FM Challenges In a Harsh UAE Climate & the Future of CAFM

Episode 5

Facilities Management Podcast


About this episode

Trevor Bundas shares his expert insight on the challenges of facility management in one of the harshest climates on the planet, as well as touching on the future of CAFM technology and why data collection is the most valuable part of an FM's job.


Matt (Host) [00:00:31]: Hi, everyone. Welcome back to the Comparesoft podcast. It’s great to have you back here with us. Today our guest, Trevor [Bundas], is the founder of Performance FM Consultants and Advisory.

Trevor has worked with well-known companies like Group 42, OCS group, and Serve You LLC and currently is with FM Consultants and Advisory. Trevor has over 17 years of experience in the construction and facilities management industry, and has worked on some of the most iconic projects and built some of the most mission-critical facilities during COVID-19. So it will be really interesting to get his take on facilities management.

Welcome to the show, Trevor. How’s it going?

Trevor Bundas [00:01:24]: Thank you very much. Tough to follow up that lovely introduction. Thank you for all the kind compliments.

Matt [00:01:30]: So how do you go about setting a good facilities management culture?

Trevor [00:01:36]: Sure. Changing the culture is primarily an education process. Most people think facilities management is just a couple of guys running around with some tools and fixing a light bulb when it breaks. They don’t really realise that the purpose of FM is obviously, as you said, at the start of the introduction, a mission-critical role.

What do I mean by that? I mean that without the function of the assets of the building, primarily, the electricity and in the case of where I live, the air conditioning, there’s nothing that functions. So the space that you live in, or you work in, needs to function as it’s been designed. If it’s not going to function as the design happens, then there’s really no need to have the facility in the first place. So people really need to just understand that we’re not actually just maintaining things when they break. We’re actually looking to prevent things from breaking. And actually, your podcast, the timing of it is quite good, because the way the industry is going is more in a preventative manner.

There’s a lot of technology that’s getting implemented into the industry. As a result, there’s a lot of data that’s coming out of it. And so that’s just kind of opening up the profession to cooler, more savvy type jobs like data scientist or predictive analytics or anything like this, you know, all these marketing buzzwords that people are using.

Actually, the reality is that this is all just about prevention. And that’s really, really where it has to start. So once people understand that without the FM on board, there really is no functioning facility, then they kind of get the idea of why it’s so important

Matt [00:03:16]: So, what is the best way to plan for facilities management and maintenance activities?

Trevor [00:03:26]: So normally, what happens is during the construction phase, the contractor will be, I guess, for lack of a better word, filling up a bill of quantities. What does the bill of quantities mean? It means that, for example, there’s going to be 50, or 60, or 100, or 2000 air conditioning units that are going to be installed. Each one of these units should have, if the contractors are of competent quality, should have an asset ID number. And normally what FM companies do is they represent the building owner during the handover from construction to operations. So what normally happens is that the FM will work with the contractor to build up an asset barcoding system.

And before, it used to just be a random number that somebody would store in an Excel spreadsheet. And then they would kind of like track it. This air conditioning unit needs to be maintained every six months or every quarter or every month, depending upon where it is in the facility and what it does. Nowadays, what happens is that’s all built and tracked automatically into what’s called a CAFM system. So that’s a computer-assisted facilities management software, or sometimes in different parts of the world, people call it a CMMS, which is a computer maintenance management system. It’s effectively the same thing.

This is an automated process. That’s the rudimentary baseline requirement from the FM. What’s actually supposed to happen is that the FM is supposed to track and monitor the frequencies that it breaks down or the frequencies that it’s maintained or the spare parts that have been consumed during the maintenance, and then try to apply some mathematics to it.

So your objective as an FM and setting it up really, and back to what I said, is to try to ensure that you’re preventing any breakdowns. So what happens in FM, is we have a couple of types of activities. The first one we have is called preventative maintenance, which is very suggestive. It means that you’re preventing something from failing. The other one is reactive maintenance, which means that you’re reacting to it after it’s broken, or it’s malfunctioning. These are the worst kinds because the occupants of the building don’t care that it broke, they just want it fixed. And in that case, you’re always, I guess, kind of behind the eight ball because you’re rushing to fix something, which might need a spare part. So if you can’t get your hands on a spare part, then the people that are inside the building are going to suffer.

