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30.11.2005, 19:17

CAFM: The Missing Link

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Jim Mitchell, managing director of FSI (FM Solutions), argues computer aided facilities management (CAFM) has an important part to play in the development of the Gulf region's facilities management market.

While the Gulf is witness to an array of world first projects in the construction process, just how developed is its facilities management capability? Jim Mitchell, managing director of FSI (FM Solutions), says that until CAFM Technology is properly employed, FM will remain in a nascent state and its true business potential will not be delivered.


Despite ongoing political and territorial conflicts in the wider region, Gulf countries continue to enjoy immense growth – at a global rate second only to China. With infrastructure development at an alltime high in the GCC, facilities management is just starting to come of age.

Saudi Arabia remains the powerhouse of the Gulf through sheer geographical size, population, and, of course, oil revenues. But for some time the twin economic powerhouses of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – namely Abu Dhabi, the capital, and Dubai, the commercial hub – have been the rising stars of the region.

As a result of relatively low oil reserves, Dubai in particular has led in diversification and innovation, with infrastructure marvels dating back to the creation of the Jebel Ali Free Zone in 1980, currently one of the world’s fastest growing transshipment areas. Today, we are witness to the construction of some of the world’s most spectacular commercial projects, such as the three Palms, the World, Burj Dubai, Dubai Festival City, sprawling gated communities, hundreds of residential towers, free zones, airports, marinas, mega-malls and a host of glamorous five, six and even seven-star hotels.

Add to that the neighbouring states of Oman, Qatar and Bahrain, all vying for commercial and world recognition, and you have a heady mix of business confidence and pragmatic economies with an unabashed hunger for growth. Each of these countries has introduced freehold property ownership for expatriates in one form or another over the past several years and has in turn embarked on its own ambitious onshore and offshore mega-projects.

In the UAE, expatriates outnumber Emiratis by more than four to one. As such, UAE nationals have relied on a range of  expatriate specialised skills to help develop the country. At the professional level, therefore, there will be a constant requirement for expertise – and that’s where the opportunities for FM shine through. Given the vast amount of magnificent development taking place in the UAE, facilities management professionals would be right to wonder just how these projects are going to be managed once they are built, sold and delivered with such high expectations.

“Given the vast amount of magnificent development taking place in the UAE, facilities management professionals would be right to wonder just how these projects are going to be managed once they are built, sold and delivered with such high expectations.”

The next question to be asked is exactly what the status of facilities management in the region is. Is it embryonic, developing or mature?

Jim Mitchell
Jim Mitchell

At first glance, the many impressive buildings appear to be well-maintained. However, closer inspection and investigation by the professional, inquiring mind will reveal that facilities management is still in its embryonic stage. During my investigation, I was unable to find evidence of the level of skills and understanding necessary to realise management visions. In other words, there is a piece missing and that piece is the comprehensive use of CAFM (computer-aided facilities management) systems and the associated technology to deliver business solutions.

In my view, the CAFM tool is the operational engine that will drive FM forward. The reasons are numerous, but let’s look at a couple of key areas. First, the emphasis on development in the GCC has been based upon, in many cases, the traditional adversarial contracting route in which competitive tenders may get keen prices and advantageous penalty clauses for the client, but little in the way of longterm management planning for the building.

Second, some of the large multinational contractors have only just begun to cascade the systems approach of CAFM that they happily use in home markets. In many cases this is based on a misconception back at HQ that these tools will not gain acceptance here and may perhaps scare off clients. This, as many are learning, is quite the contrary. Efficiencies are not
unwelcome on any project and clients here are increasingly ‘streetwise’.

The times are indeed a-changing in this ‘oasis of commerce’. Exposure to international developments outside the region has actually fed back to the client, be they developer or property tenant. In turn, this has impressed itself on many contractors, comprising the several main international blue-chip alliances of property, construction, quantity surveyors and consulting engineering firms. FM has migrated to the Middle East, and the latest phase in the evolution of FM from art to science is the utilisation of truly integrated management and data collection systems incorporating what is commonly termed as CAFM.

"My plea to those local and international clients and contractors operating in the region is to build FM planning in at the early stage. Mind you, that inclusive process has really only evolved in the past 10 years or so in the UK market"

In this way, these impressive properties will not only add value for their owners or tenants but become much more efficient places in which to work or live. Nothing less would be expected for the region’s commercial dynamo. As in many initiatives, where the UAE leads, others in the region will follow or attempt to follow. And this can also be seen as a pattern in design, construction and postconstruction terms.

My plea to those local and international clients and contractors operating in the region is to build FM planning in at the early stage. Mind you, inclusive process has really only evolved in the past 10 years or so in the UK market. With Dubai’s unrelenting agenda for growth, while its sister emirates show no sign of slowing down, the Middle East’s building blocks of leisure and commerce could prove the template for a hybrid that others in the West will eventually follow. It’s a matter of making sure that FM professionals are in the vanguard of these opportunities and not left out in the cold in such a superheated market.

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