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Mon 11 Jan 2010 04:00 AM

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Calling the shots

Consultancy firm MWH Global has diversification and expansion on its bulging agenda. Director of operations Andrew Scoble tells Utilities Middle East about the company's future plans.

Calling the shots
Calling the shots
MWH and its consortium of partners is hoping to win a complex ADSSC pumping station contract.
Calling the shots
The company has a stellar list of government clients in the GCC and overseas.
Calling the shots
MWH has carried out landmark work on the Jebel Ali STP, planned to be the world’s largest.

Consultancy firm MWH Global has diversification and expansion on its bulging agenda. Director of operations Andrew Scoble tells Utilities Middle East about the company's future plans.

With the economic recession thinning out the excellent consultants from the bad, the onus is on the best companies to provide a stronger and more varied portfolio of products to their clients. For the utilities industry, which is still benefiting from significant injections into regional infrastructure budgets, this is coming to mean a tendency towards integrated solutions.

No longer is it enough for the larger contractors or consultancies to offer single products, but there is an inherent requirement for a differentiated strategy that provides maximum value to the client, especially where budgetary constraints may exist.

Fulfilling that demanding role is ‘wet infrastructure' specialist consultant MWH Global, which is leveraging its 6,000-strong worldwide workforce to bring newer offerings to its range of stellar Middle Eastern clients. With a 60-year history in the region, the firm is not new to the finer workings of the local industry, but director of operations for MWH Middle East Andrew Scoble is adamant that the consultancy will not rest on its laurels.

"The concept of wet infrastructure also includes programme management and asset management - areas in which we've pushed the boundaries quite far in comparison to other international consultants - but we're mainly focused on water, wastewater and process technologies, along with solid waste and renewable energy," Scoble explains.

"Most of our history here consisted largely of long-term basic engineering for clients, focusing on issues like municipal drainage and water distribution, but about six years ago, we decided to import our global knowledge and carry out a large amount of process design."

The fruits of that decision are obvious via a quick look at the local MWH portfolio, which contains a significant amount of government work throughout the GCC. In Dubai, the firm acts as Dubai Municipality's main advisor and supervisor for the mammoth Jebel Ali Wastewater Treatment Plant (WTP), which is planned to be one of the largest in the world.

In Abu Dhabi, MWH is also involved - either as a client's engineer, contractor's designer or lender's agent, to carry out due diligence or as a checker - with a high percentage of the WTPs being built, some of which are extraordinarily complex. The firm is the lender's engineer for Abu Dhabi Sewerage Services Company (ADSSC)'s Al Wathba and Al Saad plants, and is also involved with the more advanced membrane bioreactor (MBR) facilities on Reem Island and Saadiyat Island.

"Water treatment for us in this region is still quite embryonic, because there has long been a focus on the larger and more centralised thermal desal plants," says Scoble. "Our experience globally has been on reverse osmosis [RO] membrane technology, so we are now starting to look at smaller plants, or brackish water plants for clients that are using other types of source water such as groundwater or recycled industrial effluent."

For Scoble, success in this field is more about specifying the membranes. "It's really understanding how far you can push the project and how you can integrate it into a system. To get the maximum value out of a product, you have to systemise the whole thing and get it bolted together into a coherent plan; that's how you get your savings, and that is exactly what the client is trusting us to do."

Another major project that MWH is hoping to win is the ADSSC deep pumping station contract at Al Wathba. A consortium led by Kharafi National, and which includes MWH and a number of other contractors, will construct a pumping station around 100 metres below ground in order to receive, screen and pump water from a new tunnel being built from Abu Dhabi island.

"There are only a few manufacturers who can design and build pumps that big," Scoble says. "We've done similar pumping stations at the same capacity or depth in Kuwait and Hong Kong and the people who designed those projects are actually on our team. We've got a couple of features in our tender that we think will be appealing to ADSSC."

But MWH's portfolio is not limited to just the UAE. Through its joint venture with Gulf Consult in Kuwait, the firm has won a number of complex sewerage projects, including a recent US$17 million four-year contract to assist with sewerage and new trunk mains pumping stations in Kuwait. In Jordan, MWH has just won a $2.5 million contract with the Millenium Challenge Corporation.With regard to the key Saudi market, Scoble says that has been something of a hiatus in the company's activity. "We used to be one of the biggest consultants there and we pulled out about 10 years ago, although we're now looking at going back in again," he states.

