Market needs intelligent buildings

Most Slovaks live in concrete blocks of flats, the legacy of Socialist architecture, and to them, the idea of computer-managed intelligent buildings sounds like science fiction. However, effective facility management, along with the possibility of integrated computer technology, is becoming more of a reality in Slovakia.

Most Slovaks live in concrete blocks of flats, the legacy of Socialist architecture, and to them, the idea of computer-managed intelligent buildings sounds like science fiction. However, effective facility management, along with the possibility of integrated computer technology, is becoming more of a reality in Slovakia.

DeTeImmobolien has attracted a lot of media attention since it started providing facility management services to Slovak Telekom in September 2006. The management company is one of the biggest players on the Slovak market and has sparked media discussion about further opportunities in the field.

However, despite the sudden interest, facility managers say there is nothing new about advanced facility management systems in Slovakia, it is only that the gap between the management of residential and administrative buildings is still quite large. Administrative facility management has an advanced standard of business and many international companies have found their way to Slovakia and set up business here. According to Miro Sedlák, the spokesman of HB Reavis, a Slovak real estate developer, the real estate business still offers plenty of opportunities, especially in facility management. Unfortunately though, residential building management still seems to be stuck in its socialist past.

According to law, every building in Slovakia must have an official manager; either the owner, the tenant, or an external company. In the past, heating companies used to act as building managers for residential buildings.

According to Sedlák, today there are other ways of managing residential housing, such as through private facility managers.

Nonetheless, many blocks of flats in Slovakia are still managed by housing associations (a system inherited from socialism) or city-owned companies. It is not uncommon to find these organizations doing an inefficient and substandard job.

However, the situation is different when it comes to administrative properties. Private companies involved in this business are able to provide any services their client requests.

"It all depends on the owner's willingness and renter's ability to pay for quality services," said Miroslav Fülop, sales manager of J&T Real Estate, a real estate company that also provides facility management services.

According to Sedlák, there are two options when it comes to facility management: technical property management, which mostly includes managing power, water, and heating systems, and complex property management, which can also include services such as transport, marketing, and accounting.

Intelligent buildings require professionalism

According to Sedlák, the developer needs to have a clear idea of how property management will work from the very beginning of the development process. Usually, developers either use an often newly established daughter company, or they offer tenders, he said. It's necessary that the chosen facility manager participates in the development of the building to make their job more effective and easier.

"The facility manager comments on the architect's plans, for example by suggesting how to simplify the escape routes or about the location of the building's electrical equipment," Sedlák said. "Cooperation with the future property manager is also a good way to make sure that the safety of the building is under control from the very start."

Facility management becomes really crucial when it comes to measuring the buildings' 'intelligence'.

"For buildings that don't reach a certain level of intelligence - simply said - anyone could provide the facility management services," Sedlák said. He explained that sophisticated control systems are in fact the foundation of intelligent building management.

"A smart control system operated by well-trained people makes facility management more effective," Sedlák said. "Managing a computer controlled building is easier, because you don't need as large staff as you would if the building wasn't under computerised control. Still, the staff has to be professional."

HBReavis is one of the leading companies on the real estate development market. Another one is AB Správcovská, a.s., working under the name of the Hetech Group. They provide complex facility management for the Allianz - Slovenská Poisťovňa headquarters in Bratislava.

"The facility manager keeps the building's income and expense records, provides the maintenance services and repairs, monitors electricity, water, and media supplies, offers emergency break-down service, and manages the building's paperwork," said Lucia Muthová, the spokesperson for Allianz.

It is not rare for developers to use their daughter or sister companies as facility management providers and, after the building is sold, continue providing the new owner with their services. The Apollo Business Center (developed by HB Reavis) was sold a year ago to Hannover Leasing, the leading company on the German shares funds market, but the building is still managed by its original facility manager - Apollo Property Management, a sister company of HB Reavis.

"Efficiency and costs seem to be the main priorities," said Fülop. "But there are other big advantages of using facility management provided by an external company. An external company can make it easier for the property owner to focus on its core business without being distracted by the need to keep its buildings in order.

"Property owners are generally not experienced enough and they don't have qualified staff who can take care of facility management on their own, using their own resources," Fülop said.

"If property owners employ their own staff to take care of the building, they have to provide them with all the benefits that an employee has according to the law. Using an external facility management company can save money in the long run," Fülop said.

"It's not only a question of who is doing it, but, more importantly, how well they do it," Sedlák said.

"Simply, facility management is not just the domain of big players in the real estate industry. If a company is convinced that they can manage their facilities on their own and they can do it more efficiently than an external provider, there's nothing stopping them from doing it."

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