It’s always interesting to know how every region understands facilities management as an industry. And this interpretation is reflected on its growth itself. While everyone is talking about the boom in construction in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and how it is increasing the demand of the FM division out there, reality shows us a clearer picture. At the recent FM today Roundtable supported by UGL Services, in Riyadh, the group of experts reveals the various challenges that FM faces in the Kingdom. While the industry in the Kingdom may not be moving as fast as they would like it to move they agree that it is definitely on the right path.

Growing Awareness

When it comes to awareness of FM, the panelists feel that it has increased over the years. Mohammed E Bundakji, Managing Director, Initial Saudi Group, says, “FM in the past was not entirely well understood. The current market’s need for FM is what is driving it forward. We have projects with high standards where the client requires quality, hence driven by demand for high quality facilities management services.”

Awareness, he says, has increased with the presence of foreign FM companies in Saudi coming in for mega projects. “Where I find some concern is in the lack of understanding that lies with some government institutions that have yet to fully grasp the proper meaning of FM and the value it adds. In fact, we only recently have started using the term ‘Facilities Management’ as a recognized activity in today’s market. While the awareness of FM is picking up slowly but surely, only a few might truly understand the actual meaning of FM who arguably are the individuals sharing this round table conference right now, people who have gone and educated themselves in what it means to actually conduct proper FM processes and procedures. FM managers in Saudi are just a handful; I myself have undertaken some courses in England at the BIFM institute in London, which is one of the pioneers in the FM industry worldwide and would like to add that the more people that get trained and educated about FM the more aware the Saudi market will become aware of the benefits of real FM,” adds Mohammed.

Agrees Eng Rakan Abdulhakim Al- Sahli, Project Manager of PMAH, Sedar Group. “Things are really changing with so many projects that are happening. Agree that the Government is not aware of what is FM, they still feel that it is just about operational maintenance but I feel there is big potential for this industry especially with the projects coming here, but what’s happening is that there are big beautiful buildings coming next to each other but they are forgetting that these buildings need to be managed for the next 40 to 50 years,” he says.

The need for increasing awareness with the help of education was a point many stressed upon. Says Thomas A. Merkel, Managing Director, Massaq Support Services International LTD Co, “There is a huge requirement for FM in Saudi. Seeing the kind of buildings, we are going to need FM people to help manage and maintain them. And buildings are no longer just about the offices with lights and switches going on and off or a thermostat to maintain. It’s more than that now. So for FM to establish itself in Saudi Arabia, they have to start as a professional group and include in the curriculums in technical colleges so that people can say or are aware of them and credit FM people inside Arabia.” Tim Glover, Chief Operating Officer, Central Region, Initial Saudi Arabia Group, points out how the country has developed a lot over the last 80 odd years and how there is a disconnect with the industry. “The current plans revolve around large scale projects that should anchor communities well into the future. Inevitably those various projects need to be properly managed and maintained in order that they will last. The country is now realising this. Substantial sums of money are paid to international companies to design and build these projects: there is a growing realisation that facilities management is required to maintain them. However I think there is a big disconnect between the realisation that facilities management is required and the actual willingness to pay for those services on the ground.”

While most felt that there is no established ‘FM industry’ in the Kingdom, they did all agree on the potential and future it has in the industry. Al Wilson, Services Director, Carillion Saudi Arabia LLC, says, “I feel there is a bright future because of the volume of very high-end, high-technology buildings under construction that will come to the market, and secondly the population demographic is increasingly very young, people are well educated, well-travelled, and have growing expectations. Putting these two factors together creates a powerful demand stimulus for the emergent FM industry.”

Having been in the industry for 24 years, Khaja Hussain Siddiqui, Divisional Manager, CHBIB, says he has been a witness to the growing market trends in the Kingdom. “I have seen lot of potential within the FM companies that are emerging now. Many from the young generation, who have studied abroad, have returned with new ideas, discussing and making the surroundings look clean. They keep trying to incorporate and implement the same ideas that they have seen abroad out here,” he says and adds, “Why I can confidently say that there have been rapid changes and development in the FM sector is because of the number of equipment that we are selling has grown tremendously. We have almost tripled our sale of equipment in the last 5 years. The labour market has saturated and there has been a lot of difficulty in sourcing and hiring in general, in turn FM companies are diverting their attention towards more and more of mechanized equipment.”

Maintaining International Standards

There are a lot of expectations from the Kingdom to deliver international standards in FM. The group believed that while there are high standards being followed there are no real benchmarks for these standards. “One of the challenges we have is that clients talk about international standards, but don’t actually refer to any particular one. I think another challenge we have is that we often receive our RFP’s that quotes to international standards where they clearly specify what they want and like most multinational companies will bid for the standard the client have asked for. Sadly we often find the contract has been awarded to someone else delivering the project to no recognized standard, as it has gone to the cheaper price. You know you sometimes find that some clients ask for one thing and accept something very different,” says Richard Naylor, Chief Executive – KSA, UGL Services.

According to Mohammed while the Kingdom is moving towards delivering international standards in FM he also feels that demand for quality standards by its people is what will make a difference in driving those standards up and in turn creating a demand for better FM services. “In comparison, take Dubai for instance, the standards of living are quite high and therefore so are the demands for quality services which sets the bar for the standards required. Taking into consideration the above mentioned, if the Saudi market standards rise with demand then a higher standard of FM service delivery will be established as a bench mark which, in turn will drive the standards up and will allow the Kingdom to achieve what is expected of it. In order for us to understand what drives these standards up we would need to take in to consideration standard of living, the style, and what people are willing to live with and what they cannot live without. In Dubai people are not willing to live with anything less than the highest of standards, but here they are, why?