"We will try and build strong relationships and develop our business organically, focusing on core clients such as government bodies or their agencies, or with firms like Saudi Aramco." The MWH executive adds that there are a couple of projects the firm already has its eye on, including water transmission schemes.

"Our contacts in Saudi Arabia want to bring us into the country - I've fielded some calls recently over the flooding crisis in Jeddah - and there's no doubt that the Kingdom is a huge market."

Scoble is also keen to highlight the benefits of Libya as an emerging market. MWH is working on two types of project in the North African nation; infrastructure projects for quasi-government clients, and specialised water modeling and irrigation design for clients such as the Great Manmade River Authority (with which MWH won a $5 million contract). "We've just opened an office in Tripoli and have seen no downsides to working there," Scoble indicates. "Naturally you need to be Arabic-speaking, but that's something that our business has to adjust to."

The issue of language clearly reflects greater efforts on the part of MWH to build closer relationships with its client base. Scoble says that from a recruitment perspective, the consultancy needs to be able to communicate and participate more effectively in local business dealings, and has plans to recruit more Arabic-speaking project managers.

"That's probably a reaction to more indigenous consultancies springing up," he explains. "But it's also more of a respect issue. These countries have developed enough to pick and choose and inject their own identity into the equation and we have to respond to that. A typical project will incorporate overseas experience from global operations, expat experience from employees who have worked in traditional Western sectors, and local talent that can bridge the gap with the client and prevent a lapse in communication."

In terms of industry trends, Scoble sees a few developments on the horizon. Not only is the shift from thermal desalination to RO playing into the company's hands, but it's also clear that the issue of water reuse is becoming increasingly important. Gulf nations are already looking at recycling water for irrigation, and also for district cooling.

On that note, he sees Abu Dhabi's plan to recycle 100% of its water by 2015 as entirely possible, and believes the authorities are going about this plan in the right way. But recycling for potable usage is still some way off, mainly due to cultural perceptions.

"The way I think it will work in this part of the world is via aquifer recharge - so we can treat the water to potable quality but deliver it to an aquifer rather than the tap," says the director. "Management of aquifers and groundwater is crucial - the way they're being used at the moment is completely unsustainable." 

Scoble thinks that the firm has probably weathered the storm in terms of the recession. While it has been a tough period - MWH lost around 6-7% of staff in the region - the executive believes it is performing well in relation to its competitors as a result of its focus on government clients.

"Looking ahead, we want to continue working for those kind of clients, plus extra work in Kuwait, KSA, and also Qatar and Oman," Scoble outlines. "We aim to expand carefully from a geographical perspective and once we have a good base, we can look at programme management opportunities."

On the programme management side, MWH is leading the water sector in markets such as the US and UK and hopes to bring this service to strategic clients in the region.  MWH is also seeing that clients locally are taking are taking a more structured approach towards asset management. "We have lots of ideas, systems and tools to help our clients," the executive adds.

"We can help with redesigning business organisation, asset management accreditation and asset management optimisation, which is more of a management consulting angle."

For the time being, though, MWH is happy to focus on the fundamentals and continue to work with its strong set of strategic clients in the region. "The only way you can be successful as a consultant is to be your client's trusted adviser," Scoble concludes. "We promote people and train people on how to be a trusted adviser - it's absolutely key to us. We can go and win projects fairly easily, but we need to guard our reputation because at the end of the day that's all that counts."

MWH and Libya’s Great Man Made River

This project will last approximately 12 months and will take water from the Great Man Made River and deliver it to over 15,000 farms on the Coastal Plan located to the south of Tripoli.  The network will be divided into 6 separate zones, to allow efficient management of the water system.  Each zone will be provided with 1495 litre per second.

This agricultural area covers approximately 80,000 Ha and provides a range of produce including fruit, olives and vegetables to local and international markets.

The provision of this water will improve the livelihood of local farmers.

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