AMEInfo‘ Hadi Khatib, business editor, in an exclusive article about how the GCC consulting market faces 6 key post-pandemic challenges elaborated on the consulting sector in the Gulf area of the MENA.
The consultancy business is directly or rather proportionately related to the construction sector that is predicted by GlobalData to recover in 2021 slowly but after contracting by 4.5% in 2020. The region ramping up vaccination programmes is optimistically forecast to recover with 1.9% in 2021 and 4.1% in 2022, by the same leading data and analytics company. So, let us hear Hadi’s thoughts.
The GCC consulting market faces 6 key post-pandemic challenges
After a 12% contraction last year, the GCC consultancy sector faces six challenges to continue leveraging the region’s aspirations for sustainable and profitable business and economic development
The standout performer in 2020 was healthcare, seeing exceptional growth of more than 19%
GCC’s largest consulting market, financial services, took a big hit in 2020, with revenues falling by $160 mn
A strong consulting market growth of approximately 17% across the GCC region forecasted in 2021
The GCC consulting market contracted for the first time in its history—down by just over 12% in 2020, with COVID-19 wiping out nearly $400 million in revenues. The market is now worth around $2.7 billion, a new report by Source Global Research revealed.
2020 saw nervous clients put consulting projects on hold, particularly in hard-hit industries, such as retail, hospitality, and aviation, but also mega projects such as NEOM, World Cup 2022, Qiddiya, and more.
AMEinfo interviewed Edward Haigh, Joint Managing Director at Source Global Research, to inquire about last year’s results and next year’s forecasts.
The discussion revealed six key areas consultants need to keep in mind to gradually recoup their losses and continue leveraging the region’s aspirations for sustainable and profitable business and economic development.
“Consultants will continue to play an important role helping clients in all sectors create greater efficiencies in their organizations, but the key for consultants today will be to re-engage and re-align with their clients in this new normal,” Haigh told AMEinfo.
Areas where COVID-19 boosted consultancies
The standout performer in 2020 was healthcare, seeing exceptional growth of more than 19%.
“So much of that initial surge and response to the pandemic has already happened, and as such consulting to the healthcare sector will slow down in 2021, but pick up again in 2022,” Haigh said. “Consultants will bring new solutions and world-class innovation and expertise to bear on the issues healthcare professionals are facing, particularly around engaging with patients, embedding technology in everything organizations do, and providing remote diagnosis and access to healthcare.”
The GCC consulting market also saw growth in the technology market segment in 2020, as the need to rapidly facilitate the shift to remote working drove strong demand of 5.2%.
Cybersecurity services performed particularly well as companies sought to secure remote work, driving growth of 11.4% last year. Source Global Research expects the cybersecurity consulting market to grow a further 30% in 2021, taking total revenues to $236 mn.
While the GCC’s largest consulting market, financial services, took a big hit in 2020, with revenues falling by $160 mn, Source Global Research expects consultants working in this sector to regain their losses in 2021, as banks push forward with ambitious digital transformation projects, spurred on by both customers embracing digital banking and the competitive threat from fintechs.
Consulting bounce back: Forecasts for 2021
Source Global Research is forecasting strong consulting market growth of approximately 17% across the GCC region in 2021.
Some 63% of organizations in the GCC say their use of consulting support will increase over the next 18 months, with an especially strong interest in the energy & resources, technology, media & telecoms, and manufacturing sectors. Healthcare will prove to be an important sector for consultancies as well.
“The current underpinning the GCC healthcare market today is the creation of a state of the art, forward-looking, citizen-centric, healthcare system fit for its time. There is far less legacy that’s being carried forward if we are to compare the GCC with markets such as the US or UK,” Haigh explained. “This presents a far greater opportunity to create a future healthcare system from scratch, and a greater opportunity for consultants to provide support, too.”
6 challenges facing GCC consultancies
1- Consultancy fee rates
Around 44% of clients expect consultants to cut their fees this year, with 13% expecting the cuts to be steep, in contrast to pre-pandemic expectations that 84% of GCC clients expected rates to rise.
The reason provided was that 55% of clients said they believe many firms are qualified to perform the work that needs to be done, driving down rates.
