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‘We are well-positioned to capitalise on market revival’

Dr Marcus George, CEO of UAE-headquartered Engineering Consortium Consulting Engineers, speaks on emerging opportunities and preparedness in taking on projects across borders

| | Dec 23, 2021 | 9:45 am
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What project milestones have you accomplished in the past one year?

The progress of the projects during the last one year has been neutral, and the situation is improving. With the tremendous efforts put in by the UAE Government in containing and controlling the COVID-19 pandemic, things started turning for the better during the second half, and it has been good in the last couple of months. We expect 60-75% of the targeted deliveries to be completed by the end of the year.

Dr Marcus George

You are a proponent of the Design-Build approach, which in your words, ensures greater coordination amongst civil, structural and MEP works? How has that model stood the test of time in challenging passages of time during the pandemic?

There has been a general slowdown in all the world economies, which partially affected the UAE, the reason being COVID-19. But again due to the tremendous efforts put in by the UAE Government in containing COVID-19 – the UAE is one of the very few countries which has almost opened up completely, plus has gone ahead in promoting Expo 2020 – the markets started reacting positively from the second half of 2021. It is heartening to note that real estate transactions have hit the highest in October 2021, after almost eight years, which is a huge boost for the entire economy.

Since the general activity level itself was low, design-and-build projects were still there but did not form part of a high percentage of the total construction. Yes, we certainly feel that the design-and-build approach ensures greater coordination amongst civil, structural and MEP works and will continue to play an effective, efficient and constructive role in project management, irrespective of the pandemic, as its usefulness stands out in all economic conditions.

A key concern in the MEP industry is a lack of specialised expertise in designing and executing complex HVAC installations, in ensuring optimisation of ducting routes, air flow, energy recovery, acoustical comfort, etc. What specific instances are you able to share of sophisticated delivery of projects?

We have provided key solutions for HVAC designs and coordinated layouts for various projects, such as auditoriums, schools and hotels, which require optimised design in terms of cooling, heat recovery, control and monitoring, specialised duct routing and air outlet layouts to suit interior design requirements and Indoor Air Quality (IAQ).

The pandemic has shone the spotlight on IAQ, like never before. What advisory and broad leadership role have you played in recommending solutions that would ensure high energy efficiency and, at the same time, enhance IAQ for protection of occupants in the present period of the pandemic and in future possible outbreaks?

In these challenging times, we have implemented various strategies to ensure we meet the requirements of healthy buildings and Indoor Air Quality, as recommended by various international standards. These include the utilisation and monitoring of UVC light on indoor units, air cleaning and filtration units. We have also recommended strict implementation of preventive maintenance on all HVAC equipment to ensure all aspects of air movement that affect indoor air quality are working at the highest efficiency.

With a tight pipeline of new construction projects in the UAE, the focus has switched to building-retrofit projects, with some requiring deep-retrofits. How is your organisation responding to this market need? What financial models are you proposing to clients to present appealing ROI and reduction in overall Total Cost of Ownership?

Good question. Yes, with so much of variety – in terms of size, type, design, fittings, etc. – across multiple communities available to the customer, even communities like Business Bay, Jumeirah Lakes Towers and Dubai Marina will have to take note and work hard to retain tenants. While each community may be preferred by a set of customers, those who are open and are wanting to look for value for money, will discover plenty of options.

In such a market, retrofitting is, and will become, the model to work on. While a major focus is on MEP, like lighting (lighting design, efficient light sources, efficient luminaires, automatic control, etc.), supplemental load reduction (reduction in equipment energy use, upgrading building envelope), air distribution systems (types, components, etc.), heating and cooling upgrades, other areas also offer a lot of options in the forms of lightweight materials, finishes, flooring materials, etc.

The available options are more than ever before, and the applicable market (like residential, commercial buildings, schools, supermarkets, hotels and retail stores) is equally large. But it will take some more time for the practice to get into mainstream execution. We are almost fully equipped to handle such deep-retrofits. Our team of highly professional staff has been with the company for many years – the average staff experience is more than 20 years.

We keep updating ourselves with the latest technologies, innovative products and construction methodologies through regular participation in various courses, seminars and other sources. With respect to the ROI, it will be more bespoke and will be driven by the type, design and age of the building and also the openness of the developer to consider all available options. Hence, it will be difficult to generalise the same with a specific suggestion.

Qatar remains a buoyant market, and there is considerable excitement over the FIFA World Cup, in 2022. What projects have you executed there?

We had executed a few projects there a few years ago. We designed a complex of 47 buildings, with futuristic seven floors of modern shopping mall design. We will consider taking up further projects, if there is any opportunity.

Saudi Arabia and Egypt are exciting engineering destinations, with both building entire cities. How are you capitalising on the demand with the kind of services you offer?

Yes, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are promising markets and exciting engineering destinations, as well. We expect Saudi Arabia to be ‘the market’ in the next 5-15 years. With the Government adopting such a forward-looking approach and willing to invest so much, we see Saudi Arabia turning into a great market in the next 10 years. We have done a few projects in Saudi Arabia in the past for one of the UAE developers, and we are well-versed with the master developer and authority requirements.

We have also opened an office in Saudi Arabia and will try to capitalise on the market boom there. Egypt is another good market to get into, and we are in discussion with a few local consultants as well as developers to assess the situation and decide on the course of action. We operate under the business principle, ‘All under one roof’, wherein we provide all services from concept to completion, which encompass concept design, architectural, structural, MEP, quantity surveying, contracts management and supervision of work at site. We are optimistic that with our professional expertise and long years of experience in this region, we will soon establish ourselves in these markets, as well.

How would you characterise the financial performance of your organisation? What steps and measures did you adhere to, or take, to show resilience and continuity of your standard of engineering? What special efforts did you take to retain key personnel with embedded expertise in energy management, project management and overall delivery of high engineering value to the client?

With respect to our financial performance, fortunately we have managed to keep our head above waters. And with the markets showing clear signs of recovery, we have already been awarded eight projects and are now well-equipped to capitalise on the same. As we mentioned earlier, our team is focused and committed. With the average service years of team members being 20 years and above, we have managed to retain staff reasonably well, and this has added a lot of strength to our performance.

During the difficult times, we had kept a strict check on all our costs and used all possible means available under law to keep the staff strength at optimum, ensuring at the same time that they are taken care of. We were fortunate that our payments were reasonably well on time, ensuring that we need not resort to any borrowings, much like how we have managed over the last 20 years. We are able to proudly say that we are a business unit that has not borrowed a single dirham over the last 20 years.

We are a cohesive, close-knit unit, where team members understand and enjoy the company of one another. Package or compensation is not the only factor that motivates team members. There are so many other factors, like work environment, the freedom you are given to express yourself and show your skill, the challenges you are given, the appreciation or incentive you get when you complete them, opportunities for learning and career growth. We ensure that our staff get a combination of all these, along with ensuring that they keep themselves updated with all the latest technologies, products and processes.

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