Experts assess the Gulf’s construction-related security market

Experts discuss the evolution of the Middle East’s security market, and explain why technology is playing such an important role

Transguard is a provider of security services in the Middle East.
Transguard is a provider of security services in the Middle East.

A report released at the beginning of the year revealed that the Middle East’s construction industry is expected to generate total revenues of $141.1bn in 2016, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.2% between 2012 and 2016.

The UAE set aside a budget of $4.6bn (AED17bn) in 2016 for infrastructure development until 2020, and Qatar has devised plans to draw $222bn (QAR808.4bn) by 2022 for infrastructure projects including stadiums, hotels, and other transport facilities related to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, ReportLinker states.

Those living outside of the region, however, may be surprised to learn that security on these multi-billion dollar megaprojects has never been a top priority. Tim Mundell, Transguard’s chief security officer, explains: “The overall construction market remains strong and continues to see huge growth across the Middle East, with an estimated worth said to be more than $3tn. Security is all too often overlooked or, at best, given at cursory thought towards the end of any tender process. This is not true of all construction companies, but is certainly the case for the majority.

“What doesn’t change is the opportunity that these sites provide for thieves; [this] should not be underestimated. The challenge remains a global problem for the construction business and, with the sheer amount of machinery, tools, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) equipment, glass, cables, and other associated building materials, will always be the case.

“Fortunately, here in the Middle East, in most cases it is more of the opportunist who sees the opportunity to take materials that are then sold on the black market – better security checks and site surveillance would reduce this impact further.”

However, Zander Muego, director of Thomas & Adamson, believes that the level of theft and break-ins is very low in the Middle East compared to the rest of the world, “so securing a site and making sure that things are not stolen does not happen to be a big focus in this region. Which makes it a tough job to persuade developers and clients to pay a premium for round-the-clock security when an in-house gatekeeper can do the job”.

He adds: “We have certainly not seen any issues with [construction sites being robbed] when it comes to the projects we’ve been involved in.” Although he does point out that the industry is moving towards the implementation of CCTV cameras and technology that monitor construction sites.

For Paul Grundy, owner and managing director of S&B Fencing Fixing, a manufacturer of fencing and barriers in Dubai, the construction site security market is steadily growing, “but still hard”.

According to a Frost & Sullivan’s report, the security market in the Middle East is anticipated to see “double-digit growth by 2021”. Video surveillance accounted for a leading share of the total market, trailed by access control and intruder detection.

The report adds: “While favourable government policies facilitate demand generation, technology is playing an important role in helping to achieve better monitoring and control functions. The security market has been evolving in line with the global information technology and telecom domain trends and hence is highly dynamic.”

It further states that Saudi Arabia tops the market with the largest share. “The fall in oil prices and rationalisation of investment in infrastructure projects are likely to result in a temporary slowdown in the Saudi market, but the kingdom is expected to revive in the long term. The report adds: “The upcoming Expo 2020 Dubai and 2022 FIFA World Cup have enabled investment in large projects with sizeable trickle down to the security infrastructure. Qatar is expected to see the highest CAGR growth rate, followed by the UAE.”

Mundell shares the same opinion, but is wary of market conditions. “The Expo 2020 Dubai effect will improve the current approach and use of innovation throughout major construction projects. Nevertheless, it remains a highly competitive and challenging market space and, therefore, it is all too easy to fall back to the default setting, to simply throw what is perceived as ‘cheap labour’ (a security guard) at the requirement.

“Going forward, in the short to medium term, we therefore don’t envisage a huge uptake of innovative security and safety measures being applied to the construction market. A further area often overlooked is how construction sites manage the challenge of fire – this continues to be a focus area for Transguard.

“We have developed a first response fire and incident management capability.  As a minimum, all Transguard Security guards undergo basic firefighting and incident management training prior to any security deployment.”

Meanwhile, Muego points out that the evolution and continual use of technology in the construction site security sector is expected to bring about a big change in how the industry views the issue of security.

He says: “Cost-effective technology, particularly the use of apps, phones, and the Internet of Things (IoT) aspect will compel the construction industry to implement security systems.

“I think that visual monitoring of sites in real time is also making its way to this part of the world as well, and systems controlling vehicle movements accessing sites are being seriously looked into by developers and contractors. There is also a trend of technology taking over the human element of security management, record keeping, and tracking movements.”

Mundell agrees: “Innovation and technology, in our opinion, are key to the success of any security function. Today, however, until it’s mainstream, they tend to carry a higher capital expenditure (capex) than budget allows for the project company and so it still boils down to doing the core basic layers better.

“It may seem obvious, but many construction sites still fail to deploy and manage the most basic precautions against intrusion. Fences that surround a construction site are relatively inexpensive and offer a clear indication to anyone of a boundary that is off limits. This, coupled with public notices, stringent access control (badging), site movement, perimeter lighting, mobile security and, importantly video surveillance, will further help deter and detect intrusions and suspicious behaviour.”

He adds: “The key constraint all construction companies face is their perceived value of the security and safety layers that need to be applied. Many construction sites will use relatively cheap security and possibly limited or no surveillance layer to counter the number of threats, which can include theft, vandalism, health and safety breeches, fire, as well as deliberate damage, and in extreme cases, terrorism. In the Middle East, theft remains the most common of these activities.”

Muego concludes: “Over the years, there has been significant improvement in the way site safety and security is perceived and adopted. The method of work has improved, along with the management of sites. But there is still a lot more room for improvement. We are starting from a very low baseline and I think things will continue to improve.”

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