75-YEAR LEGACY

Abu Dhabi 2020 | REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Gary Adams, President, Middle East & Africa of Parsons, on Abu Dhabi as a regional base, cybersecurity, and the Ghadan 21 reforms.

How does Parsons approach this market differently from other regions?

Parsons approaches its work in designing and building infrastructure consistently across its global markets, including the Middle East. The three pillars of our business are people, process, and technology. Those values are core to the Parsons identity. The Middle East region is an exciting place to do business because of the powerful convergence of climate, terrain, environment, and culture that factor into the practical solutions we apply for each project. From an operational standpoint, the Middle East is an extraordinary place to do business because of the speed at which projects move, the passion for new innovations, and the close partnership that exists between our company and the local communities and government. We're proud to support the future of the region's infrastructure and help make it an attractive economic destination.

What makes Abu Dhabi a good regional base for infrastructure engineering firms?

Parsons has operated in the Gulf region for 60 years, beginning with the oil and gas sector. Much of the infrastructure that you see in Abu Dhabi today was first dreamed by Parsons and our Emirati partners. Forty years ago, Parsons entered the UAE market by undertaking a contract to do the transportation master plan for the City of Abu Dhabi, and that work grew into what is called the Transportation and Roads Improvement Program (TRIP). It has been amended and refined in the decades since, but we continue to steward that project to this day. As Dubai began to develop, we started to engage that market along with some of our competitors, and now we do a significant amount of work there too. Nonetheless, Abu Dhabi has a special place in Parsons' history and remains the site of our regional headquarters. The convenient location allows for connectivity to many other countries, and the emirate easily attracts top talent due to its comfortable lifestyle, high-quality education, access to the seaside, and its rich cultural heritage.

Throughout your experience managing the design and engineering of the Midfield Terminal building at Abu Dhabi airport, what unique lessons did you learn that can be applied to other projects?

Parsons has been working on the Abu Dhabi International Airport Midfield Terminal project since 2005. Our company has a long history of working on aviation projects, with experience in the design, construction, and operations of nearly 80 percent of the world's airports. Naturally, we brought numerous best practices from those experiences to our work with the Midfield Terminal. Some of these include lessons on the importance of team integration and the unification of systems. When plans are developed in silos, it can adversely affect the success of the project. Managing costs on an airport project also comes down to having good contracts, good risk allocation, and good management provisions and techniques.

Abu Dhabi is known globally as an early adopter of smart technology. What are some innovative technologies that Parsons is adopting in its own work here?

Our goal is to design smart systems based on interconnected devices that protect connected buildings and its critical assets. Parsons' leadership made the decision to prioritize technology transformation within our entire enterprise. As a result, we were an early provider of infrastructure technology in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai. In Abu Dhabi, smart parking, smart lighting, and autonomous security monitoring are already being implemented, and our plan is to augment those capabilities. Many of our clients are now requesting technology-enabled infrastructure as the foundation upon which to innovate and build.

Do you have technologies or business models here that you roll out in other regional markets?

In the Middle East there is an appetite for the latest technology. When we engage our clients with new ideas and tools from the US, they are receptive. For example; Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) is at the forefront of applying technology throughout their operations. Parsons was heavily involved in the Dubai Metro project, which was one of the first driverless metros in the world. When a client approaches us with a vision for a bridge or rail line, we aim to capture their imagination. Overall, the sector understands the need to build a resilient and comprehensive Information and Communications Technology (ICT) layer in order to accommodate future smart city use-cases, as this will be key to the long-term success of the emirate. This will create further opportunities for us throughout the region as we look ahead.

How does Parsons factor cybersecurity into critical infrastructure work?

Parsons has a 75-year legacy in the civil and industrial engineering field, coupled with more than 30 years of protecting the most sensitive US government defense and security assets. We are well positioned to tackle the converged cyber and physical security threats currently posed to critical infrastructure anywhere in the world, including the Middle East. Moreover, the UAE has moved comparatively quickly to develop appropriate institutions, agencies, and a robust set of standards in response to these increasingly advanced and persistent cyber-threats. In cases where critical infrastructure owners and operators already have some level of cyber, information security, industrial control systems and (IoT) device security capability—the Parsons' DOMAIN6™ Protect Solution augments network segregation and access to critical industrial controls. This will inevitably lead to better protection across their critical assets and heightened defense against cyberattacks. Furthermore, we remain aware of the ever-evolving sophistication of malicious hacking techniques and continue to innovate our cyber technologies to help equip our customers with appropriate, up-to date cyber tools and systems. As these types of projects become more mature, I think it will become a more central part of our business. It makes sense for us to look at protecting the vulnerabilities in that space.

How do you expect the Ghadan 21 initiatives to impact your operations in the medium-to-long term?

As a provider of innovative infrastructure solutions, we see the Ghadan 21 initiative as an opportunity to grow and boost our business across several sectors in Abu Dhabi – master planning, infrastructure solutions, transportation, mobility, public realm developments, and smart city solutions. Recently the Abu Dhabi government held a charrette on Ghadan 21 and its opportunities, which they referred to as “The Gathering," this was attended by global and regional city planning experts. I believe this growth will occur through our initial involvement in the immediate short-term initiatives in public realm projects, and there will be continued involvement in the long-term plans to support the Government's vision to provide world-class recreational, tourism, and cultural amenities that will encourage the local population to become more active and lead healthier lifestyles, and further attract more visitors to the city through world-class facilities. Urbanization is transforming nations worldwide. The Middle East is one of the most highly urbanizing regions in the world, straining resources and exacerbating environmental concerns.

How is Parsons adapting its business model in the region to cope with these issues over the next decade?

At Parsons, we've developed a holistic view to addressing the challenges of urbanization through our smart cities, which we view as a smart ecosystem. We keep the end user in mind at the onset, weaving connectivity throughout all our processes, from the master planning stage, to infrastructure and roads design, to the creative design of urban spaces, landscape, and buildings. This approach helps us to create a harmony that we believe enhances quality of life for those living, working and playing within a community. Furthermore, sustainability is one of our core values. We actively work with our clients and local stakeholders to help address their concerns for the region. With the recent drop in oil prices there has been a focus on cost, and we have adapted to this by focusing on value engineering. Interestingly, in this region proximity and walkability are critical factors regarding the supply of sufficient infrastructure and the efficient use of resources. Giving people access to the things they need such as housing, supplies, education, work and recreation is our core consideration. Overall, we have adapted our business model to emphasis a “New Urbanism" approach that has notable benefits for our communities.

What has been Parsons experience working on projects in Saudi Arabia?

In Saudi Arabia, we are the managing partner of Saudi Arabian Parsons Limited (SAPL). In the early 2000s, with the divesture of our oil and gas unit, we scaled back significantly in Saudi after a long history of major oil and gas projects; however, we continued to serve at Yanbu. Forty years ago, when Saudi Arabia created the Royal Commission for Yanbu, Parsons was contracted there, and we have been there ever since. We have since started to increase our activity with a major stake in a Ministry of Housing project and the Riyadh Metro, of which we are managing two-thirds of those projects. Saudi Arabia is experiencing a boom in infrastructure activity now, and it is a major focus for us.