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‘Should I get the tools and wait for the customer or get the customer then bring my tools?’

Jamal Lootah, Co-Founder and President, MEFMA, speaks on the level of investment by FM companies on specialised training, the importance of collaborating with manufacturers to ensure proper maintenance of equipment and setting minimum standards for the FM sector. Excerpts from the interview with Hannah Jo Uy…

| | Sep 30, 2018 | 10:23 am
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Would you say that FM companies also fall victim to an increasingly price driven market, to such an extent that it may serve as a bottleneck for investment in training personnel for handling more specialised operations, such as the maintenance of chillers and cooling towers?
Oh, yes! We have good FM companies and good clients, who believe in technology and don’t mind investing for the future. The tricky thing with FM companies is, they ask, ‘Should I get the tools and people and wait for a customer or let me get the customer first and then bring my tools? Should I invest in training and equipment and just wait for the client? It’s risky; how long should I wait?’ What level do you want to be as [an FM provider]? You want to be a prime and specialised FM company or you want to just follow the client and the market?

Jamal Lootah

If they refuse to invest in technology or training, all is reflected in the company. Check the profile of any company, see the client and see which ones they are dealing with. [Developments such as] Dubai World and Al Wasl, they will not accept a small company that does not invest in [training]. These ISO certifications [and other certifications] cost money and time.
We have different varieties [of FM providers] in the market, but we have to put minimum standards for training. I cannot open an FM company with three people, with no knowledge, no health and safety [training]. This is important, and we have to make it strict to force people to invest in people and technology.

We have heard from stakeholders that FM managers approach manufacturers of specialised equipment to rectify certain performance issues and meet their responsibilities. In your opinion, is there enough of a dialogue between FM companies and manufacturers of specialised equipment?
In the design stage, it’s important to be involved with service providers. Most of the time, the service providers face some problem to maintain some areas. A good engineer and product manager understands the need [to collaborate], it is not just [about the] contract, it is adding value, it is making a change for the better, under the KPIs of the contract. At the end of the day, anything wrong that happens in the buildings will go to the FM, because they are maintaining it. As MEFMA, we aim to bring the manufacturing [companies] together with the FM companies that know better what’s happening in the ground [because sometimes they have to] redesign some areas and equipment on the building.
The [manufacturer] should be involved in stage one of FM to see how their products are being maintained, to see how they fit, maintain or clean the filters, for example. FMs [offer services to maintain different types of] ACs to fit with the different budget of each investor, because not anyone can afford to get a particular package or have, for example, chillers. We have to find a solution for this. We are discussing to bring manufacturers of the different types of ACs [to understand] how to maintain them. The best thing is to train the people on how to maintain equipment and machines. If you are not training people in AC, it is a risk for technicians, the team and a risk for people in the building. Manufacturers, service providers and investors – all are linked together in terms of price, because there is a cost to installing and training on how to maintain it in a reliable way that can fit in this country’s humidity, dust and air.

Could you comment on the level of expertise that FM personnel have in relation to operating and maintaining BMS technology?
BMS has been supported by Dubai Municipality to [be installed] in buildings. But not all are working. It’s there, but who knows how to operate it? Who knows how to get information and benefits of data? It’s like the brain of a building, it gives you the latest information, not just to warn you something will happen but also [to show you] how to reduce the consumption of electricity.
We have a big number of FM companies in the Middle East, and we have different types of companies. We have a good deal of companies that know how to deal with BMS, to get information that will help the service provider and investor at the same time. There are good companies in the market that invest in training and technology, and at the end of the day, they will gain and get more contracts, if they have that knowledge and they can control the BMS.

Is there a mechanism of assessment being implemented with regard to buildings that may avail of an FM company’s services to ensure awareness, as we are told by some stakeholders that there can often be a disconnect between the equipment installed in a building and its product portfolio and the personnel that will be tasked with maintaining it?
There should be minimum standards in terms of assessment as well, this is our message to the government. We don’t want end-users to suffer because investors don’t want to invest. There should be permission and certifications, where you cannot enter with any level of FM. Because these are gray areas – the ACs and also aspects such as IEQ.
We are working with different bodies. We are trying to link with universities to enter with the FM [programmes]. We have many engineers, but specific engineers. We look where we can engage general engineers to manage an FM company in the right way, similar to a general doctor. With FM, the difficult thing is how to get best service with the lowest cost. That is the most difficult part for the manager running the FM. Sometimes they try to save the cost and lose the customer; sometimes, if they don’t try to save, they lose the company.
Training, training, training. I always talk about training. Be sure that as soon as you save in training, you are losing. In MEFMA, there are lots of training and courses, because if any mistake happens it will cost you a lot of money and time and also the relationship and trust with the client. We cannot force an FM company to invest in training; our responsibility as MEFMA is to offer courses for all levels. We have three or four courses in MEFMA, and now people understand how important it is to attend them.


Hannah Jo Uy is Assistant Editor at Climate Control Middle East magazine. She may be contacted at hannah@cpi-industry.com

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