Water works

Septech CEO David Heffernan discusses the firm's plans for growth in the Middle East's water and wastewater industries with Alison Luke and the opportunites that lie ahead for those in the sector.


Septech CEO David Heffernan discusses the firm's plans for growth in the Middle East's water and wastewater industries with Alison Luke and the opportunites that lie ahead for those in the sector.

With water a prime resource in the Middle East and the demand for supplies growing in line with the construction industry, the opportunities opening for those in the sector are continuing to increase.

Extra skill sets and resources are now required in terms of getting strong banking relationships.

Water and wastewater infrastructure and engineering firm Septech is a prime example of the possibilities that can be achieved in the sector at present.

Established in the UAE around 11 years ago, the business has grown by about 1,000% over this period and it is expecting this trend to continue in the future.

"In 2006 we grew by 400%; in 2007 we've grown about another 60% and in 2008 we're looking at growing another 200%," states CEO David Heffernan.

"On average we're growing well in excess of 100% per annum, so it's quite exciting growth and that can quite easily become 400-500% depending on some major projects we're bidding," he added.

Office movements

The firm currently has offices in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman, but has plans underway for significant expansions over the next year. In January 2008 it established Septech Saudi Arabia and will soon begin construction of manufacturing plants in the Kingdom to directly provide the precast pipes and products needed to carry out projects.

"We've been supplying and doing projects in Saudi Arabia from the UAE, but now we've set up the 100%-owned Septech Saudi Arabia," confirms Heffernan.

"We're looking at focusing on pure infrastructure engineering...because there is such a demand in that region," he adds.

Further expansions include moves into Qatar and India. Septech has been providing products to Qatari projects, but to date has no established base in the country.

It plans to rectify this within the next six months by establishing both offices and manufacturing plants there.

"Again there's a huge demand in Qatar and a lot of [the types of projects planned] are similar to [those in the UAE], ocean front, water-based developments, so it's a perfect fit for us," explains Heffernan.

On the Asian continent both India and Pakistan are in the firm's sights. "We've signed joint ventures in India and we're looking at a huge demand for all our products and services there," states Heffernan.

"We've been going there for the past six months to establish our joint venture and the structure of our company; the official company will be opened and the office launched in the next couple of months." The firm is currently pricing two major projects in Pakistan.

"On the back of the success of those projects we'd probably look at establishing a presence in Pakistan in the next twelve months," reports Heffernan.

Preparing the way for growth

Ensuring the success of the new operations is dependent on several factors reports Heffernan, with human resources and finances being top of the list.

"It's not just building more factories, keeping up with demand and offering extended services...now extra skillsets and resources are required in terms of getting strong banking relationships and tying up with different private equity firms that have infrastructure funds and are specialising in that area," stresses Heffernan.

"The biggest problems that any fast-growing company has is maintaining the quality, and that involves getting the right people. The resource issue is a big problem in terms of getting the right staff, because these are major projects and they are all fast-track like everything in this region, so we're constantly looking at recruiting the right people," he adds.

The firm is also investing in internal training and seeking to select suitable existing staff to head up divisions in its new ventures.

Heffernan explains that Septech is now beginning to reap the benefits of the mix of nationalities that currently manage the UAE divisions as some of these employees wish to return to their home countries, where the new divisions are being established.

"They understand our business, our work ethics and our vision, so have the core values of the company and they can go there and set it up," he states.

Opportunities arising

Changing social and business attitudes, the introduction of new technologies and the creation of new types of developments are all responsible for the number of opportunities arising in the Middle East's water and wastewater sectors reports Heffernan.

"The great thing is that all the Emirates and a lot of other GCC countries are becoming very water-wise and we're talking about green, sustainable developments," stresses Heffernan.

Recognising renewable technologies as likely to be one of the biggest evolving trends in the market over the next three to five years, Septech has made moves to ensure it can offer services within this market.

"We're looking at a lot of technologies now and some strategic alliances to set up sustainable water desalination and sewage plants," Heffernan explains.

"We have some sewage treatment plants now that we can operate with no power plants, just through the use of solar energy," he adds.

The firm is planning to make strategic investments in companies within the renewable energy field and potentially setting up manufacturing plants within the region to produce relevant technologies.

"People are becoming more environmentally conscious and those areas are becoming really the next generation of what we're doing in infrastructure," he stated.

In a similar vein, further work is being created for firms by the fresh focus on energy efficiency.

"Whereas before you'd just design a system that would meet the requirements, now we're going to see a growing trend where companies have to demonstrate really cost-effective operation and maintenance...it's really looking at what's the optimal design to give the life cycle needed and also from an operation point of view, the most economic way to provide each cubic metre of water," he explains.

One more unusual focus for water and wastewater firms in future will be that of island developments predicts Heffernan. With numerous such projects underway across the Gulf this will become a big market for those in the sector. However, such infrastructure projects need careful planning and programming warns Heffernan.

"The main issues are transportation and you've really got to look at using prefabrication," he states.

"From a time point of view there are other issues that people don't take into consideration, one of which is the weather conditions: we have certain seasons where it's very windy and the seas are quite rough so you can't actually ship out materials and people; there is a lot of downtime so you have to really programme it well," he explains.

With construction growth set to continue throughout the region, it is clear that Septech and others in the water sector can also look forward to continued expansion and a growing number of project opportunities.

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