Profile of Walid Barhoumi: Middle East Programme Manager for KEY FM International

Today we’re in Tunis to get to know Walid Barhoumi, a Programme Manager instrumental to the success of KEY Facilities Management International (KEY FMI) in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.  Joining the conversation is Jim Yorston, KEY FMI’s Chief Operations Officer.



Walid Barhoumi, KEY FMI Programme Manager for the Middle East

Walid Barhoumi, KEY FMI Programme Manager for the Middle East


To begin, Walid, it would be great to learn something of your background prior to KEY FMI?

Walid:  “In terms of higher education, I originally started out studying economics, but later moved on to achieve a degree in IT engineering.


After gaining a few years of experience, I wanted more and decided to start my own IT business.  I began approaching big companies in my home country of Tunisia, and soon landed a support contract managing the local site of a large pharmaceutical multinational.


I enjoy problem-solving and helping people out, and quickly became the go-to guy whenever anything went wrong on-site.  Before long, I was as good as managing the facility, although I had no official designation as such.”


How did KEY FMI discover you?

Jim:  “I first met Walid when were awarded the FM contract for his site.  We were struggling to find a Tunisian partner who we felt confident could run things to the required standards.  Then someone mentioned that the local IT guy was pretty switched on and might be able to point us in the right direction.  So, I emailed Walid’s company to arrange a face-to-face.


Our first conversation was not what I expected.  Walid spent the whole time talking about how he wanted to learn about Facilities Management (FM), and be a part of something bigger than just IT.  Well that started us on this journey and led to many hours spent in Tunisian coffee shops, working on a proposal he could submit to KEY FMI.


His IT background was much evident back them.  It was clear that some work would be needed to attune him to KEY FMI’s way of thinking.  However, he was also so attentive, inquisitive, and quick and eager to learn.  When I got on the plane back home, I knew we’d found a real gem and was in no doubt he would sort Tunisia out.”

Walid:  “FM is hardly known in Tunisia.  Within the business, only the local MD and I had ever heard of it.  Furthermore, after talking to Jim I realised that, while I’d been doing FM after a fashion, I was far from doing it properly. 


I knew that in the short term the new Office Coordinator role would mean moving out of my comfort zone.  Nevertheless, I couldn’t miss an opportunity to learn from the True FM experts and to take my career to the next level.”


Walid has since risen to become a Programme Manager for the whole MENA region, how did this come about in so short a time?

Jim:  “Walid very quickly got to grips with KEY FMI’s approach and reporting requirements, and soon had Tunisia running like clockwork.  Consequently, I recommended him to the MENA Programme Manager for consideration should any opportunities arise. 


That opportunity arose much sooner than expected.  MENA had been underperforming and we were looking to replace the Programme Manager.  When I put Walid forward for the position, the client executives looked at me as if I’d lost my marbles!  I insisted and told them he had my personal guarantee.


I knew it was a big step-up for Walid.  I trialled him on two countries at first, but included one where we were experiencing the biggest problems.  He took control very quickly and the way he dealt with the challenges was impressive.  Everyone was happy, so we soon handed him the reins for the entire region.”

Walid:  “They were exciting times.  I had been waiting for the chance to show what I could do and here was my win-or-lose moment.  I worked late every night, and spent many hours in front of my laptop, researching the new markets and requirements.  From time-to-time I felt a little tired, but I was always happy because I was doing something I loved.


I also felt really supported by the KEY FMI team.  Whenever required, I’d just raise my hand and there’d be two or three people willing and available to help.  Particularly, Jim was always there for advice and reassurance, no matter how late I called him.  This enabled me to relax into my new role and gave me the confidence I needed.”

Jim:  MENA is the toughest market in the world of FM and Walid handles it exceptionally well.  He’s one of the best, if not the best, we have, and he continues to grow.  A proper success story!  He’s a firm but fair manager, a good presenter, and great with clients and customers.  He’s also a genuinely nice guy, someone I’d trust with my life.”  


So to end, Walid, what’s next for you and FM?

Walid:  “In terms of myself, I intend to keep improving.  My approach is working fine and is delivering the results, but it’s not the best I can achieve. 


Particularly, I want to develop my understanding of FM management systems.  To-date I have been heavily involved in the detail of day-to-day operations.  With a better grasp of the overarching framework of FM, I believe I will be better able to reflect on the rationale for these activities, their consequences, and how they relate to strategic organisational objectives.  English is not my first language, and I think this knowledge will also help me clarify and simplify my communications.


I see a great transnational Programme Manager like the conductor of a symphony.  The FM management system is the sheet music and the orchestra is the team, and delivering the best performance is all about striking the perfect balance between keeping the score and managing human relationships. 

Conducting an FM Management System

When it comes to FM, I think there are two major disruptors in the imminent future.


The first is the new ISO standards for FM, particularly ISO 41001.  These provide a framework for ‘a symphony’ and are set to transform global FM.


The second is workplace digitisation.  New technologies can now enable continuous monitoring of buildings and activities, and automate work scheduling and reporting.  These systems provide rich real-time information, while assuming a large part of the burden of operational management. This frees up the FM to focus on what they should be doing: identifying and implementing opportunities for improving service quality and adding value.


