Awareness of the economic benefits of good facility management structure in public and private establishments has improved significantly in Nigeria in the past five years, says Femi Akintunde, MD/CEO of Alpha Mead Facilities & Management Services Ltd (AMFacilities). In this interview with Bennett Oghifo, he discusses the positive role his company in the awareness drive, the theme of the World Facilities Management Day, being commemorated today, and the hosting by his company of top business decision makers at an annual Nigerian Facilities Management Roundtable. Excerpt
Tell us about the concept of the upcoming annual Roundtable and what it hopes to achieve…
The Nigeria FM Roundtable is a global FM industry event which we have re-enacted in Nigeria to coincide with the World FM day. It’s an event that has been earmarked to achieve greater awareness about FM practice worldwide, celebrate achievements of facility management companies, and educate the market more about new trends and development in the practice of FM; which will help them understand better how to engage the facility management services for their various uses, be it a private or corporate entity. This is the purpose of the world FM day. In Nigeria, Alpha Mead Facilities started this initiative in 2011. We were the first to actually create the awareness of the world FM day in Nigeria. But today, a lot of other entities have also joined the initiative. We now have virtually every FM Company doing something in their own way, some organize seminars, others have talk shows, media interviews, and so on. The Nigerian FM roundtable is one program that Alpha Mead Facilities have created and it has helped significantly to improve the awareness of FM. The roundtable also affords us the opportunity to celebrate with our clients and other industry players, where we invite between 100-150 professionals every year to this event, which is fully sponsored by us, and I must say that it’s an initiative that has been well embraced by the market and the industry at large.
In the past four years, Alpha Mead Facilities has been responsible for the Nigerian FM Roundtable what would you say is your biggest achievement so far?
Like I said, the FM Roundtable is an initiative we presented to the FM industry in Nigeria to achieve the entire objective set out for the World FM Day. I can confirm to you that those objectives have been met to a large extent. The awareness level of facility management has grown significantly in the past five years. More people, more corporate organisations and even government are now very aware of what facility management means and what value our activities add to their business operations. The increasing activities in the industry and the growing needs for strategic business support services like FM has laid a lot of frequently asked questions to rest. Today, hardly does anyone ask the questions of: how does outsourced FM services compare with the in-house FM team? What are the peculiar challenges that organizations or establishments face with FM provider? There are so much information and knowledge that have taken care of these issues. One of the ways we have checked this is the volume of calls or requests for FM services that have significantly improved.
This year, the Nigerian FM Roundtable will centre on the theme; Empowering People for a Productive World, how do you think Facility Managers can help their clients reach maximum productivity level?
When you talk about productivity, people most times relate it to the workplace, but it clearly goes beyond that. Let’s consider what we refer to as the quality of living, for example. It has multiple dimensions: the level of comfort, the safety of the occupants, and security of the assets and environment. These go a long way to address the state of mind with which people work. Let’s start from where you live. If you live in an uncomfortable environment, your body and soul cannot be in good alignment to be able to focus and do a good job when you get to work. So, your productivity actually starts from where you live; the condition of your residence. If you sleep at night and there was no light and you are bitten all through the night by mosquito, when you wake up in the morning you will be disorientated and your mind cannot be focused. Then, you get out on the road and the condition of the road is so poor – there is traffic, potholes, your vehicle is battered and so on; you will surely get to work worn out. When you get to work, then you have challenges getting from the ground floor to your office because the elevator is malfunctioning; you struggle to get into your office, then power begins to fluctuate, the air condition is bad, and you decide to use the bathroom, only to discover that it sticks horribly.
Then you settle down to work, the security environment is not anything to write home about, you have distractions here and there due to poor access control to the building; and even the lighting of the office is so bad, you have to strain your eyes to read. If you put all these together, who can function optimally in such situation? So, what does FM do to engender productivity? The first thing is that FM takes care of all the issues that I listed earlier. Just flip the same scenarios; people wake up from comfortable and safe houses, get on good roads to the office and the office environment is enabling enough; then it gives to reason that productivity will increase. So, what we are saying with this theme this year is that we want to focus on how to empower FM to empower the people they serve, so they and the people they serve can be very productive. If you take Nigeria for example, if the roads are in good shape, people can get from one point to the other in good time; this will in turn stimulate economic activities. If given our situation with power and other public infrastructure, Facilities Managers can ensure 100 percent availability of critical equipment; people will be more productive and businesses will become more profitable. If as a country, we decide to give adequate attention to the much desired infrastructure overhaul of our healthcare system, education, etc; more jobs can be created, more people can be empowered, and our economy can be better for it. These are the dimensions of the theme for this year’s FM Roundtable. At another level, Facilities Managers can also help organizations reach productivity through improved work efficiency, and transparency of cost management, with respect to business support services. This runs on the premise that when efficiency is enhanced, cost improvement can be achieved, value will be enhanced, and all these will impact the business bottom-line. When the bottom-line is impacted, the organization will have enough money to reinvest in providing efficient enabling physical work environment for their workers and everybody can feel the positive impact of an efficient FM in that form. So, effective FM helps you to improve preventive maintenance system and reduce the frequency of breakdown, which is a very expensive situation.
