Industry experts come together for FM today’s Roundtable to discuss what the winning of the World Expo 2020 means for the FM industry. And is the industry ready to handle the pressure of an event like this?  By Megha S Anthony

The countdown to the Expo 2020 has started. It has been a year (November 27) since the announcement of Dubai winning the bid to host the World Expo 2020 made the headlines and the buzz still hasn’t died down. Infact when the ‘FM today’ team reached out to people in the industry to come together and discuss how the industry is going to cope-up with the requirements of the Expo 2020, we received a positive feedback with many even telling us that it was high time somebody spoke about the role of the FM industry keeping the Expo in mind.

 

Winning the bid to the Expo 2020 has been a defining moment not just for Dubai and the UAE, but the entire region as well, since the World Expo has a history of never being held in the Middle East, Africa and South East Asia regions. The group of experts that sat for this discussion foresees many changes, challenges and a positive future for not just the FM industry but the entire region in itself.



Brett Stanion, Associate Director,
Mace Macro International

Brett Stanion, Associate Director, Mace Macro International, part of the Mace Group, said, “I think Dubai has had a number of large events in the past but nothing to this scale yet, but the expo site is in fact a project in itself, in that way it is no different from anywhere else. What would be interesting are what the security issues in the event are going to be like and the impact it will have on the requirement of staff. I think the more challenging aspect in the industry will be the potential demand in terms of growth in the region and not just in Dubai.”

Agreeing with Brett was Sanjay Bhatia, Account Director-IWP, EFS Facilities Services. Sanjay added that apart from security, it’s the demand for people that will have a huge impact on how actually the services are delivered.

 

Approaching the entire Expo in three phases – the preparations, during and the after - was Francisco Silverio Marques, Director – Business Development and Marketing, MAF Dalkia. According to him the changes that will happen in the three phases in the industry will be very different. “If we could mention one key topic for each of the three phases it would probably be the need for skilled resources during the preparations phase. It’s a challenge that we face every day and now that we have the Expo and the whole world looking at us it can help us in building those skilled resources. It’s also an opportunity to use some leverage on the market and the quality of the services we have to deliver. The phase taking place during the Expo, quality is a must but on everybody’s mind will be the security aspect. How do you make sure that the water, air and the movements of the people, is safe for such an event? And then the focus shifts to sustainability aspect after the Expo. How do we make use of everything once it is done? They are not that many examples of Expos that have successfully been converting into a sustainable long-term entity,” he noted.

Sara Momtaz, Strategy and Commercial Development Manager, Khidmah, stressed on the point of sustainability. “I am quite interested in what the strategy will be like for long term sustainability. What we are going to do with the project after the whole six-month period of the Expo and also what’s going to happen after that. There is a huge push on bringing in the right manpower, technology to support and accommodate for the event itself but then what happens after the event? How do we prepare for that? How evolved is the FM industry in the actual infrastructure and construction of some of these venues or whatever is contributing towards the event to accommodate all these people, because the numbers that have been anticipated are vast. So for us as a company, in Khidmah, we are not just focused on Dubai and its expansion within the northern Emirates we are also quite interested with the growth in the region and what the potentials are,” she said.

Expressing how holding the Expo in the UAE is a good thing was Jason Ruehland, Managing Director, Emrill. “For me the expo is a great thing. Challenges are going to be there. Take the Olympics for example. Arma was appointed to run the overall FM for the Olympics and that was for a mix of different companies under a single brand. So I can imagine the government is going to have a best experience because every other G6 country is going to be here trying to sell their country while we have got the benefit. And they will also want their customer going back with the best Dubai experience they can have,” he said.

And added, “So, I am going to be competing with these guys for labour. While we are going to be talking about a two-year ramp up model for the Expo and there will be trial events and test events but the manpower won’t come to peak until the Expo period. And at that time we will see cost of employees going up and we will be fighting for the same employees. Trying to commit people to come over for three months, six months on a temporary contract is going to be hard because we are going to have to find that work force and train them. But then there is a cost associated in getting them ready. So whoever is going to be over viewing that experience in uniform they will have a customer experience, and someone’s going to have to train them. And someone is going to have to incur the cost to do that.”

What everyone pointed out was the flux of workforce that will be flooded in the market once the Expo concludes in mid-2021. And it can result in wastage of resources. But Brett quickly pointed out, “We must bear in mind that once the Expo ends in mid-2021, it will be time for the World Cup in Qatar in 2022. I think if we stood back in a perfect world we can use the resources here. I am not sure if that will happen but that would be the ideal solution.” Francisco too agreed and added, “Then you can have another project that have be a long-term sustainability like the airport. The DWC first stage would be fully operation by 2022 so like you are saying in the ideal world they should fall one after the other. And the airport is just going on and not just for a couple of months.”