Thankfully, KEY is ahead of the curve in both these areas.   Our CEO often says, “the only constant in business is change”, and I enjoy working for a company that recognises this.  We know who we are and what we do, but we are also thinking ahead, ever exploring and contributing to the evolution of our profession.”


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Consolidating KEYSTONE: the next generation of workplace digitisation

We finally nailed down our CIO, Gordon Mitchell, for a sneak preview of KEYSTONE, the next-generation of workplace digitisation.


Hi Gordon, so tell us a bit about the background to KEYSTONE?

For many years our Innovation Unit has been working on how to resolve key FM and client challenges.  These include the challenges we see looming on the horizon and those our contract teams experience on-the-ground.  Our vision for KEYSTONE has emerged from this work in a very holistic way.

Piecing together the vision has been quite an adventure.  We knew what we needed the various parts to do.  However, we didn’t know if what we were imagining existed out there or was even possible.

The journey has taken us off the beaten path -FM trade shows, conferences and the like.  KEYSTONE includes some applications not originally intended for an FM context.  There have also been serendipitous turns. Sometimes cutting-edge solutions seemed to emerge to fill the gaps right on cue.

It’s been exciting working closely with entrepreneurs on honing new tech.  Often, we’ve been the first to trial these in a live operational environment.  We’ve been delighted to find some best-in-class partners here on our Scottish home turf.  Others have taken us further afield.

In fact, we’re just back from a trip visiting our European partners, for relationship-building and shaping up shared goals and understanding.  It’s ironic that getting an online environment right first time is all about what happens offline.  Nevertheless, we’ve always found this to be the case.


Visiting European Partners to consolidate KEYSTONE, the next generation of workplace digitisation Visiting European Partners to consolidate KEYSTONE, the next generation of workplace digitisation



KEYSTONE will be a significant upgrade of the Integrated Operations component of KEY’s FM Management System.  It’s due for launch in its totality in the first quarter of 2019, although its first modules are to go online imminently.

Conceptually speaking, KEYSTONE can be thought of as a single repository for all information necessary for optimal operational performance.  It empowers small teams to manage big operations, and confers adaptability and stability in the face of disruptive forces.


KEYSTONE, the next generation of workplace digitisation


However, at the same time, when looking into KEYSTONE, each user will have their own unique view of that information, specific to their immediate needs and context.

Tailored, yet unified.


What are KEYSTONE’s core benefits? (i) A tailored, enhanced user experience

System designers often treat the way information surfaces in terms of user categories –FMs, clients and customers, for example.  This approach is inappropriate in an FM context, where user needs are very nuanced

For illustration: a typical international contract can involve upwards of 50 managers, FM and client.  These operate at multiple management levels.  Each requires very different information to improve organisational performance -EHS, SLAs, asset depreciation, a clear unified work stream, and so forth.

There’s also your work teams, internal and third-party.  A chemical spill on the fifth floor requires urgent specialist cleaning.  Or the HVAC’s down on a sweltering day and the new maintenance guy needs to get-up-to-speed on the system fast.

Then you’ve your onsite customers.  It’s a busy day and they need to find that last available parking place, meeting room or canteen table.  Or they want to raise an urgent work request about that spill or broken HVAC.

And the  list goes on.

Our goal is that whenever any of these users logs into KEYSTONE, they find only the specific information or actions they need at that time, presented simply and intuitively.  Its dynamically-responsive user interface also means the display adapts to whatever device they’re using, for accessibility and usability.

Furthermore, KEYSTONE can also include a fully-realised 3D digital twin of client workplaces, with an augmented reality feature.  This enables users to way find or navigate building information remotely, or on a mobile from within the facility, taking the perspective from a user’s specific location.


3D workplace modelling: KEYSTONE, the next-generation of workplace digitisation


Our objective is that users see KEYSTONE not so much a platform, but as a personal assistant.  This adapts seamlessly to context, and is always on hand with the exactly the information they need, the way they need it.


What are KEYSTONE’S core benefits? (ii) Unified, autonomous, self-aware workplaces

Conventional FM suffers from what philosophy calls the mind-matter problem, that is, the perception that people are somehow separate from the built environment they manage or occupy.

KEYSTONE regards both as a single living system, one which requires minimal FM, because it has the capability to regulate its own wellbeing and performance.

Underpinning this system are affordable smart sensors, artificial intelligence and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, which monitor and report on occupancy, resource utilisation and environmental performance in real-time.  Our field tests suggest these can support new cycles of virtuous feedback, nurturing organisations which are more productive and efficient, as well as being healthier and happier.


Autonomous and self aware workplaces: KEYSTONE: the next-generation of workplace digitisation

KEYSTONE has also been designed for a seamless upgrade from our Integrated Operations solution.  This means clients can continue to benefit from our current platform, and then transition smoothly to KEYSTONE as its modules come online.


In Conclusion…

KEYSTONE is the summation of KEY’s FM and technology know-how to-date.  It is a comprehensive repository of all real-time and historic information relevant to optimal operational performance, and which is tailored to specific user needs and contexts.

I believe strongly the relationships between people and the built environment enabled by products like KEYSTONE represent a genuinely new horizon for workplace experiences and optimisation for both FM and client organisations alike.  Exciting times indeed!


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