A Premier Magazine Dedicated to the Management of the Built Environment

The year of transformation in the soft FM sector

 

The pandemic has forced the industry to relook at the way they deliver Soft FM services. Leading the way with innovations and adapting to new standards in this evolving sector are industry experts at AG Facilities Solutions and MBM.

 

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April 5, 2021
 
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The year of transformation in the soft FM sector
 

The world has changed in the past year. The pandemic has created a shift in the soft FM service delivery. As facilities evolve and become more sophisticated, the job of a facility manager also becomes more robust. Here is discovering this evolution, present-day challenges, and a lot more with MBM.

Reflecting on the various scenarios that the FM industry was put into during the outbreak of the pandemic, it truly has been amazing to see how far the industry has evolved. Experts at MBM state how they had to be agile and ensure that all of their clients, building occupants, and their staff are safe. They brought in their ‘A Game’ to the market. Be it from adhering to dynamic changes in the protocols or even investing in technology that will help them deliver their services even more efficiently.

“The best way forward was to continue our best practices and double down on the activities for better results. The crisis created an opportunity for us to optimize our resources tactfully. It also gave us the platform to demonstrate transparency which helped strengthen our relationship with our clients,” says Mohamed Adil Haneef, COO AGFS/ MBM.

MBM was one of the first companies to Support sterilization and sanitization drives with the local authorities. “Based on the experience, we had a separate division set up for the sanitization services which is doing extremely well, even to date,” says Adil Mohamed, Head of Operation, MBM Dubai.

During this period, MBM simultaneously managed quarantine facilities, isolation facilities, and wards at several hospitals as well. Looking back, Jaydeep Lahiri, Head of Operation, MBM Abu Dhabi recollects the challenges they overcame taking care of the COVID-19 wards. “We had to fall back on the wealth of experience we had in our team. All the training was put into practicality and we successfully were able to handle complex situations, train clients at the healthcare facilities, etc. Many things that were non-essential in the industry became indispensable,” adds Jaydeep.

The entire cleaning structures had to be rebuilt, SOPs had to be articulated, new guidelines had to be drafted in line with evolving HSEQ requirements and communicated right down to the grass-root operations level. “Slowly a lot of operations started gaining ground. We felt the need to adopt technology in a way that elevates efficiency and aids human intelligence and the workforce. A technology that will usher in a new change in performance and safety; and the answer was in imbibing automation in many of our services. It’s safe to say that this has surely been a transformative year for the industry,” says Jaydeep.

An interesting observation that they noted was the change in attitude from clients as well. Most of them took a keen interest in the way the services are delivered. To keep their trust, MBM provided video evidence through our apps, statistics of the schedules, and data of service delivery. “This, in turn, helped us reinforce the trust with our clients and at the same time gave them a chance to see the value we bring to their premises,” says Jaydeep.

Challenges in service delivery

The pandemic came with it a lot of challenges to the service delivery sector. With the clients expecting nothing less than perfection, it meant that the industry had to pull all the stops, ensure their staff is completely trained with the new protocols, and invest in technology that will help them deliver the best results.

Some of the key challenges MBM overcame were:

A) Training

Considering the dynamics of the previous year, it is evident how important it is to invest in your PEOPLE. However, training people during this time was a challenge. Earlier AGFS used to get conduct face-to-face classes for practical training sessions.

Now they have adopted different methodologies such as VR, video demonstrations, virtual training, etc. for conducting the training sessions.

B) Logistics

Other than training, logistics also remained a challenge. To comply with the principle of social distancing, MBM could only transport at a reduced capacity in their fleet of vehicles. So, the complete logistics had to be revamped as the number of people that needed to be transported was almost 8,000-10,000. These people needed to visit different sites. So a complete rescheduling of the logistics, mapping them, and changing shift timings had to be strategized and care had to be taken that none of this affected the client.

MBM charted out a solution that increased the number of vehicles and at the same time manage the cost.

C) Labor Camps

People who were COVID-19 positive and who need to be quarantined had to be kept in camps. So, MBM set up camps in different regions to manage them and separate them from the rest. This was another challenge because things were changing quite fast.

D) COVID-19

Testing The frequencies of the tests also had to be managed well in advance and kept in adherence to government protocols. With a sea of manpower, MBM says that they had to map out a strategic way to ensure no client is faced with shortage because of this. And a lot of credit goes to the workers, who stepped up to take the place of their colleagues if one had fallen ill.

E) Mobilizing the Staff

MBM has on-boarded a portfolio of diverse clients including mosques, and hospitals, schools among others. Spread across all the Emirates with a few close to Saudi Arabia border as well. Hence, a key challenge they faced was with mobilizing the staff across these facilities. “So yes, to say it was challenging would be a large understatement. But this experience helped us to grow and progress,” asserts Jaydeep.

Lessons learned and unlearned

The onset of the pandemic came with it some key lessons that MBM learned and unlearned. One key lesson unlearned included shoring up of supply chain. Adil Mohamed elaborates on this. “As with many companies we were taken back by how quickly COVID-19 spread. Our focus has always been limited to making the supply chain as lean as possible by employing techniques to reduce lead time, leveling flow, using pull systems, and a host of initiatives from our process improvement planning team. COVID-19 changed things. After taking stock of our warehouses nationwide, our available transport resources, and distributed workforce, we were able to successfully adjust operations to continue delivering FM solutions in this difficult time.”

However, they say that they may never go back to what they were. The new normal is something that has been embraced and with it, they welcomed new best practices and innovations in service delivery. The importance of a crisis response plan seems to be at the forefront of those new practices.