And then that’s where we get back to this whole FM culture. So obviously, they want it to be fixed, like, within 10 minutes. They don’t want you to be like, we’ll have it up and running in 48 hours. Nobody’s willing to accept that these days. And so as a result, you really need to try to prevent that from happening. The short answer of what I’m trying to say is that we have to build the entire maintenance model based on the assets and based on what we expect in terms of their chance of failure. Let’s say if that’s the right way to put it.

Matt [00:06:29]: Moving on from that then, we know that if something’s not working, that’s kind of the only time when facilities management will get called in. And it’s quite hard to make people appreciate when things are working. So having said that, how do you think facilities management teams should go about driving appreciation for maintenance teams across the business, particularly with the top management?

Trevor [00:07:00]: So normally, this is a visibility issue. What I mean to say is that they only see the people when it’s broken. And normally, preventative maintenance or the stuff that needs to be done on a periodic basis is done after hours. But in essence, what needs to happen is that people need to basically be seen more on the site. Having an understanding of the third variable of maintenance, which I call inspections, or corrections/condition-based maintenance, is really the appreciation part of what NFM will do for the senior manager.

And I just had a conversation today for a customer that I work for. I framed it in a little bit of a different way. I asked the customer what types of emotions they feel when they see breaks. Where I live right now, the temperature is somewhere around 44 degrees during the middle of the day. As soon as the AC stops functioning, everybody knows right away. Obviously the words like frustration, anger, confusion, in terms of like what’s happening, why is this happening? Why does it always break? Why does it only break in the summertime? These are the ways to approach it. When you start to talk to people about the emotional effects of not having an FM, then they understand the reason to have it.

Now from a senior management perspective, it’s really about the fear of what happens to their business in terms of business continuity. So let’s say, for example, you have an IT system or you’re in banking, and you rely on your trading desk or whatever it is that you use. In that trading desk, there’s obviously a data centre. It might be small, it might be big, or it might be in the cloud somewhere. But if that data centre goes down, you effectively don’t have any business. And if that data centre has the wrong humidity level within the data centre, the equipment can’t function or it runs the risk of spark or short or fire or whatever. This is really a mission-critical situation. Because if there’s something as simple as temperature fluctuation or humidity fluctuation within a critical asset, your business can’t function.

When you start to speak to people about what would happen if that happened, if we didn’t maintain, for example, your data centre, or if we could have maintained the temperature in your office, what would happen to the productivity of the business? Then once senior managers start to see it from like, yes, that will have a significant impact on my productivity or ability to make money or perception in the market. These are almost unrecoverable costs and they’re not tangible sometimes.

Obviously, the productivity has something to do with human output. But the reality is that if that person is always upset, working in an office that’s too hot, they’re going to go and find another job, and then you’ve just wasted all your money or time. These types of compounding costs happen just because it’s as simple as the temperature is wrong or it’s as simple as something happening inside of a data center that is required to actually function and do business.

So really, as I said, at the start, it’s really about education. And if we don’t do the part from our industry to kind of put things in a different way, or from a more emotional way, I hate to say it, but like build that fear into management teams, then they’re just going to look at the industry from a cost perspective. And that’s never an industry that you really want to be in because you’re really not a commodity and your service is not a commodity. It’s not comparable apple to apple across the board.

Matt [00:10:43]: Fantastic. Some amazing advice there. What’s the best way to implement an effective facilities management plan?

Trevor [00:10:52]: Right. So normally, what happens in a new contract — so these are normally long-term contracts. They’re usually three, five, sometimes six or ten years, it depends. You will have a mobilisation period. That mobilisation period is for two things.

One, it’s for making sure that there’s a shadowing process so that you don’t just have a hard stop from one supplier and then a fresh start from the other one, and the learning curve is just terrible. It’s more or less a shadow to make sure that they understand the function of the building. What you want to do is actually start from the HR department. So obviously during the tendering process or during the commercial aspect of the contract, there has been some calculation done on how many men we need based on how many assets we have, how often we need to maintain them, and so on and so forth.

But actually, what you need to do during that mobilisation period is understand the function of the building. Then you can partition and appropriate the correct individuals and their skill sets to do the job. So for example, if you were in a shopping mall, and you had a lot of areas where your staff will be client-facing, or customer of customer-facing if that makes sense. So they would be seen by your customers’ customers. You would want to ensure that they have the communication skills to be able to manage it from a health and safety perspective. Make sure that the area is cleared. That proper barriers are put up so that people don’t want to waltz into a ladder, for example, and knock somebody down. And then be able to communicate with people, like for example, the store owners who say, why are you blocking my business? I mean, you need to do this in a better way.

