Face to face: Naveed Ansari, Tecon Specialized Engineering
Naveed Ansari, chief executive officer of Tecon Specialized Engineering Solutions, is confident that a group-wide consolidation and the adoption of advanced technologies will support the multidisciplinary sub-contractor’s growth in 2018
The Middle East’s sub-contractors have played a decisive role in the success of both regional and global developments. Yuanda Europe and William Hare UAE played a critical role in the creation of the responsive façade for which Abu Dhabi’s Al Bahar Towers is famous.
Similarly, the freestanding fibre roof – notable for its ‘spaceship’ shape – installed on the $5bn (AED18.4bn) headquarters of technology giant, Apple, was assembled and tested in a Dubai desert by UAE firm, Premier Composite Technologies, before being shipped in pieces to the US.
It is these specialised pre- and post-construction services that the chief executive officer of Tecon Specialized Engineering Solutions (TSES), Naveed Ansari, believes the Middle East will need more of in the future. Sub-contractor knowledge of such esoteric verticals can contribute to a project’s long-term wellbeing, he says.
“In the 1990s, when we were trying to sell energy management systems (EMS) in the region, people [questioned] the viability of doing so in an oil-based economy with cheap energy rates; but today, everyone is using EMS technology,” Ansari tells Construction Week.
The Middle East’s construction sector, and TSES, have come a long way since then. A part of UAE-headquartered Albatha Holding – chaired by Sheikh Ahmed Mohammed Sultan Al Qassimi – TSES provides services in verticals such as mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP), geosystems, chemicals, testing, calibration, and maintenance. Each vertical is further divided into activities that include lightning protection systems (LPS) through the power division of the MEP team, seismic monitoring through the geosystems department, and corrosion monitoring through the chemicals branch.
According to Ansari, these are just a small part of the firm’s overall product and service offering. However, the expanse of TSES’s operation is easier to track today than it might have been a few years ago, thanks to a consolidation programme currently underway at the company.
Outlining details of the activity, Ansari says: “We have created TSES as a platform comprising seven companies [from Albatha Engineering Group], namely the MEP specialist, Tecon; Geco Engineering; Geoscope; Spectra; Geco Chemicals; Geco Chemical Oil and Gas Field Services; and Geco Industrial Packing.
“All these companies were active in the construction or project-related fields, and we felt it would be good to combine them so that we could achieve maximum synergy.”
The consolidation also allows TSES to capitalise on a wider clientele, which includes organisations from both the public and private sectors, with the mix varying by vertical. The MEP and civil engineering divisions predominantly work with industry-specific private-sector contractors, and UAE municipalities, including Abu Dhabi and Dubai, as well as other government departments. The chemicals team is sought out by industrial clients, while its oil and gas department works with clients including Abu Dhabi National Oil Company; Abu Dhabi Gas Industries Limited; and engineering, procurement, and construction contractors. Meanwhile, TSES’s maintenance division is contracted facilities management companies to work on platforms such as emergency lighting systems and fire alarms.
This broad spectrum of customers is why Ansari prefers TSES to be viewed as more than a sub-contractor in the traditional sense of the word. “You could say we’re sub-contractors, because we provide design, supply, commissioning, and maintenance services. However, a more accurate term would be ‘system integrators’ – so, for example, not only would TSES provide security products such as CCTVs and access control systems, but as system integrators, we would also [implement] and maintain those systems.”
Regardless of the language used to describe it, TSES’s project portfolio is an impressive one. Two years ago, the company’s earthquake monitoring systems (EMS) were used to provide vertical monitoring and structural health monitoring for Burj Khalifa, a project for which the firm had previously delivered LPS services.
The EMS, which included the installation of sensors after construction was completed, is used to monitor the structural health of the world’s tallest tower. Meanwhile, LPS services for Burj Khalifa were delivered by TSES’s MEP-specific division, Tecon, in coordination with project consultant Hyder, a legacy company of Arcadis.
“In 1993, when I joined Tecon, I used to show my lightning protection [literature] to customers, and they used to take it lightly, saying that the Middle East would not witness lightning or heavy rains,” Ansari says.
“Today, 25 years later, the majority of Dubai’s buildings feature lightning protection, and most consultants and contractors approach us for LPS drawings.”
Ansari says that the bulk of UAE projects his team has worked on feature LPS services, with this repertoire including notable Abu Dhabi developments including the Ferrari World theme park and Louvre Abu Dhabi. TSES also delivered emergency lighting systems for both projects. In fact, LPS and emergency lighting systems are among the key regional growth opportunities that Ansari foresees for TSES, especially in the Saudi Arabian market, where the firm has had a presence for the last six years.
The company’s most notable project in the kingdom is Jeddah Tower, the 1km building that is set to become the world’s tallest structure. TSES has also worked on the new Jeddah and Madinah airports.
More recently, the firm also won work on the Riyadh Metro mega-project, Ansari reveals: “For the Riyadh Metro, we have been picked to provide emergency lighting services for three of the project’s lines. The contract is worth $6.7m (SAR25m), and we have started working on it.”
While the contract win underscores both the monetary value of emergency lighting services and TSES’s reputation, Ansari points out that these achievements in the kingdom did not come easily. There were hurdles to overcome in both entering, and establishing a business in, a market as vast as Saudi Arabia’s, Ansari says: “This was the toughest challenge I had faced in all my years with the company.”
He explains: “We started approaching construction contractors and consultants with LPS and emergency lighting systems. Gradually, the market recognised our expertise and that helped us grow in the country. We now have offices in Jeddah, Riyadh, and Dammam, and have worked on projects including the Zaha Hadid Architects-designed King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Centre, where we provided LPS services.”
Ansari says this facility – often touted as an architectural landmark in the global design community – was among the most challenging LPS projects he has worked on, but the test appears to have only strengthened the TSES CEO’s job satisfaction: “Not everyone survives in the LPS field, but I still love what I do.”
This sentiment is hardly unexpected; Ansari has plenty to look forward to. The ongoing consolidation programme – in some ways a centralisation of all the engineering services within the parent group – includes the merging of back-office disciplines, including finance, human resources, and administration. Ansari says the activity began two years ago, and was internally rolled out in January 2017.
Last November, the overhaul was publicised, with the consolidated outfit hosting seminars in Dubai and Abu Dhabi to inform its clients about the changes. Ansari says that at least 40% of TSES’s clientele was in attendance at both events.
The company’s next moves will be in the direction of multi-vertical growth. Counter-drone technology is one of the services that Ansari expects to be expanded within the company.
Through a tie-in with a German company, TSES is providing a counter-drone platform comprising hardware and software that can detect and identify unauthorised drones, as well as jam their signals. Another feature of the platform, which would include taking access of the drone’s network, is currently under development. Ansari says the platform is a sophisticated method of ensuring that unauthorised drones are blocked and taken down without losing access to their recorded data.
TSES also intends to expand its testing and calibration facilities, with two new labs in Dubai Motor City and Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi (KIZAD). The facilities will focus on MEP and oil and gas equipment, respectively, and further development on these is expected by Q3 2018.
Plans to implement data analytics platforms, robotics, and artificial intelligence (AI) across the board are also in the pipeline, Ansari adds.
Commenting on TSES’s ambitions for 2018 and beyond, he says: “The consolidation provides us with the benefit of back-end synergy, as well as cross-selling to a large number of clients, so we will [leverage this] as much as possible. Technology is the future, and that’s what we’re focussing on now.”