Haigh said: “Given the ongoing pandemic and its deleterious effect on the consulting market last year, one might well expect consulting fees to suffer over the next 18 months.”
2- Freedom of movement
“The GCC’s consulting market arguably relies on two things more than anything else: freedom of movement for consultants and reliably high oil prices.”
While oil prices suffered during the pandemic with average closing prices of $40, 20% less than 2019, oil has rebounded in 2021 and is currently flirting with $65 going to $70, spelling relief for consultancies.
“Access to Qatar has, historically, not been easy and only those who had previously established presence in the country were able to operate there, but enough work exists in other parts of the region— Saudi and the UAE for example—and so attention shifted elsewhere,” Haigh said.
“But to some extent, the events over the past 12 months have helped find a solution to that. For many, instead of having to be on-site, remote consulting proved it matters less whether someone is based in Riyadh or Dubai,” Haigh revealed. “The really exciting opportunity for leaders in Saudi, UAE, and other GCC countries is that this provides access to consultants wherever they are in the world, not just in the region.”
3- Geopolitics and reputational risks
Geopolitics and reputational risk weigh very significantly on the minds of consultancies, according to Haigh.
“The risks are prevalent in the GCC more than anywhere else. They have the potential to cause dramatic changes in consultants’ businesses, whether that’s a market shutting down suddenly, the taps being turned off, or a leader insisting on changing consultancies midstream,” explained Haigh.
“Consultants have helped clients identify some of the problems that they themselves are creating, but honestly, consultants are used to working in these fairly extreme conditions.”
Relative to other parts of the world, those with relationships tend to benefit more significantly in the GCC. In the early days, consultants had to invest a lot of time building those relationships with clients. Spending a year on building a personal and professional relationship before seeing anything in return is quite normal here.
5- Client ambitions
Haigh said consultants don’t mind their clients’ desire to get things done very quickly, but “Consulting firms tend to find themselves cast in the role of naysayers a bit.”
“They are often put in a position where they affirm their ability to perform the project at hand, but have to caution the client that it will take more time than originally allocated,” Haigh said.
“Based on their experience with other projects, consultants are always trying to insert more realistic time frames and find a way to harness and manage their clients’ ambitions and expectations.”
6- Talent allocation
UAE and Saudi have recently been involved in a tug of war to attract business, each easing regulatory frameworks and offering business incentives to pull SMEs, entrepreneurs, and large corporates over to their side.
“This is a healthy competition for supremacy on projects, and it has been a major driver of growth for consultancies for a number of years,” Haigh explained.
“But, I think what is less clear, is how this will impact the market in terms of supply. Saudi is the largest consulting market, but UAE is where most of the consultants are based. And moving consultants between those two countries has been an enormously challenging thing,” Haigh indicated.
Haigh added that there is a real supply issue for consultants across the region, not just in terms of keeping up with demand, but also figuring out who to put where.
“Making sure that the expertise is available on both sides was made all the more challenging with physical restrictions on talent getting into the country, or talent themselves preferring to work in and from the UAE, instead of more restrictive areas,” said Haigh. “Localization efforts in many GCC countries has exacerbated supply challenges.”
Zaha Hadid: even more than her buildings, it’s her mind that left its mark by Lakshmi Priya Rajendran, Anglia Ruskin University is more than an eye-opener on the person behind all those unconventionally looking buildings.
Zaha Hadid: even more than her buildings, it’s her mind that left its mark
In the five years since Zaha Hadid’s passing, much has been written about the glorious and towering legacy the fabled British-Iraqi architect left behind. Thinking about what she started, though, is more instructive.
Born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1950, Hadid – aka the Queen of Curve – fundamentally altered the contours of modern architecture and design. She shattered gender stereotypes too by, in 2004, becoming the first woman to receive the Pritzker prize – the highest award in her field.
As the world grapples with how to respond to the climate crisis, architecture is in the spotlight. The built environment is responsible for almost 36% of global energy consumption. Cement alone causes 8% of global emissions.
In this context, Hadid’s most valuable contribution is the inspiration she represented and the innovation she embodied. She conceived of modernity as an incomplete project, to be tackled. And she demonstrated to students not just how to imagine revolutionary forms but, crucially, how to bring them to life.