So they need to be able to communicate. Whereas somebody who’s managing something back of house, you can use a different skill level for that. You might want somebody who is more technically savvy. But let’s call them more introverted so wouldn’t be the best person to answer somebody who was disgruntled. So that’s why I say the best way to do it is to start from the HR perspective because you really need to find the right skill set of humans.

And then, from there, you can start to put the people where they need to be. Hopefully, you’ve done a good job and the customer is happy with the service provision. That’s output onto their project or onto their asset.

Matt [00:13:18]: What do you think about software tools, then? Do you think they’re useful for managing facilities management activities?

Trevor [00:13:28]: So I can’t envision the old way, let’s say it. And I don’t mean that I’m not capable to do it. I mean, that I can’t imagine how people managed a project on Excel or manage it on a piece of paper with a binder.

If you look at a large project in the area I live in, you’re talking about more than 40,000 assets. These assets have different criticalities. So it means that, for example, you might have a AC unit in a storage room, that’s not really going to be critical to the function of the building. And therefore it doesn’t need as much attention as something that’s for say, as an example that I used before, within a data centre or with an IT centre where you have to make sure that that thing is functioning properly the entire time.

So when software came along, [it] really just replicated the paper process into an automated process. But the future of the industry is based on the software. What I mean to say is that now CAFM systems or software systems have the ability to basically integrate with IoT devices. So the shift is actually going more to software and less to manpower. What’s happening where I live is that a lot of companies are putting sensors on the actual asset. So the cost of the sensor has gotten down so low and the quality of measurement and the ability for that sensor to deliver data into a centralised repository is where it needs to be. That means that with the connectivity of the asset, anybody can sit anywhere and check what’s the filter health of an asset which might be across the world. So that means that the asset owner might be sitting on the beach on vacation and say, I want to see what’s the health of my AC. Even though he has nothing to do with the FM itself, but he’s able to go through two pressure sensors on either side of the filter, the IoT or the software is going to be able to tell him, you know what, in two months, you need to change that filter, because it’s getting dirty.

What happens is normally that the filters have a certain throughput or a certain amount of air that goes through them. Obviously, when the filter gets clogged, that airflow or the pressure is decreased. And you wouldn’t be able to tell that as a human. You would have to go in there and look at it and say, I don’t know. It looks like it’s okay but you don’t have any kind of degradation data.

So what’s happening now in the industry is that a lot of people are looking at ways to aggregate this data and put it into certain statistical models that will tell them, in four months, or in five months, that filter needs to be changed. So the shift is actually going towards matching the relationship between the human inside the building and how much they actually use the building and the software that’s going to record this.

So then you’ll be able to say, through the software, that this asset is degrading more than the other one. Why? So then your job as an FM is then to go out and say, well, there must be a systematic issue there? Or is this in an area which is close to, let’s say, a door or a window? Why is it so dirty compared to the other ones? So it’s kind of shifting the entire industry because now you’re looking at things more like root cause analysis and just trying to basically understand what’s causing things to happen the way that they are? So I really honestly can’t imagine performing FM without some sort of software background. It would be improbable, let’s say.

Matt [00:17:12]: And before we go into the next question, you’ve mentioned a few things about where you’re located, and it’s very hot. Let the listeners know where actually are you located and where are you working out of at the moment.

Trevor [00:17:27]: I have lived for the last 17 years in the United Arab Emirates. Most people know where Dubai is. Dubai is the tourist city in the country that I live in. I live in the capital city, which is Abu Dhabi which is literally 100 kilometres down the road from Dubai. So yes, I live in one of the harshest climates on the planet. It’s very sandy, very hot, and very humid. And since it’s the end of summer, the humidity level is extremely high. So it poses a particular challenge for people that are in the FM industry.

Matt [00:18:03]: Now you may already have answered this with that previous answer, but what’s your take on using spreadsheets for FM management? Do they still have a place in the modern world or should we just shut them out completely?

Trevor [00:18:19]: Before the advent of cloud-based Amazon web servers, [and] cheap storage life, there’s probably some reason to have a paper backup just as a repository on the site. And it used to be like that. People used to come and they used to want to see the paper. But now what’s happened is basically, the people are trusting of the cloud. So everything’s backed up on some server somewhere. It’s not sitting on their server in their office anymore. Obviously, that’s a lot more secure. Being in a data centre that’s obviously backed up in multiple countries, and it’s got multiple layers of encryption, that’s obviously a lot better.

