Jamal Abdulla Lootah, Group CEO, Imdaad shares his view on the Soft FM sector and an overview of Isnaad - the soft FM services providers role in the market.


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Facilities Management
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According to a report conducted by Frost & Sullivan, the FM industry in UAE is worth over AED 20 billion; this clearly indicates that the industry has expanded drastically over the years, and the soft services sector plays a significant role in the FM market. Traditionally comprising of physical security services, the cleaning sector, pest control, and front office staffing, FM has grown to include services such as specialised cleaning and health and safety services as well. 

Soft FM services like cleaning, window or glass cleaning and manpower supply including office boys and reception staff is increasingly gaining importance. Consequently, the level of outsourcing has also increased, and clients have become more sophisticated in procuring FM services. As clients become more aware of sustainability and smart work environments, service providers are faced with challenges of staying up-to-date with these ever-changing dynamics to come up with new and unique solutions and innovations that would effectively respond to these evolving requirements. At the same time, there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy to take advantage of changes in the market and secure growth.

Paving the way for a sustainable tomorrow
Pressure from stakeholders and society at large is increasingly pushing service providers to look for sustainable solutions, including a wide range of social and environmental issues, in addition to their economic objectives. Innovation in sustainable FM practice is vital for organisations in order to respond to these demands and abide by stringent legislations. However, perceived barriers such as financial and time constraints, as well as lack of knowledge and awareness are critically hindering the efforts of organisations to incorporate sustainable activities into their business operations. 

Powering the future through technology 
Undoubtedly, technological advancements have created a huge impact in our society, and we expect to experience major progress through intelligent technology such as near field communication (NFC) sensors, security applications and smarter robots with more automation as we head towards 2020. Technology will take over more functions as robot technology results in better quality, costs reduction etc. This development will most probably reduce or even replace low-quality labour and drive a change in the skill sets required within the workforce. This transformation is also helping FM companies balance the ultra-price sensitive soft services sector. 
Currently, and in line with Dubai’s vision to become the smartest city in the globe, Isnaad is carrying out a project powered by IoT at its headquarters, which is designed to fully automate the washroom cleaning process – from communicating dispensers to automatically steering the procurement process and auditing of the cleaning quality through end-users.
Innovation: The key to success 
Innovation is a vital aspect in today’s competitive world. Companies operating within the soft FM segment may not sustain their market share or profit margin over long period of time unless they think outside of the box. Without being able to continuously introduce innovative new products and services, companies will experience falling prices, declining margins and the commoditization of their offerings.
Today, harnessing innovation to remain competitive is one of the top challenges in the FM industry. This is not only important because of increased competition amongst service providers; clients are also increasingly demanding innovation. In the early days of outsourcing, cost saving was the primary motivation for business decisions to outsource. Later, as this trend matured, customers placed greater emphasis on access to updated skill sets, better speedto-market for new and improved products and services and, most importantly, greater innovation. Some deals were struck on a cost-neutral basis, or even a higher initial cost, but in return for services of the highest quality. Identifying and adopting best practices throughout the organisation is one of the most effective ways to drive innovation. When a great idea has been created and successfully implemented at one site or region, this success can be scaled across other sites or regions. 
However, best practice alone is not enough; this is merely collecting pre-existing ideas and adopting them in other relevant areas of the organisation. To truly drive innovation, new ideas must be generated, implemented and subsequently distributed throughout an organisation.