“This year, I complete 23 years of my professional career with Berkeley; and, that by far is my biggest achievement.”
The cleaning and hygiene market in the UAE stands on a very strong foundation. While several companies have come and gone, there are several more that have been the crux of the sector when the country experienced some of its greatest booms. One such company is Berkeley Services, established in Dubai, UAE in 1984. The group is now one of the leading multi service providers in this region.
In 2007, Klüh Multiservices Germany - having operations in seven countries worldwide - acquired Berkeley Middle East, which now operates with a total work strength of 7,200 personnel in the UAE. Depending on the geographical coverage of the UAE, the company’s cleaning division functions in multiple regions, headed by respective Operations Managers overlooking these regions with separate teams.
After five years of launching in Dubai, Berkeley opened another branch in Abu Dhabi. In the UAE, the company is headed by Ralf Zerenner, Managing Director - a mechanical engineer with management experience from US & Germany. Under him, are four Directors – Senior DirectorOperations, Jiji Francis; Jawad Bhati, Finance Director; Venu Gopal, Director, Abu Dhabi Branch; and K. Latheesh, Director-Soft Services.
This interview features K. Latheesh, Director - Soft Services, Berkeley Services, who speaks to Rashmi Karanjekar about the extensive gamut of services offered to its esteemed clients, one of which is the tallest structure in the world - ‘Burj Khalifa’, and another is the 'Emirates Group' which Berkeley has a strong relationship over 35 years and more..
Tell us about your stint with Berkeley - how has your career progressed since you first joined?
I began my career at a very young age in this company and started at the ground level. I was soon promoted to a team leader handling six to seven people. In 1997, I handled a group of 200 staff for the Dubai International Air Show, and immediately after that, I got the opportunity to work on the technical cleaning service project for Emirates Engineering, which was handling the new hangar construction in Rashidiya. Throughout this journey, I’ve taken several specialised courses in all types of floor maintenance, floor care and restoration and of course cleaning science. Another rung in the ladder to my position today is my passion for and will to work in the cleaning and FM industry. This year, I complete 23 years of my professional career with Berkeley; and that by far is my biggest achievement.
How is Berkeley staying ahead of competition?
The cleaning and FM market is very competitive in terms of pricing. We believe in maintaining the industry benchmark standards in terms of quality and service by investing in our training programme, introducing innovative products and procedures. All our customers have realised the value-added services that Berkeley provides in comparison to the competitors. Flexibility is an integral part of the Berkeley culture, and we accommodate the requirements of the client beyond contractual obligations. We have an HSE and quality team that is responsible in ensuring our staff executes their responsibilities in a safe and efficient manner. They have a scheduled programme to inspect and audit all sites in line with ISO standards to conform to the client requirement. We also have dedicated HSE officers onsite for major projects like Burj Khalifa, Dubai Airports, DWC, etc.
Our staff is provided with three unlimited meals a day prepared by our in-house team of 60 catering staff. The team consists of cooks and assistant cooks from Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India. Our in-house laundry provides washed and pressed uniforms to all our staff on a daily basis. We also have a grooming team that keeps the staff’s appearance in check, especially for hospitality projects. A quality team of three people keeps a check on all these aspects. All this results in 100 per cent staff dedication and keeps them motivated.
Berkeley is known for its long standing contract with Emirates Group and Burj Khalifa. Tell us a little about the cleaning processes involved and the challenges.
This year, we’ll celebrate our 35th year with dnata/Emirates. We started our first project with dnata Travel Shop adjacent to Clock Tower building in Deira, Dubai. We were soon contracted to carry out technical cleaning for a new hangar project by Emirates. Today, we are handling all of dnata Emirate’s facilities including all the commercial buildings, Emirates headquarters, aviation buildings, Emirate’s College, training center, IT division, sky cargo / warehouses. We also have a special team to maintain all the cabin crew and pilot accommodations. This is what we call a turnaround job wherein we carry out the assessment and identify if there is a requirement for any maintenance like painting, specialised cleaning, etc. We indentify around 30-35 rooms per day and have a separate team to do the touch-up jobs.
