PIERRE SANTONI

Abu Dhabi 2020 | REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Pierre Santoni, MEA President of Parsons, on business activities during the pandemic, smart infrastructure, and cybersecurity.

Can you give us an overview of the immediate steps taken during the pandemic and where you are now in terms of your overall business activities?

No one was prepared for what happened, and it has been a bit of a curveball for the whole world. We had strengthened and streamlined our organization early in 2020, and I came into this role as MEA President. Our whole objective was to be more effective and nimbler, always looking to agility and resilience as our two guiding principles when we design the new organization. When the crisis happened, it meant we had to laser focus on resilience and agility, and even though it was still in its beta testing mode, it performed extremely well. The team quickly reacted and pulled together for health and safety, making sure they took the necessary measures to secure our office location and other sites. We took all the precautions, provided personal protection equipment (PPE) where needed, and immediately put a visitor's policy in place. It was a great test for the organization, and everyone reacted well. The main adjustment was working from home, and now approximately 90% of our workforce globally is working remotely. We have helped our customers deliver on their missions, perhaps with even more of a critical view than before and shifted our focus in many cases. Beyond ensuring individual health and safety, we also considered what we could do to help the world get out of this or manage the situation as we go along. We adjusted and are working to develop forward-thinking technologies to cope. We developed 3D printing capabilities to support organizations printing face masks and other PPE in the US, for example. We also tested printing respirator components at our facilities in the US, to potentially support local hospitals. In the long term, we are looking at solutions for high-traffic areas to manage the flow of people. We developed a solution called DetectWise, which is an integrated, touchless suite of solutions that includes advanced analytics software, screening kiosks and modular testing infrastructure. The kiosk utilizes touchless technology to assess the health of the person standing in front of it. This is a quick, scalable solution, and the key differentiators for us are the speed at which they work as well as the secure data collection, customizable analytics, and applied artificial intelligence (AI). It is one of our halo products at the moment.

Looking into a future that is increasingly dependent on technology, what is Parsons doing to keep up?

Parsons embarked on a strategy of “enhance, extend, transform.” The enhance and extend part of that means developing organizations that are resilient, agile, and serve our customer needs. The organizational changes we made at the beginning of 2020 were part of enhancement. The extension part is using our technology to support the business model and expand upon it. We want to address the fact that the problems our clients have are increasingly complex every day. COVID-19 highlighted the complexity of the future, and we are seeing developments that we had anticipated occurring five to 10 years from now. Cloud computing, AI, Internet of Things (IoT), and autonomous systems are the four pillars of technology at Parsons. We have privileged relationships, and we are combining these relationships with fast-forwarding the application these technologies.

How are you redesigning or rethinking the way people will move in the future?

Six months ago, we were working on smart technology, smart infrastructure, and smart cities, as well as critical infrastructure protection which Parsons has been focused on for a while. All of that is more important than ever, and we have accelerated to the point where it is business critical for everyone to implement these solutions. In transportation, we have several parts of the company looking at those solutions, and they are all linked. We have a laboratory in the MEA region that works directly with a counterpart in the US to leverage the technology developed there. We have solutions that were developed locally in the region as well. We have developed some tools for mobility, and one that we have been talking deeply about with our clients in the region since the end of 2019 is a tool called “Intersection as a Service” that we developed in the US. Following a sponsorship challenge associated with participation from some customers in the Middle East, the service provides a fast and cost-effective way to adjust traffic signals along a given corridor that does not require an extensive network of sensors or a central brain to manage them. Congestion affects the health and safety of our communities for pedestrians, residents, and motorists alike. The tool will help make that particular place better by facilitating the movement of people. We are working with our clients to implement this in a couple of places in the regions. We have great hopes for that particular solution, though there are a number of other ones.

Has your business had to reevaluate its vision of the future compared to pre-pandemic notions, and how has the future of mobility changed?

We need to accelerate our thinking about what will happen, what we can provide, and what the world will be like. We are here to listen and work with our customers and partners to bring solutions in addition to fast forwarding the application of some of our technologies and the way we work. In our organization, working from home has been successful, and we have had a number of tools to enhance the solutions we provide to our clients. We have remote solutions as well as a tool called DFuze that enables us to perform site visits and provide executives with a view of their assets and integrate that into a backend management system. For these types of solutions, we had to implement them much earlier than expected. Critical systems such as airports, power plants, and traffic management centers need to keep operating even when people are working from home. It becomes a question of how to keep them operating remotely and safely. Cybersecurity becomes a major issue, and we have witnessed several cyber-attacks, including phishing emails being sent to customers around the world taking advantage of developments in the world now. As a large organization, the ability to link all of our solutions is just one of many of our key strengths. Even more so over the last few months, we have been creating more synergies across business areas and applying technology and solutions from one area to different areas. We are nimble, perhaps even more nimble during the crisis, and we will continue in that way.

With the increase in cyber-attacks, how has Parsons protected itself and its clients?

Our protection systems were already fairly robust; it was only a matter of making sure they were operating effectively. When it comes to our clients, working from home introduces challenges in providing oversights. We were able to integrate all of the solutions we usually do, and what we did in our federal government business in the US helped us in our civilian business segments. The needs were essentially the same, whether you are protecting an army base, car plant, or group of offices. However, we cannot rest on our laurels; we cannot believe that what we have today will be adequate for tomorrow. We have to keep working hard to stay on top of trends and prevent hackers. There are people out there as smart and as active as we are, and we have to make sure we protect ourselves and our clients. It is a never-ending quest.