Building maintenance to be part of design, and not afterthought, as part of industry overhaul

As part of the government's real estate industry transformation map, a new framework to overhaul the building maintenance sector is set to be launched by the end of the year. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A building manager takes over a building, only to find that his maintenance equipment cannot fit through the narrow corridor of the new structure.

It is a scenario building managers here say happens all too often because maintenance is typically regarded as an afterthought - something to be considered only after the gleaming building is complete. And this despite the cost of upkeep over the first 30 years of a building's life amounting to over five times the cost of construction.

Industry figures say the sector is hampered by stiff competition, fee-diving and a lack of recognition as a legitimate profession.

A new framework is thus set to be launched by the end of the year - likely as part of the government's real estate industry transformation map - to overhaul the languishing sector.

For a start, a new Design for Maintainability framework, developed by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA), will ensure that buildings are safe and easy to maintain by involving facility managers earlier in the process.

The framework will also include training for facility managers to adopt the 3D technologies, like the software known as Building Information Modelling, already available to designers. But they will first need to pick up the necessary skills to use standardised software, such as Building Information Modelling (BIM).

One major advantage of BIM, said Arup Singapore's principal facade engineering leader Michael Chin, is early conflict resolution - the sort of process that ensures equipment needed to wash windows or change bulbs on high ceilings can fit through the door.

The use of technology will also help streamline the handover process. Currently, most developers hand over tomes of blueprints that are hard to visualise upon project completion, leaving the managers unaware of how to manage their buildings properly.

Said DP Architect technical director Mr Mathieu Meur: "There is often a disconnect between the teams in charge of the construction phase and the people in charge of facilities management. The former are under enormous pressure to meet tight construction budgets, forcing them to take shortcuts or make inappropriate decisions at the design and construction phase, leaving the facilities management personnel to pick up the pieces later."

Industry players, who are familiar with the plans and who shared some of the details with The Straits Times, said the moves are long overdue for the industry.

International Facility Management Association, Singapore chapter president Tony Khoo said that fee-diving has become commonplace in the sector and this has in turn affected the quality of the workforce.

"Over the years, we have seen the highly competitive industry compete on price alone, thereby driving it down. This translates to very low pay for the staff, as well as cost-cutting measures," he said.

"Because of this, we are not attracting the right talent and people. We are facing an ageing and shrinking workforce. The combination all these mean that there is low productivity, and the industry does not try to adopt the technologies out there today."

Finally, Mr Khoo said this creates a lack of recognition of facility managers as a critical profession. In this, there is a failure for most building owners to recognise the profession as a legitimate, qualified one, often choosing to award the tender to the lowest bidder.

"There are no Government-issued licenses to determine if someone is qualified do the job properly or not. With zero experience, anyone can become a facility manager by participating in a tender," said Mr Khoo.

The chief executive of EM Services, a major player in the facility management scene here, used his firm, which employs some 1,300 staff, as an example. Around half of them are facility managers, and of these, the average age is 45 and rising each year.

Young entrants, some with engineering degrees, usually leave within three years as a facility manager. "I'd say this happens to 80 per cent of the time to newcomers, who go on to find opportunities elsewhere," he said.

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