Okechukwu Obodoeze is the Managing Director of Denora Ventures Limited. A graduate of Physical and Regional Planning from Enugu State University of Science & Technology, Obodoeze has been into Facility Management (FM) since he left school and has seen the sector through the recession era. Obodoeze believes that the Federal Government does not pay attention to management of its infrastructure and that is why abandoned structures litter the country’s landscape. He believes that with the right atmosphere and work conditions, workers’ productivity will be enhanced. In this interview with Daily Sun, he fielded questions on management and profit levels of FM in Nigeria.
This is a trending business in Nigeria. Before now, Nigerians develop property without planning how to maintain it. This is where facility management comes in. It is not enough to build a gigantic edifice and just drop it for the reptiles and rodents to inhabit. At times, those who go into structure development do not consider that it is easier to build than to maintain. On a general note, Nigeria and government in particular lack maintenance culture. Because most rich Nigerians made their money in questionable ways, they don’t care how they invest it. They spend so much on investments but do not tend the investments for the quality to be retained. Facility management is that aspect of the development that maintains your investments and retains their initial values. 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 to enable us maintain them efficiently and price them appropriately.
Those who have properties know that for them to still retain their values, they must put them up for management. Those who manage the property will have to take care of the water treatment, the walls, the roofs, the plumbing jobs, the power generation, the wears and tears as far as the property is concerned. They can also care for the flower beds, the furniture and all others in the property. Often, owners of properties engage the services of expatriate managers to mange their properties. This is done because the property owners may not have the time to manage the property and even if he has, he may not have the technical know-how to do that. People hire facility managers so that the value of the property will be maintained to reduce depreciation.
The awareness level of facility management has grown significantly in the past five years. More people, more corporate organisations and even governments 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: How does outsourced FM services compare with the in-house FM team? What are the peculiar challenges that organisations or establishments face with FM provider? There are so much information and knowledge that have taken care of these questions. One of the ways we have checked this is the volume of calls or requests for FM services that have significantly improved.
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 mosquitoes, when you wake up in the morning you will be disorganised, 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 conditioner is bad, and you decide to use the bathroom, only to discover that it stinks 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?
The first thing is that FM takes care of all the issues listed above. 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 reasons why productivity will have to increase. So, what I am saying is that there must be ways to empower FM and so 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 per cent availability of critical equipment; people will be more productive and businesses will become more profitable. If Nigerians 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. At another level, Facilities Managers can also help organisations 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 of improvement can be achieved, value will be enhanced, and all these will impact the business bottom line. When the bottom line is impacted, the organisation will have enough money to reinvest in providing efficient enabling physical work environment for its 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.
The first challenge is the attitude of FM company owners to treat the workers selectively. The moment FM company owners begin to grade the staff based on family relationship, then the able hands will feel unsecured and will look elsewhere. This will bring divided attention that will not bring the best from the workers. The second 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 competence 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 enabling technologies that are 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 deliver services. 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 structured that way.
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, among others. All these 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, the 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. If you go out today to most of the government ministries at state, federal and local government there are dilapidated infrastructure. How do you expect people to function effectively. If we cannot have all these questions stated earlier answered honestly, people’s productivity, business profitability and economic prosperity will be negatively impacted.
The questions remained unanswered.
The remained unanswered because 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 that these are critical services that we must focus on to drive the economy forwards. But 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.
Government management of infrastructure
Government should not be in the business of trying to manage infrastructure. Government entities should concern themselves with providing the enabling policies 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 variables based on the privatised cost, because not everybody can afford those cost when such services are fully privatised. For instance, if government has agricultural plantations, they should allow it to be managed while it provides the logistics to deliver the services 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.