Despite being perceived as a major contributor to the growth of the real estate industry, feelers are that the Facility Management segment of the property market is not expanding as expected, what could be responsible for this?
The first challenge I see is the inability of FM operators being able to manage the business as an enterprise. I think, from what I have seen in the industry, managing an FM business should not be different from managing any other business. Therefore, the competency you need goes beyond being a professional that can do the work. You must also be able to do it profitably and run the business as a growing concern. A lot of FM companies have not been able to grow their capacity to that level, they lack proper structure – in terms of the organisation’s structure, having the right people to work in that structure, creating the right processes, and systems, and supporting them with the enabling technologies that are key ingredients required to manage an FM business in a sustainable manner. A lot of FM companies do not invest adequately in this and when you don’t invest in capacity, you cannot grow for the challenges of the future. This inability to run FM as a business also impacts the confidence of the customers, because the large corporates would only give business to organisations that have the capacity to run and deliver services as if they are delivering it in their core business. These large corporations expect you to deliver FM for them, to meet their objectives and align with their other processes. But unfortunately only few FM companies are structure that way.
The deteriorating nature of the country’s public infrastructure is one area that currently needs the attention of Facility Managers. However, not much effort is seen on the part of government to effectively manage these assets, what could be responsible for this?
When we look at infrastructure, we have what we call the social infrastructure and economic infrastructure. Both of them must work hand in hand to provide a vibrant economy for any country. Social infrastructure will include things like good hospitals, good educational institutions, good legal system, good law enforcement agencies such as Prisons, police, all those constitute social infrastructure and they complement the economic infrastructure. When you look at how well we have fared with our social infrastructure everyone admits that there is still more work to be done. Without good educational systems for example, how do we develop talent for the future? Without good hospital how do you keep a healthy workforce? Without good law enforcement services, how do you ensure good security? How do you have a legal system that both local and international investors can trust? If we critically examine this, this entire infrastructure set up require physical and enabling work environment: the buildings or assets where these systems will operate. You need facility managers to support from this perspective. Go out today to most of the government ministries at both State and federal and local government they are dilapidated, how do you expect people to function effectively in those environment and have very clear mind to be productive and do their job professional? It’s difficult. If we cannot have all these questions stated earlier answered honestly, people productivity, business profitability and economic prosperity will be negatively impacted. So why have these questions remained unanswered? We have not developed the required institutional framework, the mental capacity, the culture, and the philosophy to deal with this challenge. We haven’t really realigned our orientation to admit these are critical services that we must focus on to drive the economy forward. However, the good news is this, we came to the realisation that various factors have impeded investment in these infrastructure sectors, and a couple of years ago, we realised that we are not able to invest enough because government does not have enough to invest, therefore we have to embrace the concept of Public Private Partnership (PPP) investment structure. We have seen a few PPPs in the market, but one missing link is the aspect of FM that would guarantee sustainable return and improvement over time, continued efficient delivery of the service and minimum total life cycle cost. Unfortunately so much emphasis is laid on how much will you be giving back to government, and how much is accruable to the PPP promoters, but little or no attention is paid to the Facilities Management component of the PPP projects.
So a lot of those contracts are lopsided and what we are seeing is that when you are putting in place an infrastructure concession contract, there is no adequate input and consideration for Facility Management in those contracts because government wants to provide and manage. This is something you can trace to individual interest. Government should not be in the business of trying to manage infrastructure. Government entities should concern themselves with providing the monitory and compliance framework and allow the private sector to manage and maintain. The return to the government should be more in terms of guaranteeing the efficiency of service and providing for those who cannot totally afford the economic variable based on the privatised cost, because not everybody can afford those cost when such services are fully privatised. For instance, if government has a hospital, there should be differential pricing that enables the private sector to deliver the service and define the criteria for those who will benefit from those services as Social services and those that will benefit from it as a private sector initiative or an enterprise. If those kinds of frameworks are not well defined, we will continue to deceive ourselves that government must be responsible for social service and these services will be run down, the infrastructure will never develop. So, we need to rethink our public infrastructure provision and maintenance; and build in the component of sustainability into them, such that when government provides them, there are frameworks that enable us maintain them efficiently and price them appropriately.