As optimistic as they were, the truth is that labour of that kind can cost a company millions of dirhams and waiting for an event to happen and landing those contracts and winning them is not feasible as not every company can sustain it. “I feel it is time that the Dubai government talks to the FM industry about the events like the Expo or Dubai central and come to some sort of an agreement contract that is common to all big events and not just the Expo or the DWC as separate entities,” explained Brett.

Francisco Silverio Marques, 
Director – Business Development and Marketing, 
MAF Dalkia. 

Sanjay also pointed out that there will be a lot of cost sensitivity involved post the Expo. “Because of the Expo millions of sq. ft has been created. Over and above that millions of sq. ft has been created to cater as a city expecting the visitors to come. And you will see growth in terms of retail availability, hotels and service apartments. Everybody is gung ho about it now but post 2021 there will be demand for people and resources for may be one-and-a-half to two years prior to the expo but moving forward there will be a huge slump in that as well. Over a period of time apart from any services related to the Expo from the FM side general costs of services will go up because everybody is looking towards hiring for the event but there are other services and clients you still have to manage so the cost of delivering services to them will have the real back pulse because this will drive the market and the cost of doing business,” he said.

Sara Momtaz, Strategy and
Commercial Development Manager,
Khidmah

Brett too agreed that cost will be a major challenge. “If designed efficiently the cost will reduce the requirements of resource and cost. To a degree, I feel security is going to be resource hungry and an entity in itself but other aspects of the operations will help reduce it. The major points are how the design is going to influence the operation, which is very difficult because Dubai is only designing the site and the infrastructure within the site and the countries are going to design their own pavilions. They could recruit it here if they want to although that could become a bit of a nightmare with 300 different FMs on site with the different pavilions so it very difficult for them to control how that is going to work. And then you have got the individual resource requirements of clients of that world,” he added.

Apart from the challenges, the expectations of having an event like the World Expo in Dubai are going to be high. Sara elaborated, “What we find challenging at the moment are the current standards itself. International standards that will be expected from different levels like emergency responses, controlled disaster management, I mean anything can happen, we are not equipped to deal with the scenario at this stage. I am also interested in finding out the opinion of the people about who is going to service the service industry, if that makes sense. Where do we house all of these huge amounts of manpower that will be coming, where are they going to be and how do we take care of all these people, how are we going to service them.”

Jason Ruehland, 
Managing Director, 
Emrill

The group also strongly felt the need for fine tuning of the government regulations in respect to the construction and early involvement of the facilities management during the design level. The discussion then shifted towards the current best practices in the industry that would help sustaining with the requirements of the Expo. One best practice that would suit the scenario is the service level agreements. “We have seen a lot of service level agreements come through on to normally high procedure sites where alter specifications based around SLAs with even cash penalties for failing to deliver that. For example a piece of rubbish cannot be on the ground for more than 15 minutes, light bulb in a retail shop cannot be on for more than an hour. It’s all about the customer experience so when you walk into a facility you gain the best experience,” said Jason. Then he further explained that there has been a shift in the last couple of years where a lot of clients are introducing alter specifications where they not only ask about the manpower but also give their specific requirements and they are measured against that. He then added, “For us at Emrill it’s about getting that hotel experience when you walk into that facility. And that is what they are going to want for the Expo. Since we are focusing on the customer experiences now, in five years providing the hotel experience is going to be standard practice. Nearly 95 per cent of my contracts are now operating to that style of practice so I think we will be very much proficient that way when it comes around.”

“Customer experience as a phrase is being used a lot now in a lot of contracts,” observed Brett. He then added, “It’s all about the customer experience and how is that project going to attract people and what’s the standard of FM going to be.” Brett also believes that FM will get involved in the early design stage. “Some clients are interested in about what the efficiency in the operation phase and what the cost is. At first it was just about developing and selling but over time clients are interested in knowing about asset management and our opinion at front,” he reasons.

Sanjay Bhatia, 
Account Director-IWP, EFS
Facilities Services

With the future looking rather bright and hopeful at the same time, the group felt it was time for some action to be taken. The group highly recommended that it is time for the authorities as well as the associations to take some action about involving the FM at an earlier stage in order to save time, energy and most of all money. Here’s hoping this discussion sparks off many healthy discussions and makes a change towards the betterment of the region.

 
 
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