World FM Day: Behind the scenes with QIC's Muhammad Ali

May 8, 2023

Each year, World FM Day is celebrated globally to recognise the value that Facilities Managers add to the built environment. It’s a time to celebrate the behind-the-scenes heroes of our properties and share a well-deserved thanks for keeping our facilities healthy, safe and productive. Fittingly, this year’s theme is ‘Making a real difference’.

At CIM, we are fortunate enough to work with a vast network of FM’s, supporting them as they embrace adaptability, collaboration, and a steadfast commitment to helping all those who depend on the built environment. We sat down with some of the individuals leading the way at their respective properties.

In this article, we hear from Muhammad Ali, a Services Manager at QIC’s Watergardens Town Centre, a major sub - regional shopping centre located in Taylors Lakes, 24 kilometres north-west of Melbourne, Victoria. QIC is a long-standing CIM partner, with the PEAK Platform deployed across a large number of their retail and office properties, empowering FM’s to resolve issues quicker, while driving efficiency, sustainability, comfort and asset performance.

Building a professional foundation

Talk me through your career path so far?

I completed a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering in Pakistan, then came to Australia in 2017 to do my Masters in Project Management. While studying, I worked as a Security Guard in a commercial building in Melbourne’s CBD. From there, I stepped up into a Security Supervisor role in the same building, and then became the Integrated Services Manager. These roles involved looking after security, cleaning, maintenance and customer service. Then I started a role with QIC at Eastland Shopping Centre as a Security Manager. And from there, I stepped into a Services Manager position at Watergardens where I am currently.

Why did you choose facilities management as a career?

Initially, like many people, I had no idea that this discipline even existed. So, when I started working as a Security Guard and then a Security Supervisor, I discovered the building operations team roles through my interactions with the Building Operations Manager who would share requests for audits and such. From there, I developed an interest in FM and operations, and realised that with my technical and project management background an operational role was definitely something I could pursue. So, I started working on my skill set until eventually getting into this role.

And why have you continued pursuing a career in FM?

The challenges. My role is full of challenges, and that really excites me. Every day in the life of an FM is different to the previous one. And that’s what has kept me engaged and has encouraged me to continue pursuing this as a career.

Getting to know FM as a discipline

What’s something interesting about facilities management that most people probably wouldn't know?

FM’s are essentially the backbone of asset operations. But most of the time, building users don’t even know we exist. There are so many things that we take care of in the background that the general public visiting a shopping centre likely aren't even aware of. Generally, customers don’t know about all of the things we deal with to keep the building running smoothly.

What do you love about facilities management?

First, the challenges I’m presented with vary day-to-day, which keeps it interesting. Second, working on different projects gives you a huge amount of exposure. As part of my role, I work on several different projects on any given day in addition to my daily operational responsibilities. I also love learning new things - whether that be from contractors, or the great team I work alongside. With my Operations Manager and the broader team, I’m always learning.

How do you drive sustainability and operational efficiency in your role as a Services Manager?

Efficiency is always central to our procedures. As an example, when we replace lights, we always look for a better alternative, like upgrading fluorescent to LED lighting to drive efficiency and sustainability. We’re always looking for more sustainable options whenever we need to replace operational equipment. Another area is waste management. Keeping in regular contact with the cafe and restaurant owners in the centre, we educate them on things like segregating of waste streams between general, organic and recycling. We run a series of training sessions and provide signage to facilitate improved waste management processes centre-wide.

How engaged are retailers with adopting more sustainable measures?

Very engaged and responsive. Their staff are always more than happy to operate more sustainably. Ultimately, it comes down to our responsibility as human beings and we are fortunate enough to have collaborative and receptive retailers.

Skills to shape a successful FM

What skills do you think are most important to be successful in facilities management?

There’s two that come to mind, decision making and an openness to technology. First, FM’s need to be strong decision-makers, as often you need to make decisions on the spot with little time to think. Making decisions strongly and decisively is crucial. Second, openness to technology. These days, technology is evolving every day, so FM’s need to be open to understanding and adopting them. Technology is a great enabler, in terms of automating procedures, elevating the efficiency of the team’s operations, or giving the business a competitive advantage.

You have an interesting background, encompassing electrical engineering and project management. How has this technical background helped you in your current role?

The electrical engineering background helps me to understand projects that relate to the electrical aspects of the asset. Having a project management background is also super helpful in terms of managing budgets and timelines for the various projects that I juggle. In saying that, while having a technical background assists me given, I am quite new to the industry, it’s definitely not essential for an FM to be successful in their role.

What advice would you give to non-technical FM’s to get up to speed?

One great piece of advice I received early on was to regularly speak to contractors, whether that be mechanical, BMS, electrical, or plumbing. FM’s should speak to their network of contractors regularly to better understand the technical background of issues they are rectifying, what are their maintenance KPI’s and what they are actually doing during their maintenance checks. For example, if a mechanical contractor is working on one of your AHU’s, chat to them about what they do, join them on a maintenance inspection, observe what they do to maintain your assets and be open to asking them highly technical questions about the operation of HVAC systems. On top of that, there are a vast number of helpful resources online to further support your learning as an FM.

Making a real difference

This year’s theme is ‘Making a real difference’. Why do you think your role is impactful and important?

The main thing that comes to mind is the impact we make in the area of safety and risk compliance. We have a very important job to ensure the safety of our customers, retailers and team members is never compromised. Whenever we run through our operational procedures, health and safety is a priority. Any job that we do on site, whether it relates to electrical, mechanical, plumbing etc, we prioritise safety to minimise any risks and ultimately make a real difference to the lives of our customers, retailers and centre teams.

Can you talk me through any examples in your role at QIC where you’ve made a real difference?

It’s all the minor things we do behind the scenes that add up to make a difference. For example, in my previous role as an Integrated Services Manager, one item of responsibility was hoarding checks. These may sound insignificant, but they are really important. The checks involve inducting and checking in contractors, and ensuring the hoarding structure is sound. There is a real important safety element to these, so we are reducing risks, all while trying to make these processes more efficient.

Embracing technology

How important is technology in helping you fulfil your role?

Hugely important. I am very open to technology, and I strongly advise all FM’s to remain open. Embedding technology into certain aspects of your daily operations can drive real change and operational efficiency, by automating procedures, or upskilling users. PEAK, for example, drives energy efficiency and gives us a great idea as to how we can boost our efficiency, and thermal comfort.

What role does the PEAK Platform play in your day-to-day activity?

It’s a central part of my role. I start every day by logging in to the platform to note any new alerts or action items that may need to be assigned to contractors. I also closely monitor the thermal comfort scores, to see where we are tracking as a centre. The recommendations for operational improvements are also helpful as we look to accelerate our pathway to Net Zero. Water consumption is another area that I keep a close eye on following the installation of water metres across a number of our food retailers, as well as their energy efficiency.

Head to our blog for more great World FM Day content.

Discover how the PEAK Platform can facilitate a smarter and more collaborative approach to your facilities management. Request a callback from one of our experts today.

Chris Joannides
May 8, 2023