It is key to note that during these testing times, MBM did not downsize. Jaydeep believes that the company motivated its employees to keep going and made them understand the importance of their work. “Somewhere I think we were able to come together as an entity. Everyone found a purpose. This motivation helped a lot. These were some valuable lessons we learned along the way,” he adds.

The motivation was the key to getting through the testing times. From ‘thank you’ posters at the camps to presenting badges to all its people, MBM ensured that their people got their due appreciation in every way.

To summarize all the learnings, the Coronavirus pandemic has greatly increased the profile and importance of the facilities management sector, as they have been asked to develop closure, mothballing, COVID-19-secure reoccupancy and in some cases, reclosure strategies for their workplaces.

Training and achievements

AGFS attaches a top priority to providing training to our staff. And this year, the training centers were accredited to additional regulatory bodies. The company went in for ISO 29990. It is an accreditation given to informal training being taken care of for employee development. Staff is trained in English/Arabic as well as Financial lessons, Health & Hygiene. This facilitates holistic individual growth for the workers.

MBM considered previous standards while analyzing their training, designing new training services, monitoring deliveries, and evaluating how effective these services are. Considering these factors helped MBM customized their modules which suited not only their employees but how they deliver to the clients. Designing of training was specifically done keeping in mind both the COVID-19 scenario currently as well as normal cases how it would be. As mentioned earlier, MBM had to relook at its training methods due to the current scenario.

This is crucial to our service delivery and it was imperative for training to continue. If not in person, it was conducted in a different way using different mediums. Either virtually or in smaller batches. Knowledge sessions were conducted through pre-recorded videos or via video calls to adhere to social distancing stipulations while ensuring that our staff is updated with the latest training requirements and the everchanging Covid directives. They have also ventured into augmented reality to train employees.

“That is the power of VR. Through VR, we also are going into augmented reality. People can see the surroundings. We are developing modules where we can take them to live sites, although they are sitting in their houses or camps. They can run through the allocated premises, learn its peculiarities, and experience firsthand how to manage it while being mindful of the various regulations,” says Adil Mohamed.

Gender diversity

The industry is taking serious note of gender diversity. The regular FM needs of corporates, management, and maintenance of facilities, need highly creative and technical minds to remain relevant in today’s world – and the best way to achieve this is to harness and leverage the strength of diversity.

MBM has been at the forefront of this revolution. It was one of the few companies, who brought in a complete female technical team to work at a Girl’s School in UAE. “Gender diversity has always been important for MBM. Technological change is reshaping society as we speak, and successful business can no longer remain a male bastion. I still remember the time when we facilitated an all-woman technical team for an all-girl school. The team did an amazing job and some of them have moved up to the executive levels. They have gone up the ranks and new people have filled their former positions,” says Adil Haneef.

Elaborating on this from the company’s perspective, Adil Haneef says that MBM walks the talk in this initiative. The core management and support team are representative of the diversity of the organization. We have less than 50% female participation in our commercial, BD, and Customer Happiness Centre. In our core operations female participation has increased by 45% over the past two years. With diversity at the helm and in several teams, there is a more conscious bias to maintain a very broad level of diversity and inclusion in all that we do.

Key innovations

According to Jaydeep, one of the key innovations was robotics. Robotic automation is well equipped to replace repetitive and hazardous tasks. Activities that have the same process every time, such as sweeping a floor, power washing, lawn mowing are prime opportunities to integrate robots into operations. The use of robots for certain jobs—for example, height access, confined space, HVAC duct cleaning, asbestos management—could enable companies to reduce costs and risk. While this was there in the industry it was not very popular. However, the pandemic has catalyzed change in this regard. “There are a lot of technical innovations we have started inculcating into our operations. There have been inquiries for mowing lawns robotically. Equipment has started coming in and we are eager to see how this will transform the FM sector,” he said.

At the same time, Jaydeep says that larger innovation has come in the way MBM delivers its services and the way it can train its people. “We Have our propriety in-house developed CAFM system which has also been incorporated by few of our customers at their sites. We try to incorporate technology in all tasks that are timeconsuming and repetitive. Because we have our in-house team, we can do it quickly. Each of our clients has a bespoke requirement from our various departments which has led to a nuance built for them. So, we keep on improving on our services and making it efficient for them to run their operations,” he says.

The future

The market in UAE is expected to witness strong growth, with increasing investments in the infrastructure and real estate sector of the country, along with strong support from the government. Growth can be seen in all sectors, especially with the Soft FM. There are new facilities which are coming in that need to be managed. And this brings in a host of opportunities for MBM. However, this growth they predict to see come in from newer segments, for them. “By 2025, we aim to get 25% of our business from completely new segments,” says Adil Haneef.

Different clients, different geographies, completely new service deliveries, maybe some new ways of doing business - that is what MBM endeavors. The company aims to spend 30% of its time only focusing on new ideas, running feasibility analysis, studying it, and then implementing it with the support of the entire Al Ghurair Group.

Going forward, automation is one key factor MBM will implement in all its sectors. At the same time, they plan to venture into the B2C segment as well. “We also want to expand to various other sectors such as hotels, hospitals, energy, oil, and gas as well,” he says.

Expanding outside of UAE

We are looking to expand in other regions. The company is looking forward to venturing into other GCC regions. And will soon announce which part of the GCC they will start with. “The aim is to be relevant and grow with the market’s needs and demands. I believe, we need to bring in innovations in the way we deliver our services, both at a company and at an industry level ,” notes Adil Haneef.

 

 

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