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It is vital to preserve indispensable MEP-related expertise, and the skills and lessons learnt through putting in the hard yards, argue V Sekhar Reddy, Managing Director, Lexzander and Rahul Duragkar, Managing Director, Emitech Group 

| | Mar 16, 2021 | 4:06 pm
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We are in the midst of a situation akin to a Third World War, arguably brought about by the negligence and – if one were to listen to extreme allegations – the deviant nature of humanity. Truly, COVID-19 – insidiously, to begin with and profoundly, as it progressed – has shaken the very core of our existence. It came, it felt, it conquered, and intends to stay amidst us at least for the foreseeable future, vaccines notwithstanding.

Unlike previous crises, it has reminded us of the virtue of conscious consumerism and forced us to consider acting with a greater sense of responsibility. The construction industry, too, has been battered by the disease. To be accurate, COVID-19 is the third instance of a crisis in the past three decades, with the post-Gulf War scenario representing the first major disturbance, and the 2008 financial tsunami representing the second. We have done well to come out of the first two, but COVID-19 promises to test our resolve and resilience. True, it’s easier said than done, but every adversity has an opportunity. Indeed, adaptability is a key strength and a vital ingredient, and if persisted with, will help us turn the corner. And with that in mind, it gives us the conviction to write further and present our case.


The current scenario is a defining phase for the MEP industry. Being the heart and soul of any building, and only second in the pecking order of importance, after civil and structural aspects, these are, no doubt, testing times. From a project hierarchy perspective, MEP occupies the bottom rung of the ladder, in terms of timeline, with the workflow firstly involving architects, followed by project managers, builders or main contractors, followed by QS and, finally, by MEP. Hierarchy notwithstanding, MEP has 25-35% share in any project, as it straddles capex as well as opex. And post the commissioning phase, it is the only live element of any building all through its lifecycle. In other words, it is an established fact that MEP is critical for sustained building performance, and the environmental interests it can safeguard. In that context, it is, indeed, a dismal point that the MEP industry has been battered and badly bruised. While the pre-2010 period saw a spectacular rise in its fortunes, the period after that has seen a steady deterioration in values and deliverables of the MEP industry. Despite wearing the tag of a specialised segment of the building industry, it has been at the receiving end of a raw deal, in no small measure due to the collective lack of responsible approach by all stakeholders. Though the authority bodies have gone to great lengths in updating and standardising the requirements of an increasingly complex construction landscape, the lack of connectivity amongst agencies down the line has resulted in poor deliverables and returns. It is no surprise, then, that many of the well-known players have bitten the dust or, at best, are still recouping, after a decade of abuse – self-made and external.

In short, the MEP industry is paying the price for:

►►Lack of clear understanding of the requirements

►►Unreasonable quest for quick returns

►►Failing to ‘Walk the Talk’, and

►►Stubbornness in not learning from past mistakes

V Sekhar Reddy

The result is that we have a building inventory comprising ageing units and New Construction that is energy-profligate, at a time when the building industry ought to marshal its resources to help the UAE and the rest of the GCC region in achieving their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in the context of the historic Paris Agreement of 2015. Considering that the NDCs place the burden on the signatories to evolve climate plans, targets, policies and specific measures for them to implement towards mitigating the obvious climate crisis, the matter is highly serious.

A similar case can be made for the need for good IAQ. Broadly speaking, the same inventory of buildings are promoting rather than suppressing the spread of respiratory diseases, a matter of concern, as the region and the world at large are battling hard to quell the threat of the multiple strains of the virus that instigates COVID-19.

Some of the well-recognised needs, which at the moment demand forthright pursuance in place of the widespread befuddling slackness, are:

1) Understanding the end-user requirement

2) Developing, coordinating, designing and amalgamating the requirements from concept stage to buildability stage

3) Developing budgets, including complementing the changes

4) Adopting a fit-for-purpose approach by ensuring all parameters are taken care of, to the best ‘knowhow’ extent

5) Taking recourse to a horses-for-courses approach. Grading and ensuring that only MEP specialists, imbued with an understanding of project dynamics and technical competence, supersede those with short-term commercial gains in mind

6) Making it mandatory for best practices and the latest implementable systems to be adopted without exception

7) Ensuring no dilution in efforts towards achieving the desired and envisaged end result

8) Ensuring independent, third-party checks to cross-verify the result

9) Notifying corrective actions and sharing the findings on a common portal, for information and future corrections

10) Ensuring timely approvals of…

►►Certifications to ensure cashflow

►►Variations, changes to scope (positive and negative)

►►Final summary, certifications and payments

Rahul Duragkar

To a certain extent, COVID-19 could be deemed as a blessing in disguise for reinstating MEP to its deserved level, in the interest of the property lifecycle and the end-user for trouble-free building operation. For its own good, the MEP industry and its inherent leadership must think differently in the post-COVID world. The traditional, current-day approach is something that ought to be jettisoned. It is equally crucial that not only the MEP leadership but also the entire building industry hierarchy must understand and appreciate the importance of the above-enumerated measures to ensure the MEP industry is nurtured back to good health, thereby keeping the long-standing wellness of buildings in mind, not to mention safeguarding the environment in terms of direct and indirect emissions. Indeed, COVID-19 does not mean all gloom and doom. Looking at the situation more pragmatically:

  • It cannot get any worse
  • We can re-boot for a better tomorrow with a steadfastly clear mind and approach

In short, the situation is ripe for us to learn the lessons of the past and to take control with decisiveness and the courage of our convictions.

V Sekhar Reddy, Managing Director, Lexzander and Rahul Duragkar, Managing Director, Emitech Group. They may be contacted at vscsreddy@lexzander.com; rahul@emitechgroup.com.

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