The growing sophistication of real estate users and the complexity of modern structures have, increasingly, raised demand for facilities management which, unfortunately, is still relatively new and struggling for growth and global best practices. In this interview, TUNDE OBILEYE, CEO, Great Heights Property and Facilities Management Company Limited, takes a look at the industry, identifies the growth constraints and points the way forward. He speaks with CHUKA UROKO. Excerpts
An insight into Facilities Management (FM)
From a layman’s understanding, facilities management has to do with people, process and environment. It integrates all these to make a built environment enjoy the benefits of longevity. It goes beyond just cleaning a place into the objective of a business and a building. Any building is designed and built for a particular purpose. This determines the kind of maintenance that such a building enjoys. If we take a hotel, for instance, you know that people come in there to stay or to perform one function or another. It must therefore, have comfort so that anyone who comes there enjoys the facilities and the comfort of the place. What this means is that efforts must be made towards ensuring that everything that will make the customers enjoy their stay in the hotel is in place. You can’t afford to say that there is no light, the AC is not working, the toilets have no water or that the environment is untidy.
FM as a relatively new industry in Nigeria
Facilities management is still evolving even in advanced societies like UK , US and other parts of the world. Even in those places, the landscape is changing almost on daily basis. Every day you find new things being established. On a general note, you can say that this industry is still evolving but to be more specific or definitive, you can say that there is still room for growth and improvement in the areas that we already know about. We have not even started scratching the surface on what facilities management is all about. When you talk about maintenance in Nigeria, people are still basically talking about cleaning and that is why cleaning services are very popular in the country. We have so many aspects of this industry that require attention. There is need for legislation, regulation, education, skill acquisition and understanding of why facilities management is required in a built environment.
Still on legislation, regulation and education
In the area of regulation, I am not aware of any established body that regulates the activities of facilities managers unlike what you have in the legal profession where you have the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) regulating law practice in Nigeria. The Accountants, Engineers, medical doctors and many other professions also have bodies that regulate them, but in facilities management, there is none.
As for legislation, there are laws that are in existence like the constitution of Nigeria which gives rights to the citizens and employees of companies. It gives these citizens right to work in a conducive environment. There is the Factory Act which takes care of industries. There is also legislation on environment like the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and legislation on waste. Despite all these, there is a lot more that needs to be done in this area. There may be legislations on health and safety, but there is need for more to be done to cater for facilities management. What obtains now is that people carry on, believing that they understand what they do. So, what I see is that it is either there is legislation but no enforcement, or there is none.
In the area of education and skill acquisition, without sounding negative, I want to say there is a good number of people who haven’t got the necessary competence and skill set to practice in this industry. This is why you call somebody to fix an electrical fault, he tells you he can do it, but ends up creating more problems for you. We don’t have relevant institutions offering facilities management as a course of study. I think there is a couple of training institutes where people are taught rudiments of facilities management, but these are not as well defined as you have them in other countries of the world where this industry has been fully established.
Growing the industry through education
There are vocational schools in this country, but I think many of them are no longer functioning. We have higher institutions and I think it will be nice if government allows some form of legislation or policies that cause these institutions to offer courses in facilities management. All we have in the industry now are people who studied estate management, engineering and even those who only have little knowledge of real estate calling themselves facilities managers. You also find people who don’t have any training of any kind calling themselves facilities managers. The industry is so loose and I think it is time we started defining the criteria for anyone who wants to come into the industry to practice.
Who should be a facilities manager?
My recommendation is that whoever wants to be a facilities manager should have basic education. I don’t mean the person should necessarily have a degree, but should have at least a diploma in one of the related courses such as estate management, architecture, estate surveying or any course that brings people into contact with the built environment. People who have passed through vocational courses like carpentry, plumbing, bricklaying etc can also come in.
Nigerian practitioners and global best practices
Best practice in Nigeria is neither here nor there; it is almost an individual thing. Global best practices are those practices that conform with acceptable global standards. In UK, they have what is called British Standard Institute that sets standards for practitioners through their policies. They have what is called ISO Standard which is universally accepted in various sectors of the economy. Here, Individuals do what they think is the best practice for them. There is no set standard. My position is that we have to look at what we do and assess if that gives the customer satisfaction. We have to assess whether we have skill, experience or the knowledge to ensure that at the end of what we have to do for you, you will get satisfaction from it. For us to achieve best practice, we need to look outside our environment and adopt what they do.
Facilities management experience and practice in UK
In UK, they have regulation and legislation, and they enforce their legislation. As I have said earlier, part of the problems we have here is lack of enforcement. If you look at an office, for instance, there is a legislation or code of practice that tells you of the required space between one desk and another. It also tells you of the space an employee must have to be able to perform optimally. It also talks about the installation of sockets in an office. In many offices here, you find electric wires hanging, sockets dangling on the wall, and the AC not working properly. Again, level of knowledge is not the same in both countries. In UK, they constantly improve on what they have. They don’t stand still and that is as a result of information gathering, especially after something must have happened—asking questions as to how it happened, what impact it has had, what the users complaints are etc. Information gathered are analysed to find a way forward.
Growth drivers and prospects for the industry
There are prospects for the industry and there is no doubt about it. Nigeria as a country is evolving and developing no matter how bad things may seem. There is still room for improvement. The growth of the industry would require collective efforts from everybody including government, private sector operators and the industry practitioners. It is also going to require action on the part of service providers to look beyond the immediate. It is going to require educating people because people need to know about this industry to be able to understand what it entails. There is need also for conferences, seminars and training sessions so that people will start reading and hearing about the industry from time to time.
Personal and company profile
I am a Nigerian by birth. I was born abroad and I schooled there. I have lived there for many years. I am a lawyer by training. I have practiced as a barrister in England for many years. I found myself in real estate out of sheer interest. I started buying property, refurbishing and reselling them. I trained myself in quality management and became a consultant. My interest in real estate took me into facilities management and when I found myself in Nigeria, I saw the huge gap in this industry.
My company, Great Heights Property and Facilities Management Company Limited, has a long term vision of becoming the number one facilities management company in Nigeria. We are also planning to go into property development but this has not really taken off. The delay is deliberate because as a company, we need to focus on the area of maintenance due to the huge potential and the gap we have seen. It is our hope that if we are able to create a strong brand for ourselves in this area, when we start development, we won’t need much marketing to attract buyers.
We offer consultancy and audit services; we help firms write their reports and inform them of new trends and products in the market.. We offer general services such as solving electrical problems, carpentry, plumbing and repairing faulty air conditioners, generators, etc.
We have big banks and companies as clients; We have a contract to manage the entire branch network of a bank in Osun State; Protea and Gamble is also one of our clients. We have worked for retail, and furniture companies. Let me just say that we have a fair share of this market.