The seductive nature of Hadid’s buildings means that the approach she took to sustainability is often overshadowed. It also wasn’t an explicit aspect of her early works, but rather became so later on in her career, in projects including the Bee’ah Headquarters in Sharjah, and Eco-park stadium in London. In 2015 she memorably highlighted sustainability as a defining challenge of her generation and stated that “architects had solutions”.
Hadid was a problem solver. From the outset she was unique in harnessing both technology and talent, through her groundbreaking interdisciplinary research group. She was one of the early adopters of a fully digitised 3D design process. When virtual reality became a thing, her practice was one of the first to adopt that too.
This ability to make things happen was hard won. As a student at the Architectural Association in London in the mid-1970s, Hadid turned heads from the start with her otherworldly ideas. But it took her over a decade to get her designs realised. It was with her first big commission – the 1993 Vitra Fire Station in Germany – that the world finally got to see up close the power of her architectural imagination.
The Danish architect Bjarke Ingels (founder of Bjarke Ingels Group, one of the most dynamic contemporary architectural practices) described visiting Vitra Fire Station as an “eyeopening experience” that brought to life the kind of visual impossibilities people usually only dream of. For all its ambition, though, the Vitra building was criticised as unsuitable by the firemen who occupied it.
Although her career had begun with that infamous tag of her buildings being unbuildable, Hadid rapidly established herself as a radical architect by creating a strong and unique design statement globally. Hadid expanded her global brand and her reach to product design, fashion and jewellery.
In Canadian architectural historian Despina Stratigakos’s book, Where Are the Women Architects?, Hadid explained how she survived and fought sexism in her profession. Her inspiring attitude and professional demeanour was gender-neutral. She was able to switch between femininity and masculinity as required to survive and excel in what is a ruthless and ultra-competitive business.
In this way, even though her projects saw her labelled a starchitect, Hadid’s ideas set her apart from the old school. They opened a radically new path for later generations, like this year’s Pritzker laureates, Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal.
Her presence continues to be felt across the contemporary design and architecture worlds. With around 1.2 million Instagram followers, Zaha Hadid Architects is now the most followed architectural practice in the world. Her sinuous lines and captivating shapes have been referenced by set designers on trendsetting movies including Black Panther.
In every way, Hadid remains a muse. She was rebellious and defiant. She embraced the unimaginable. Known for provoking controversies, even her critics agreed to the fact that without Hadid, architecture would be less interesting.
When she won the Pritzker prize in 2004, the jury noted how consistently she defied convention. Even if she’d never built anything, they said, Zaha Hadid would have radically expanded the possibilities of architecture. She was lauded as an iconoclast, a beautiful mind. As the critic Joseph Giovannini put it at the time, “Rarely has an architect so radically changed and inspired the field”.
Few construction industry leaders would say they oppose data integration. Most acknowledge that combining different data types and formats into a central location allows access to complete, current and accurate information to help them make fact-based decisions instead of acting on hunches. So why doesn’t every engineering and construction (E&C) firm have a warehouse of integrated data? The culprit is often misinformation created by myths about data integration. We will debunk three of the biggest myths about costs, downtime, and complexity below.
Myth #1: Data integration cannot be achieved without high costs
This myth was once true, and some vendors still do quote integration approaches that are not feasible for many E&C firm budgets. But today, integration solutions once available only to enterprises atop the ENR 500 are now available to small and mid-sized firms. Recent breakthroughs in virtualization, iPaaS, and cloud computing have contributed to their lower costs and broader availability.
As defined by Tech Target, data virtualization is an approach to data management that allows an application to retrieve and manipulate data without requiring technical details, like data format or its physical location. As this technology has matured, it has driven total integration costs down.
Integration Platform as a Solution (iPaaS)
Gartner defines iPaaS as a suite of cloud services enabling development, execution, and governance of integration flows connecting any combination of on-prem and cloud-based processes, services, applications, and data within individual or across multiple organizations.
iPaaS is ideal for E&C firms. Collaborating and sharing information across multidisciplinary teams including owners, architects, consultants, engineers, contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers using different systems is the cornerstone of E&C work.