Because historically the Saudi market was price driven rather than quality driven, which has notably changed for the better recently,” he adds. The group stressed upon education being the key to create higher standards. “Education is very important, particularly when it comes to health and safety, when people are not educated between the right thing to do and the wrong thing to do, then people will continue to do it. So it starts at the very beginning,

the awareness through the education system and in many cases, as children at home,” says Richard. Agrees Hussain. He goes on to add, “Awareness through the school is a good point. If one is educated right from the beginning about cleanliness that will go down and result in having a clean facility and surroundings in the future. For example, in the year 2007 we did a pilot project in Jeddah, along with the local contractor involving few students, who were very happy to be part of the campaign to create awareness on garbage being dumped carefully in the designated bins. Students have showed keen interest in cleaning and willing to participate in spreading awareness about how garbage is disposed. I feel such kind of exercise will help as well.”

Taking the Saudi culture into mind, Mohammed then points out that the best way to set standards is to establish a criterion to follow and impose fines on projects that do not adhere to the level of quality that is expected from the relevant governing bodies. “Then conduct FM educational training to spread awareness and create capabilities to be delivered by local Saudi’s, and of course the establishment of standard levels to be followed,” he adds. While implementing changes is good, it will take time to see a difference. Citing an example of this was Mark Davies, Facilities Management Expert, Hill International.

“One of the prime examples in Saudi Arabia is KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology) in Jeddah where they were trying to educate their community on how they to use the recycling waste containers for example. They struggled in the beginning to do this but now they are delivering as planned. It did cost a lot of money in managing the process but it was a success, people started separating the waste,” he says.

Retaining Saudi Nationals

Another major challenge the Kingdom faces is attracting and retaining Saudi Nationals to the industry. Says Richard, “Clearly Saudization in all industries in KSA is only going in one direction and that is to increase. We believe it will be the same for our industry. As a service provider that recruits staff, I feel that there is a disconnect. The government is setting an expectation of the numbers of nationals that you should bring into the organisation. Yet, when you go into the market, the number of Saudis that are interested and awareness of the FM industry is not there.” Mark on the other hand believes that if one has to introduce Saudi nationals into the industry you have to introduce them the right way. “While recruiting, if we have just one good one out of ten then he/she would just head in the direction that we lead them. So what we do is we put that person in a position for one month and then next month in another. This way you kind of rotate the individual and educate him/her in different roles and then the person will be in a better position to tell you what role they are best suited for,” he adds.

Being in a hands on business on the janitorial side, Thomas wonders if you can put a man in as a manager who doesn’t really understand what it is to be a janitor? “The answer is no in most instances. The man who is a manager must provide strong indications that know the work. If they are not prepared to do that then results are minimal and turnover of management staff very high,” he says. At Initial Saudi, Mohammad states that with a workforce of over 10,000, they employ above 1000 Saudis to comply the Nitaqat requirements.

“While we are adhering to policy, we are required to creatively find ways to put our Saudi members to use which is difficult in the absence of the industry understanding of FM and the availability of qualified candidates to undertake the jobs at hand. As a result our attrition rate is seldom less than 40 per cent annually in relation to our Saudi workforce. Where we are trying to actually make that change is by delivering “on job training” and converting our employees into basic operational executives by putting them on projects and giving them hands on training. While this might be difficult at first we are hopeful that our exercise will deliver results as we have noticed change in the past few months. For instance we have had occasions where we have had some Saudi staff members graduate to higher jobs such as project supervisors, area supervisors, and in few cases project managers,” he says.

Growth and changes

Despite the challenges the industry has definitely seen a lot of growth and changes over the years. And the future, they believe is very promising. “The biggest thing they did in Saudi is that they removed people from the street which we thought was a crazy thing at first but it actually turned out to be a good thing. Then again the balance of pay has not leveled yet. Since the time I first got here there were not many people bidding for the FM projects but now there are a few more people and that’s good to know,” says Mark.

Richard adds, “I think the bidding process has become a little easier. Certainly we have seen the change since we first arrived in Saudi Arabia. Clients are now keen to have multinationals on the tender list and they recognized the benefits that multi nationals can offer. So we are keen to work on a tender list that has some five or six similar companies as you. You know there is a fighting chance for success, because the client wants quality over cost and traditionally that is not the case. Now when we are invited what we try to establish who we are bidding against, If we find the majority of the people on the list are not FM companies and are the traditional low cost maintenance companies, we politely decline because we find that either the client doesn’t understand the difference between them and FM service providers or they make the decision purely on cost and not on quality. Over time we have seen many more international FM companies in the market and we are finding many tender lists with similar companies on that list, which is a really positive step forward.”

While Mohammed points out his concern over many ‘pop up’ FM companies, who offer just cleaning services but claim to be FM companies, Richard avers that this may not be a negative sign for the industry. “I don’t see that as a negative thing, many years ago we witnessed this in the UAE, many companies were rebranding themselves as FM companies. But if you look at it from an awareness perspective, perhaps the more companies that call themselves FM service providers will help redefine and increase the overall FM profile in the industry,” he concludes.









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Nivedha Sridhar is a member of the founding team at Facilio Inc