German-based Apleona HSG has rapidly grown in its UAE operations over the last few years.
The firm traces its roots in the Middle East when it began operations as Bilfinger in 2008 as an extension to one of the firm’s global contracts with IBM.
In 2014, the firm hired Ihab Assi to grow its Middle East business, and in 2016 the firm’s name was changed to Apleona following a change in ownership to a private equity firm.
One of Assi’s first business moves was to form a joint venture partnership with the Government of Sharjah through Sharjah Asset Management Holding (SAHM) — which was eventually named Saned. “The JV came to life in 2016 and it was a strategic decision to improve the quality of service and bring a higher standard of FM practice to the emirate,” Assi says. The JV was born out of the need for high quality FM services which was the “need of the hour” in Sharjah.
Sultan Al Ketbi joined Saned in 2016 after he was appointed as the FM director by SAMH in 2015. “Following the partnership between SAHM I transferred to Saned,” says Ketbi who assumed the office of chief executive officer of the JV company.
“The market in Sharjah has a need for high quality FM and technical services. There are a lot of demands from the government and semi-government sectors for total facilities management which can be delivered by Saned. Our JV was supported by the Sharjah Government which gave us the opportunity to work with different departments within the emirate — taking the lead in new sectors,” Ketbi says.
Apleona and Saned currently have several contracts in the public and private sector. Some of which include IFM contracts at the Souq Al Jubail, Souq Al Haraj, Sharjah Taxi building, Tasjeel Buildings, and Sharjah’s newest high end mall Zero 6.
“To begin with we were focusing on Sharjah Asset Management’s projects but this year we are targeting different departments and facilities. In March, we were awarded a hard services and corrective maintenance contract for the department of public works. This contract will see our staff deployed in 28 government buildings in Sharjah,” Ketbi says with the hope that the success of this contract will be a springboard for Saned to secure work in other government and semi-government entities.
Saned also has a few projects in Dubai through Apleona’s projects located in the southern emirate. “Eventually Apleona will make use of its partnership with Saned to provide soft services by offering a competitive pricing model,” Assi says.
Salama and Aman
Saned’s biggest contract, however, has been with the Sharjah Prevention and Safety Authority wherein it will provide HSE training and connect all of Sharjah’s buildings to a central system by the Sharjah Civil Defence.
The Aman initiative aims to link all the fire panel systems through a communicator in all the commercial and residential buildings in Sharjah to the central monitoring system at Saned and finally linking that to the Civil Defence Operation centre. This system is mandatory by law, and will allow the Sharjah Civil Defence to interfere faster as compared to current response times in case of an emergency, Ketbi tells fmME.
Saned has been appointed to oversee the entire project which will witness the installation / connection of Aman communicators in several thousand commercial, residential and industrial buildings that will drastically bring down emergency response times from the existing manual practice.
Ketbi says: “We are going to have an awareness plan, it’s a pivotal project. We would like companies to understand the need of such a project while avoiding resistance from the market because landlords will be concerned with associated costs. Ultimately, safety projects such as this will minimise a lot of risks for tenants.”
Although the contract Saned has been awarded is comprehensive in nature there will be plenty of opportunities for vendors to sell devices, install and create IT solutions. Assi notes: “Saned is not going to have a monopoly. There was a direct instruction from the executive council that we keep the market open for everyone. We are here to manage the project and supervise it. We expect a huge pick up in the fire fighting and equipment maintenance market.” Aman is accessible to register, book appointment and pay easily through a smart app and web portal designed basing on blockchain technology for data safety.
Saned had an initial plan to get all the buildings connected within two to three years in order to set the Aman initiative in motion. “We have ramp up plans but we also need to consider market conditions and building technical readiness to connect. For 2019 we are targeting 2,500 buildings, and by 2020 we target about 5,000 buildings to be connected to Saned and Civil Defence’s central monitoring system.”
Meanwhile, Salama is a training centre proving a mandatory HSE training programme that’s applicable to circa 500,000 blue collar workers and technical staff working in Sharjah. Ketbi explains: “We are on the cusp of launching the physical training centre. Same as Aman, We have worked on an e-portal that will allow companies to log in and establish an account for their staff and register them, this portal will also be used for payment of fees with the highest safety standards. Our attempt is to make it easy for companies who need as per a law approved by Sharjah Government in 2018 to ensure up to 20% of their staff are trained every year.”
Assi says that the training cost will not have a huge impact on the emirate’s economy but there will be a massive impact on HSE awareness and the general reduction of workplace accidents.
“Due to the planned launch in April this year, 2019 will not have a lot of participation but in 2020 we expect large numbers - there are 500,000 staff to whom the law directly applies and if we consider a minimum of 20% we will have more than 100,000 staff going through our training centres every year,” he says.
Saned is also working towards increasing training delivery across the length and breadth of the emirate. Ketbi reveals: “The approach is to have training centres throughout the three zones in Sharjah - Eastern, Western and the Central area, we will have multiple locations within the central area itself. Salama will start with targeting the critical positions, along with the main city of Sharjah, government and semi-government entities. Saned also comes under the purview of this mandatory requirement and we will be the first client of Salama’s training centre.”
“The JV is one of kind strategic partnership that you see in the Middle East, UAE and especially Sharjah. We have unique case which is a win-win for all parties whether it is SAMH — the investment arm of the Sharjah Government — or Apleona the German partner; not to mention the end users of the service — public and private sector,” Assi says.
The JV has also brought a change in Apleona’s standard operating procedures while carrying out business away from its base in Germany. “The shareholders come from different business cultures, which might sound like an obstacle but to the contrary it has put us in an advantageous position. Apleona’s German mentality of thorough technical and commercial assessment before each step, and the power and growth eagerness that SAMH possesses were our main drivers towards the success of this JV. Apleona Group is excited with the JV and the extraordinary success we have achieved so far.”
Apleona Middle East’s headcount in 2014 was 10 employees and the firm stands to have close to 2,000 employees by Q2 2019. Financially, Saned has booked more than AED150m since it started operations in 2016 and has already been awarded more than AED200m in contracts to be delivered within over the next 24 months.
Ketbi has superior confidence when it comes to Saned’s market position in Sharjah. He says: “We are leading within Sharjah and we are not making it easy for our rivals to keep up with us. From a pan-UAE standpoint there are a plenty of successful private, public private partnership entities and multinationals that are playing a crucial role in developing the standard of FM in the UAE. When compared to them we are in the early stages because there is a lot on our plate in Sharjah.”
Assi wants to duplicate the JV model, whether with its existing partners or new entities, in different markets around the GCC. “Today we are with the Sharjah Government and we see that strategic approach applicable to different geographical territories. The UAE has always been a start-up point for any business and the FM market is well developed in the UAE. Our JV is a great business model and a success story,” Assi says.
Ketbi says Sharjah’s FM standards are a “bit away compared to other parts of the UAE”. “But there is a strong appetite from the local government to have partnerships with the private sector and to get into new strategic projects. Having born and raised in Sharjah I am proud of the changes taking place here. Saned thrives on new challenges and we want to do more than just the ordinary — we are deploying new techniques in hard and soft FM with a prime focus on quality. The future is looking good,” Ketbi concludes.