SUSTAINABLE URBAN PLANNING

Saudi Arabia 2020 | TRANSPORT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ian Laski, President & CEO of AECOM Arabia, on changes in Saudi Arabia, megaprojects, and digitization in the Kingdom.

AECOM has a longstanding presence in the Kingdom with a portfolio consisting of high profile and landscape-defining projects like the development of the Jeddah Stormwater Drainage Program and the modernization of King Khalid International Airport. How would you characterize AECOM's experience and expertise in Saudi Arabia?

AECOM is a global business with a local presence, which is our defining characteristic. We have centers of excellence around the world that focus on various parts of infrastructure. At the same time, we are trusted partners in various geographical locations. AECOM employs 87,000 people worldwide, allowing us to cover significant ground. Here in Saudi Arabia we deal primarily with large infrastructure projects. One of the transformational projects we've delivered is the Jeddah Storm Water Drainage Program, which has alleviated many of the flooding issues the city struggled with for a long time. This project really enabled us to showcase our large project delivery capabilities and demonstrate our commitment to the Kingdom. Currently, we are delivering transformative projects related to project management organizations for various Saudi ministries, overarching management and front-end services for the mega cities, and are supporting the aviation industry to prepare for explosive growth in passenger numbers. We also lead the digital transformation charge within the country. Some of that work is being performed on projects in the holy sites with an emphasis on enhancing the experience in transportation mobility, urban planning, and urban economics. Overall, we support the efforts of transformational change within the country. Within AECOM, we have high-level corporate commitment to Saudi Arabia, and we have defined the country as one of our key growth markets globally. Our chairman and CEO has made it clear that all the resources needed to support our clients in the Kingdom will be made available. Furthermore, we have a truly diverse employee base and we are committed to creating as many opportunities as possible for Saudi's young talent to contribute to their country's transformation. We strongly advocate for an increase in female participation in the workforce and have signed an agreement with Princess Nourah University to recruit more female Saudi engineering graduates. This is a great example of knowledge transfer and our focus on gender diversity.

Saudi Arabia has announced a range of mega projects, aimed at housing, leisure, entertainment, and also complete new city. What is your vision for AECOM to be involved in upcoming megaprojects?

There are so many projects that it is impossible to be involved in every single one. We must be selective and determine where we can bring the best value to our clients and where the best fit for AECOM is. Based on this logic, we are already involved in some capacity in most of the announced mega-projects, be it through the delivery of environmental impact assessments, master plans or project management. These projects are moving on accelerated schedules, requiring us to be constantly flexible and innovative to meet our clients' demands.

How can AECOM play a role in Saudi Arabia's digital transformation agenda?

At AECOM, we place huge value on innovation, and this emphasis on innovation differentiates us. We are not in the engineering commodity business but in the thought leadership and delivery excellence business. We also want to be on the transformative end of infrastructure services. In Saudi Arabia, we focus a great deal on innovative techniques and methods for the early phases of projects. We deploy 5D modeling, AR and VR tools, digitally-enabled and 5G-ready infrastructure, and cybersecurity solutions. We are also pioneering AECOM's 3D-printed housing concepts. We are a leader in environmentally responsible and sustainable urban planning and resilient infrastructure solutions. Clients here demand the best; they seek thought leaders and transformative technologies. Many of the areas being developed are greenfield sites meaning they aren't encumbered by the usual constraints that cities typically face. We have a blank slate, and we can do everything right from the outset. We can build future-proof infrastructure that meets the demands of Saudi's young and growing population. From this standpoint, there are no limits to what clients here will consider. They are extremely open-minded and keen to explore cutting-edge technologies. On the concept and delivery side, AECOM has a great deal to offer.

What are your strategic priorities for the coming years?

AECOM is essentially an infrastructure consultancy. Whatever one can imagine to be part of the broader forms of infrastructure, we are engaged in it. We are doing front-end design and detailed design, as well as providing consultancy services while also being engaged in operations and maintenance. The future of the AECOM business in Saudi Arabia this year and the next can be broadly described as supporting the project set-up phase. This encompasses front-end studies, process design, and master planning. To meet the demands and schedules of Vision 2030, we will also need to get ready for the detailed engineering and construction phases. Some of the mega projects will start to break ground this year and move into the construction phase, further underlining the speed of changes in the Kingdom. We are also seeing major opportunities in supporting the aviation sector. In the next three to five years, we will see the work currently in the set-up phase, transform into real capital projects being delivered in the field. Saudi's ambitious growth plans are challenging the engineering and construction industry, particularly in terms of the talent required to support large project delivery. For AECOM, resourcing involves our global workforce, but it also engages the universities in the Kingdom. We are developing a generation of young Saudi professionals, who can support their country's efforts to build for the future. We are being treated as partners within in the country, and this means we must deliver a model for a sustainable and professional workforce.