Construction organizations typically collaborate with teams across multiple cloud platforms, so when considering iPaaS, look for a cloud-agnostic solution. Some solutions offer packages with varying costs based on the number and/or complexity of flows (data sources) needed. Custom email alerts may also prove helpful, for example, if an error occurs or if a batch is completed.
Collecting servers in a single room or rack is no longer necessary. Geographic isolation of data sources is actually a business continuity / disaster recovery best practice. Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud were growing in popularity even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The sharp increase of remote work and video conferencing accelerated their growth.
E&C firms are deploying more hybrid-cloud and multi-cloud arrangements. Essentially, hybrid cloud refers to the combination of private and public cloud infrastructure, and some or many from an organization’s own data center. Multi-cloud configurations use multiple cloud providers to meet different technical or business requirements. The reason cloud computing, sometimes referred to as infrastructure as a service (IaaS), is so popular is that it allows for fast scalability, broad availability, and low total cost of ownership vs. managing everything in company-owned data centers.
Myth #2: Data integration requires significant downtime
Even during off-peak times, E&C firms want to avoid downtime. Today’s data integration solutions offer rapid time to value with development-cycle times reduced by as much as 33%. Some solutions may be able to eliminate workday downtime with only brief downtime on evenings and weekends.
Containerization, enabling developers to create predictable environments isolated from other applications, is also used by some solutions. With containerization, consistency is guaranteed regardless of where an application is deployed. Containers only use about 60 lines of code so they can be developed and deployed quickly to minimize downtime.
Myth #3: Managing a data warehouse is complicated
What is involved with keeping a data integration platform running?
The short answer is that it depends, but there are solutions that do not require a high degree of information technology (IT) overhead. Look for solutions that include intuitive dashboards to monitor and troubleshoot integrations, the ability to quickly review flows, rerun flows on demand, or view error details, if any.
If using iPaaS, consider a solution that includes a dedicated client-success (CS) manager. The CS manager puts an iPaaS subject-matter expert on your company team, instantly adding value while eliminating the learning curve for an existing team member to become proficient. And unlike a consulting relationship where the expert stays for a while to train your team but then leaves, a client-success manager is always available to create or troubleshoot flows.
Today’s construction and engineering world requires unprecedented external collaboration, with multiple parties outside your organization at every building, site, and external site. The mobile information, in turn, reduces data centralization, creating a greater urgency to adopt a data integration solution.
Want to learn more? Gaea Global Technologies, Inc. has decades of experience with construction and engineering solutions. Nexus, Gaea’s integration-platform-as-a-service (iPaaS) solution, was designed to automate construction processes across applications.
Another distinguishing element of the furniture pieces is the way they reference architecture, with the Bench 01 recalling an arched bridge. The structures are also meant to be self-supporting and simply slotted together.
“We’re looking for the architecture in a furniture object,” said studio co-founder Christian Vennerstrøm Jensen.
“The idea is that you can build our work and take it apart again,” he continued. “The bench is joined by elements into a structure that is stable and strong enough for you to sit on, and the bedside tables are simply stacked together.”
Bench 01 is made of solid walnut timber that is CNC routed, while the pair of Bedside Tables — one right, one left — is smooth Portuguese rosa marble with “a deliberate overzealous use of material” and hidden backlighting.
Bahraini-Danish was founded in 2016, with Jensen working from Copenhagen and co-founders Batool Alshaikh and Maitham Alumbarak from Bahrain.
James Rowntree, vice president at Jacobs, asked this question in Infrastructure Intelligence blog: What does it take to be smart? It is in everybody’s mind these days.
12 March 2021
Collaboration between city leaders, asset owners, investors and the tech sector is crucial in realising the benefits of smart cities says James Rowntree of Jacobs.
The term ‘smart’ has been used for some time now to broadly describe the adoption of technology by a city or infrastructure owner. The expression has begun suffering from overuse, particularly where the public experience of the result has been anything but smart, in the literal sense.
