.”

Al Shirawi, another market leader in this space, points out that they have aligned their growth objectives with Dubai’s ‘smart city’ vision and they feel there is a need for construction and technology to merge to achieve that ambitious vision. “At Al Shirawi, we are passionate about the Dubai Vision to become a ‘smart city’ and its economic potential for prosperity. It is an inspiration not only at a regional level but across the globe. Keeping up with that speed is an exciting challenge for us and one we have taken on seriously,” says Evie Boustantzi, General Manager, Al Shirawi Facilities Management. Talking about some of the initiatives Al Shirawi has launched in the smart FM arena, she says, “Al Shirawi FM JV with Identigy, an established global solution and service provider that transforms the way businesses operate with innovative identity-driven smart systems, enables facilities maintenance service optimisation through technology”.

Jason Ruehland, Managing Director, Emrill, explains how adopting smart FM has enabled higher reliability, shorter downtimes and lesser breakdowns. “Introducing the Computer-Aided Facility Management (CAFM) system has improved building system reliability. Our sites now experience lesser breakdowns with less costly repairs and replacements for clients. The CAFM system, which we developed, is a secure web based application that can be accessed via the internet anywhere in the world by our clients and teams without having to download the software. We currently manage 180 different clients, thousands of properties and all their associated tasks.”

Smart benefits

Industry experts point out that the benefits of smart FM are manifold, culminating in an eventual saving of costs through more efficient operations. In terms of challenges, economic and financial upheavals have a direct impact as budgets get tighter and spending restricted. However, education and communication about the immediate savings that smart FM solution offers, along with case studies of implemented projects can help catalyse the market towards increased adoption, says Boustantzi. From an internal perspective, Ruehland from Emrill points out that accuracy of data remains their biggest challenge with smart FM at an employee input level.

Oberlin talks about the next generation property management systems (PMS) governing the current complex, expensive and highly technical built environments. “To deliver optimal performance, seconds literally count, in terms of the damage an electrical fault or a water leak can do to a $250 million building,” he explains, underscoring the importance of timely information, intervention and prevention in the FM industry.

Maintaining an edge

It stands to reason that adopting smart FM technologies would give FM providers an edge over their competitors given its direct impact on improving operational efficiencies, reducing costs, enhancing response time and thereby delivering savings and value to all stakeholders.

Oberlin tells PW about Farnek’s earliest tech advancements nearly a decade ago. “More than 10 years ago the company launched our internet-based software optimiser in the UAE, which addresses the first step in energy management: Monitoring and Benchmarking. Today this tool is used by more than 100 properties (hotels, commercial or residential buildings) throughout the region.”

While commenting on Farnek’s current smart FM portfolio, he adds, “Recent developments include our ground-breaking Time Attendance Solution in collaboration with Google Apps Partner Exeo.

“We have also developed our remote monitoring system from Urbanise, a cloud-based analytic system which monitors critical assets, which can now be linked to mobile technicians or a distant control centre”.

At Emrill, initiatives in the direction of smart FM include FM systems integrated smart phones, and intelligent sensors.

“One of our first key initiatives is the integration of smart phones with CAFM systems which will allow us to dispatch a task from the CAFM system directly to one of the teams using a smartphone anywhere in the world.

“The biggest benefit is the ability to track each task in real time and find the closest resource to the task which reduces travel time. Second is the implementation of wireless low cost sensors, which are small battery operated devices that have the capacity to measure numerous things such as temperature, vibration, water, airflow, door open or closed, humidity etc.

“By using the sensors our teams have a better chance of preventing breakdowns before they happen” says Ruehland.

At Al Shirawi, other solutions they have implemented are mostly around cashless payment environments, visitor management systems, privileges-driven access control and security.

Their most recent implementation is at The American School of Dubai, where the smart solutions include access control, privilege control and cashless transactions throughout the school, providing “an enriching experience to its students, parents and visitors and even the extended community such as nannies and drivers” adds Boustantzi.

Talking about the future of smart FM, both globally and in the region, industry experts say smart technologies are slowly getting embedded into the very fabric of any industry, or society, and that all innovations in the construction industry are needed to be met with even more rapid advancement within the FM sector.




Source: Neha Kaul, Special to Property Weekly PW


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