The other issue is that people are not comfortable not having access to their information. People want to have information on their mobile. Like the example that I described. If I am working for a huge oil and gas company in Abu Dhabi, that’s basically bringing in millions of dollars per day and my job is to ensure that the entire business functions from a business continuity perspective. I don’t want to have a piece of paper that can go missing and I want access to the information regardless of where I am, because if something happens, I need to get my hands on it.

So, again, just back to what I said about life without software. Honestly, I think it spans wider than just FM. I don’t think that we can go back to using paper. Even there’s so many redundancies built in terms of power and all of this type of stuff. I think that the risk is so low that it doesn’t justify having a cost of paper or a spreadsheet that’s printed out on the wall — even Excel. I don’t know. I use Excel a lot but I don’t use it for FM. It just doesn’t have its place, right. That’s not the point of it.

Matt [00:20:22]: Well you’ve already dropped some amazing knowledge and tips for our listeners on this episode. But what are your top three tips for our listeners on effective facilities management?

Trevor [00:20:37]: Top three? Wow, the list could probably be longer than three. The important point is to understand the information that you get. That’s number one. You have a lot of ways of getting information. It’s not only, as I said, through software. You’ve got to look at the building as an entity for lack of a better word. Look at it not like just a bunch of machines that are connected together. You need to understand the way it works. And more importantly, you need to understand how it functions with people.

So people who are not in FM, don’t care about FM. As you said at the start, they’re happy when they don’t see you and when everything works properly. So it’s one of those industries where you only get recognition when it’s negative. And so being able to understand the way that people interact with the building and going and spending time inside that building from a management level. While people are interacting with it is super important. Because what you’re going to find out is that for example, and these are stupid things like maybe the orientation of the toilet paper is in the wrong spot. And it’s a pain for people to use the bathroom. I mean, it’s little stupid things that you just don’t consider because you’ll never look at it from that perspective until you actually are in that situation. And then from that point, you can start to understand where the important parts are.

So if you’re trying to maintain a commercial, profitable business, you really need to know where to focus your manpower, and to focus your attention in order to deliver a product or service without requiring so many people to do it. Again, this is just, I guess, leading to the last point; don’t waste your data.

I mean, I have my consultancy, which is focused on data. I will soon complete my data science degree. So my background is moving much more towards statistical analysis. But that’s only possible because I have access to data. And I have a place to store it as I was mentioning before. Before I couldn’t handle that much data, and there was no computing power. Now what happens is, obviously you can use Amazon Web web services. You’re using their computer effectively. You’re just tapping into it. So much data is available in terms of all these assets, how they function, what’s the temperature reading every hour, if you want to go in that granular level, and this starts to be very powerful for you. Because you can then start to look at it — even if you are not really interested in the statistical analytics of prediction of failure and stuff like this which exists all around the world.

Just looking at that data in a simple histogram or a box chart or something like this, you’re going to start to see that the way that the building performs is very heavily related to what’s being done inside the building. I mean, where I’m sitting right now, I’m just sitting next to a sliding door. And so the sliding door, for example, if it’s not busy, it’s very easy to maintain the temperature inside the room that I’m sitting. But if you have 500 people walking in and out of it at lunchtime, what’s going to happen to your temperature, it’s obviously going to go up because the outside temperature is 40. And the inside temperature is – I don’t know, 22, 23. So you have to understand things from that perspective.

But, if you don’t know how many times that door opens and closes, and what time of the day it opens and closes, you have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen to your building. So you’re kind of operating completely blind. Really, the final take-home point is don’t waste your data. Don’t waste your data. Use it. It’s there for you and it’s telling you a story and you need to use it and you need to understand it.

Matt [00:24:37]: Amazing knowledge and advice once again. But to wrap it all up in a bow. What’s your favourite saying or quote on FM?

Trevor [00:24:49]: Wow. I wasn’t prepared for that question. That’s for sure. What’s my favourite saying of FM? I’m just going to coin it myself. It’s don’t waste your data. That’s it. Use your data, listen to it, or listen to your building. I don’t know — something a little bit more cliche. Marketing isn’t my strong point as you can see. So they come up with some catchy buzzword. But yes, don’t stop listening to your building. That’s probably the best way to put it.

Matt [00:25:21]: Amazing. Well, thank you so much again for being on the show. It’s been really great having you on. You’ve really dropped some amazing advice and information for our listeners here.

Trevor [00:25:30]: My pleasure. Thanks for the time guys. Really appreciate it.