Many cities and infrastructure owners have made technology investments over the years to automatically monitor or control things such as streetlights, water levels, utility distribution and traffic flow. However, these are relatively modest interventions when put in the context of ‘Industry 4.0’, the much-heralded fourth industrial revolution and the impact that real-time data and advanced analytics could have on how our cities and infrastructure assets operate in the future. If the hype is to be believed – and there’s good reason for it to be – then the future of smart is potentially transformational. The big challenge though is how to get there – and who pays?
The use cases for smart cities are multiple, varied and growing, as anyone who has visited any of the international smart city exhibitions will be able to testify. It’s clear that relatively benign sensors that periodically transmit data today will be replaced tomorrow by real-time interactions which will allow for advanced applications, such as connected and remote healthcare, and connected ecosystems for things like autonomous vehicles.
Whilst many of today’s use-cases will operate on current networks such as LoRaWaN and 4G, 5G is widely seen as the tipping point technology that will enable a lot of the next generation, disruptive use-cases to be realised. However, a challenge for cities and infrastructure owners is that predicting these use-cases is a little like trying to predict in the early 2000s the vast array of applications we now use on our smart phones. Creating a business case for a ‘smart’ entity is therefore not easy.
Connecting people and place
For anything to be smart it needs to be digitally connected and whilst satellite technology is developing, this invariably means hardwiring everything back to fibre. This then introduces the value of connecting people as well as things. Both local and central governments are actively encouraging reliable fibre-to-the-home connectivity for all citizens, recognising the value of closing the digital divide and giving people better access to 21st century jobs, opportunities and services.
There is now a very good body of evidence that points to the positive social and economic benefits of fast and reliable digital connectivity. Cities in particular have an opportunity to promote digital connectivity as a platform for creativity and innovation that in turn is attractive to inward investment and growth.
Unlocking the value of infrastructure
Similarly, owners of linear infrastructure assets see the opportunity to use their networks to promote the laying of fibre, unlocking not only operational use-cases and additional revenue streams for themselves but also providing a social value benefit through connecting people in harder to reach areas.
The starting point is therefore to be clear on the outcomes to be achieved. The challenge for any city or infrastructure owner is to get digital connectivity where they need it and to build use-cases around the technology they intend to adopt.
Both urban and rural communities are generally reliant on the established telecom network providers expanding their fibre and mobile networks, although the timing and geographic reach of these plans is principally driven by their own commercial considerations rather than the specific priorities of a city or infrastructure owner.
More recently, given it can be highly revenue generative, there are increasing numbers of private investors seeking to realise value from fibre ownership and governments are actively encouraging this in certain jurisdictions. The good news is that there’s a lot of cash available for investment in digital connectivity if only the right business cases can be established.
Putting forward the case for change
To be both smart and to realise the benefits of connected citizens, public authorities are highly reliant on this private investment from either established or new telecom network providers. In turn, that private investment depends upon being able to secure anchor revenues to justify an investment case.
For public authorities who can navigate state aid and public procurement regulations, they can attract this investment by either providing a future anchor tenancy commitment or encouraging others to do so. This all comes down to being able to develop their own credible business cases that clearly capture future connectivity benefits.
Defining and banking these future benefits is therefore key to being able to attract investment. Whilst technology companies are spending billions on research and development and there’s a highly impressive array of technologies on the market, cities and infrastructure owners need to understand those that will truly add value. Technology remains nothing more than an interesting idea until such a time that it becomes accessible and deployable in a way that creates tangible value for the end user.
For a city or infrastructure owner, it’s the consequences of this technology on business processes, people and training that needs to be clearly understood as part of the overall business case. These important points are often lost in the excitement of the technology but matter hugely to the ultimate buyer.
To realise the benefits of becoming truly smart – where city and infrastructure operations are a fusion of the physical and cyber worlds – is highly complex and requires the alignment of interests across the technology, telecommunications and investment sectors in collaboration with the city leadership and asset owners.
James Rowntree is vice president – telecoms and digital infrastructure – at Jacobs.
Originally posted on RobinAndrew: An initially-slight tale, which grows and grows right up to its end, as slight lives desperately try to grow themselves into something important without completely relinquishing the comforts to which they have accustomed themselves. Emerson writes with an almost nineteenth-century reserve which aptly suits her characters and relates as well to…
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