CITY SLICKER

Sharjah 2020 | REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION | INTERVIEW

The concept of smart cities is yet to be fully realized, but K&A is pioneering the adoption of digital services and working with the public sector to move toward a smarter future in an organized way.

Taher Abu Laila
BIOGRAPHY
Taher Abu Laila has almost 40 years’ experience of managing, supervising, and executing the construction operations of a diversity of projects, including international hotels and state-of-the-art hospitals. As Senior Director of Northern Emirates at K&A, he is responsible for managing business operations, client engagement, and overseeing major projects.

Can you give us an overview of the company's operations in Sharjah?

K&A was founded more than 50 years ago in Beirut and now has over 6,000 people in more than 30 offices across the world. Our holding company is in Singapore and our executive office is in Dubai, and we have around 1,000 people across the UAE. We opened our Sharjah office in 1968, and were among the first consultants here at that time. The Ruler of Sharjah assigned us to develop one building project and since then we have undertaken many projects for the public and private sectors, including roads, water networks, utilities, industrial areas, and buildings. Our Sharjah design center is one of the company's biggest offices, providing expertise across the region.

What is your main focus in Sharjah?

We are a multidisciplinary consultant, so our expertise is diverse. In buildings, for example, we have specialists in everything from high-rise towers to shopping malls, hospitals, schools, and housing. We master plan large-scale communities, and design and project manage all aspects of infrastructure within them, such as roads and utilities. Our current projects include the biggest mall in Sharjah, Al Zahia City Center, which is under construction, and Sharjah's first master-planned community, known as Tilal City. This is an important mixed-use project which will be home to around 65,000 residents. K&A produced the master plan and is now involved in various aspects of design. Tilal City comprises almost 1,500 land plots, combined with parks and education and community facilities.

Can you please explain how smart cities and sustainable design will change the way we live?

Smart cities are yet to be fully realized, but we can see an emerging smart ecosystem starting to play a role in most people's daily lives. Characterized by multiple emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as the IoT, AI, 3D printing, next generation telecommunications, and driverless vehicles, smart cities will enable us to create environments that truly respond to the needs of people. The utilization of these technologies in an organized and integrated way is at the heart of our drive toward smart cities. Smart cities are there to enhance our quality of living, the performance and interactivity of urban services, to reduce costs and consumption, and to increase contact between citizens and governments. Importantly, they will also help to tackle some of the major socio-economic issues facing the world today such as climate change and rapid urbanization. We are currently working with Sharjah Urban Council to make Sharjah the first city in the world to have an age friendly certificate. We are preparing the guidelines related to every aspect of housing, streets, landscape, commercial areas, and developments, and the council will set a template for others across the region and beyond.

What training programs do you have for your employees?

Our industry is undergoing rapid change because of the impact of technology and digitization. It is therefore vital that we constantly train our people and provide support through mentoring, role modelling, and knowledge-sharing. Moreover, we encourage our people to take an active role in industry conferences and events. We also send colleagues on trips to visit suppliers and manufacturers in Europe, Japan, and China to have a deeper understanding of materials selection.

How is the company undergoing digital transformation?

Commitment to technology has been a part of K&A's DNA throughout its history. We were among the first engineering consultants in the region to digitalize its systems, and we were the first to introduce Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to the region. An area where we have taken an important step forward is in the development of our smart cities approach by leveraging our GIS expertise and integrating it with other technologies and platforms. This brings multimodal systems and various assets together into a more comprehensive view, which allows improved visualization and analysis.