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Leaders UAE 2018 Preview: Top chiefs to discuss disputes and tech

VAT, dispute resolution, risk management, and innovation will be key areas of focus for the UAE's construction leaders in the months to come

Leaders in Construction UAE Summit 2018 will take place on Wednesday 12 September.
Leaders in Construction UAE Summit 2018 will take place on Wednesday 12 September.
Mark Raymont, partner, Pinsent Masons.
Mark Raymont, partner, Pinsent Masons.
Andrew Greaves, head of GCC, Addleshaw Goddard.
Andrew Greaves, head of GCC, Addleshaw Goddard.
Emad Jaber, co-founder of Lacasa Architects and Engineering Consultants.
Emad Jaber, co-founder of Lacasa Architects and Engineering Consultants.

Having already established itself as the industry’s premier high-level conference in the region, the Construction Week: Leaders in Construction UAE Summit will bring together captains of the Middle East’s construction sector when it takes place on Wednesday, 12 September.

In its ninth year, the 2018 event in Dubai will be attended by more than 200 senior professionals, all taking part in a strategic debate regarding the state of the UAE’s construction industry and sharing their experiences and best-practice ideas for managing the market as we pass the 2018 halfway mark. Topics at last year’s edition included the industry’s collective response to shifting market conditions and how the region is working to attract and retain the best talent – key issues that remain as relevant this year as ever before.

Steve Dousie, managing director – Europe, Middle East, and Africa for Exactal, says new technologies and their adoption in a sustainable manner and within budget is another key trend in the UAE that will be high on the summit’s agenda this year. Finding better methods to guarantee the safety of the entire workforce without compromising on deadlines remains a consideration for the software company, which is relatively new to the Middle East, according to Dousie.

Similarly, Mark Raymont, partner at law firm Pinsent Masons, believes the ability to sustain a “decent pipeline of work” is one of the main challenges facing the industry this year, alongside cash flow issues relating to on-time payments and making sure contracts are administered in a “fair and reasonable manner”.

The firm says innovation is also a key driver for its latest projects, with upgrades to its ‘Smart Delivery’ initiative on the cards as it looks to solve and analyse common construction sector challenges with technical innovations.

READ: Innovation is muscling into the Middle East’s construction industry

In much the same light, Andrew Greaves, head of GCC at law firm Addleshaw Goddard, says both challenges and opportunities for the UAE construction sector revolve around tightening liquidity, which is “likely to lead to a greater consideration and use of alternative funding structures such as public-private partnerships (PPP) and export finance, and perhaps a more active claims market”. At the summit he expects “to hear from contractors and developers on how the cash flow issues being experienced in the market are leading to challenges to the delivery of projects”, and to hear “some thought- and discussion-provoking suggestions as to how to overcome these hurdles”.

Innovation and sustainability, in particular, are seen as crucial considerations for the American University of Sharjah, as the Dean of its College of Engineering, Dr Richard Schoephoerster, points out. “The public increasingly expects the construction industry to meet global standards of sustainability. As an industry with a relatively large environmental footprint, the construction industry needs to be innovative and creative in generating solutions that minimise waste and the reliance on fossil energy sources.”

Richard Dupay, associate – international aberration and construction at law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner (BCLP), says dispute resolution is a key challenge for the UAE, with the collapse of UK contracting giant Carillion serving as a “salutary reminder” that being able to recover monies owed is critical.

“Some of the main employers in the region have large amounts of capital tied up in escrow accounts and are unable to pay their contractors, which means that the contractors are again having to fund projects,” he says. “This means that only the largest contractors can compete and, as Carillion warns, could fail if never paid.”

READ: Can alternative dispute resolution tools reduce Middle East construction conflicts?

Emad Jaber, managing director of Dubai-based Lacasa Architects and Engineering Consultants, adds: “One of the main challenges we face as a consultancy these days is finding qualified individuals with the right expertise within the market to help with our expansion plans.”

He says the market has become saturated with small-scale consultancies offering lower fees, forcing the larger firms to compete on price alone, rather than on expertise and quality. “On the other hand, we find a lack of sufficient and qualified contractors who are able to execute projects at a certain level of quality,” he adds.

Exactal’s Dousie is more positive about the industry’s ongoing approach to next-generation designs, with designers in the UAE “not afraid to aim high with bold designs and advances not yet seen elsewhere in the world”.

BCLP’s Dupay says the UAE’s construction market has also become more sophisticated, with “hard lessons” from the 2008 crash resulting in contractors and employers “taking time to weigh up risks more thoroughly”.

Dousie adds: “Expo 2020 looks set to be a fantastic showcase for what Dubai and the UAE are capable of. We anticipate a stronger tourism economy in the UAE going forward, which will have a positive effect on the construction projects that are greenlit. The peak of construction in the UAE may be some way off, but in the meantime [it will still be] very exciting.”

READ: Progress report: Construction at Expo 2020 Dubai site

The issue of value-added tax, which came into effect on 1 January this year, will be yet another hot topic at the 2018  summit, as will opportunities for the country’s construction industry as it approaches Expo 2020 Dubai, set to begin on 20 October, 2020.

“With the preparations for Expo 2020 gathering steam, we are likely to see more unique and landmark projects coming online and nearing completion to ensure the Dubai government's goals for the event are achieved,” says Greaves.

“There is also likely to be a shift in regional dynamics – while Dubai is fully focusing on delivering Expo 2020, new opportunities will materialise in both Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi as both have recently announced ambitious and exciting investment plans.”

In addition, he says, the UAE government's push for 'Smart Dubai' will “hopefully lead to the introduction of new and exciting technologies, and the further roll-out of initiatives such as solar power generation and connectivity”.

For more information on the Leaders in Construction UAE Summit 2018, please click here.

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