International FM ties: Building a relationship with India

by FM Media
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Facility Management interviews BRIAN PURDEY, associate professor of facilities management for the Institute of Sustainable Development and Architecture at Bond University.

For the past four to five years, you have worked in India to build links between Australia and India in terms of facilities management training and education, and raising the bar for facilities management service delivery. Tells us more about why you have been spending time in India.
My first trip to India was for three months in the late 1970s and I was struck by what an amazing place it is. I was there again in the mid-1990s on an Austrade training project for the Steel Authority of India. Since 2009, I have travelled all over India on 12 occasions, delivering facilities management training programs, building a business network and establishing facilities management training/education partnerships with various institutions. I have a strong connection to the Indian cultural and spiritual way of life and motivation to blend the best of Western and Eastern technologies in the design and management of facilities. Raising the skill level in facilities management is critical, given the amount of infrastructure development that is taking place in the country. It is an interesting, energetic and exciting place to live and work.

What is the current state of facilities management in India and where do you think it is heading?
There are few examples of well-maintained buildings in India and one needs to understand the historic cultural and economic context for this. Government is the largest owner and user of buildings, but, apart from some flagship properties, the design and condition of its portfolios does not set a good standard. However, investment in new infrastructure is a potential game changer. New airports, metro railways and docks all require professional asset management to maintain their functionality. Central government has identified facilities management capacity building as a priority, particularly given the significant population shifts from rural areas to cities expected in coming years. Global corporates tend to have better local facilities, although these are often designed, constructed, managed and maintained by international organisations that have extended their contracts into the subcontinent.

Should Australian facilities management companies be looking to go to India? What facilities management opportunities are there in India?
There is considerable facilities management growth potential in India, but it is not an easy place to do business. A well-connected and trustworthy business partner is essential. Facilities management is presently viewed as a service industry and, with low wages, tends to be labour intensive – mop and bucket oriented. In India, the absorption of unskilled labour is a macroeconomic necessity, so efficiency of labour, plant and materials to deliver value for money is less of an issue, but this is changing.
There are well-established homegrown facilities management companies that offer upstream services in addition to outsourced operational facilities management. A burgeoning middle class has increased expectations. This is reflected in higher quality shopping malls, hotels and private accommodation, and even sustainable cities.

What partnerships could be and are currently being formed between Australia and India in terms of facilities management?
Because there is a lot of discussion about capacity building, I have been working with colleagues in Australia and India to engage the various levels of the Indian Government, key players in the private sector and various training institutions to establish local courses and build education pathways between academic institutions. There has been engagement with the local and Australian professional associations and a number of formal agreements have been put in place.

What are the challenges of working in facilities management in India?
In India, the margins are so slight that things have to be done on a massive scale. Government and quasi-government bodies can be subject to political pressures and, of course, there is a need to understand the way business is actually done in India. Obtaining these massive contracts requires an entrée to the appropriately influential people and a politically well-connected indigenous partner is a necessity. In all probability, a ‘success fee’ will be an integral part of the bargaining process. Price is always a key determinant, and overpromising and under delivering, and quality control can be problematic.

What can Western facilities managers learn from Indian facilities managers?
At a macro level, the cultural context within which business is done is extremely important. There is much interaction and respect for social process, as well as formal authority. Indian facilities managers may not be as well-qualified as in the West, but they are particularly street savvy and tough negotiators. Western facilities managers should not assume that they have access to superior technology. There is plenty of indigenous sustainable technology on hand, as well as more widely used innovative information technology tools.
At a micro level, many facilities management services are invisible to the employer except when a major failure occurs. One interesting concept that has developed is the use of ‘tick boxes’ when carrying out a regular inspection service. The employer then decides on the items to deal with, meaning that every operation is approved by management and thus made visible, also enabling client control of spending.

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