Burj Khalifa is the first and biggest Emaar contract we signed for Berkeley. We received the floor plan during its construction phase and made an estimation of what kind of services will be on demand, type of treatment required for the various surfaces at different floor levels, staff strength etc. We won the cleaning contract of Burj Khalifa with our innovative solutions and began our association with them in 2009. Based on our performance, providing innovative solutions, cost effective measures we would like to boast of having renewed the contract for the 4th consecutive period ending 2021. We also have a special team working on the Burj Khalifa premises for floor care and another team (Emaar Prestige Services) to take care of VIP guests/tenants.
We also have a strong long-term relationship with Al Tayer Group. We’ve been serving their major businesses including Al Tayer Motors, Al Tayer Real Estate and Al Tayer retail for the last 12 years, and we were recently awarded the contract for another three more years (ending 2021).
What kind of training does your cleaning staff undergo?
Training of our staff is an integral part of Berkeley Services and in this regard to be line with international best practices, we ensued the path of achieving BICSc accreditation. I am proud to mention that we received BICSc accreditation in the year 2013. We have set up a world class BICSccertified training centre, and our BICSc certified assessors ensure that each and every member of our cleaning staff is passed through this rigorous training and certification programme.
We also impart soft skills training to our staff wherein we teach them to speak basic English. To counter the language barriers, our language trainers speak the same language as these staff to make communication effective and easier. Our online training programme from our German headquarters caters to our middle and lower management staff to ensure they are updated with latest technologies and processes. Our training programmes are audited by our clients’ teams, and we are proud to mention that we have never failed in these audits. These visits and audits are mandatory as a part of the tender agreement to keep a check on the standard of training imparted to our staff.
Tell us about the latest technologies introduced by the company with regard to the cleaning and hygiene segment.
We are the first cleaning company in the GCC to introduce a robotic scrubber drier with artificial intelligence for the cleaning activities at a reputed educational institution in Al Ain. The machine sends a performance report to the supervisor’s handheld device after each task. This report covers area covered, water and chemicals consumed, operational hours and the productivity per sq. m. With this machine we were able to reduce man-hours, chemical consumptions, water consumptions and it contributed towards reducing cost to the client and minimising carbon footprint.
In our Dubai office, we have been experimenting with a robot to clean internal glasses. It’s a small robotic glass cleaner with a cable and a battery. It indicates whether the battery is exhausted through a message to the one handling the device. Interestingly, it also comes with a back-up battery to hold onto the surface even if the battery is fully exhausted, and the cleaner will still keep getting the messages. We are working on something similar for external cleaning areas. In the future, we can expect more artificial intelligence in cleaning industry. We have developed an in-house software for effective auditing, task scheduling and training purpose. This software helps cleaners learn or follow the company’s defined cleaning procedures via graphics and animated content while they are on the field/site.
This app can be used on the janitorial screen or the cleaner’s mobile phone/tab. It also enables the cleaner to send a report to the supervisors once the job is done. We have programmed it such that even if a cleaner has a language barrier, he/she can easily imitate the cleaning procedure from the screen / user friendly icons and do the job well. Thanks to this app, we can shuffle the cleaning staff from one project to the other as the cleaner who gets his basic cleaning training during the mobilisation period can just follow the cleaning instructions incase he is shifted to a new project location. During mobilisation, we brief the team about this innovative software and customise/develop it according to the site requirements. We launched this app in 2017 internally and have received a tremendous response from all the clients to whom we have introduced it to.
Tell us about the sustainability measures taken by Berkeley Services.
We follow a green concept policy i.e. using eco-friendly products in all our major projects. We have tied up with two major brands - Diversey and Buzil - for a green range of chemicals. We have provided a unique filter system for drinking water to our staff at another facility, which has been shown to reduce the usage of bottled water and reduced water wastage. The success of this project was carried to other locations, and we have achieved similar savings.