Canada-headquartered global consultancy firm WSP has almost 30 major projects in the GCC spread across diverse a portfolio. “We have over 30 major projects across different stages in the project life cycle. Our projects are diverse and span across many key sectors including rail, commercial, hospitality, and residential. Currently, WSP in the Middle East has five high-rise towers (60-80 storey) on its books,” says Mark Farley, director of building services, Middle East, at WSP.
Farley says that the firm sees itself as “a very strong local building services company that has the expertise of several projects that bring about many different challenges”. He says: “If we encounter a challenge on a project, we are very good at responding locally. We also have the expertise and knowledge base around the globe to bring in experts to the local market.”
Talking about the MEP sector, Farley says that the market is “challenging but ever-changing”. The market is price competitive from a soft and hard cost perspective. Hard costs are tangible assets that you need to acquire to complete your construction project. Hard costs are quantifiable and can be determined with such certainty that usually they are detailed by an experienced estimator. Soft costs on the other hand are costs that are not considered in direct construction costs. Soft costs include everything from architectural and engineering fees, to legal fees, pre- and post-construction expenses, permits and taxes, insurance, etc. He says: “For contractors, the challenge is hard costs, whereas for consultants, it’s soft costs. There’s a real challenge in my area in terms of maintaining value. So if the price is more competitive and the soft costs are challenged, what we’ve got to do as WSP is to make sure we’re delivering the same end product that the client desires.”
Farley admits that the client’s mindset and their approach to projects are changing. He says that there is a more managed approach to projects. “For me, it’s a maturing market, and the challenge is that clients are taking longer to award [projects] because they want to check the feasibility and make sure the project is the right fit for the market. We just need to fit into that and be responsive to clients.”
Also, talking about the client’s mindset, there is greater interest in adopting technology. “Technology is rapidly changing. BIM (Building Information Modelling) is a great example. BIM’s been around for quite a long time, but it’s still developing, improving, and progressing. WSP acquired a BIM One company that feeds into a piece of software called BIM Track.” BIM Track is an innovative web-based technology designed to maximize interdisciplinary collaboration in digital 3D model construction and management. Combining various 3D coordination and modelling software applications, this solution helps consolidate project information. This enables active participation of everyone involved in the BIM process, at both the design and construction stages, using any type of device (desktop computer, tablet or smartphone).
Contractors now are engaged in BIM, Farley believes. He says. “You’ve got to take into account that the contractors have thousands of people working with them. It’s a complete change in the way they do things. So, I understand that when we work with contractors, we review the BIM models with them. To me, BIM is the only way to do things.”
At WSP technology is embedded in everything that is done, says Farley. “Technology has been part of what we do for the past 20-30 years, and it’s part of what we do now, and will be a part of what we do in 30 years’ time. We’ve got to be on track with where technology is. We’ve got to keep pace with the market. We have various ways of doing that. We’ve got our office setup, which has multiple screens, docking stations, and hot desks. It’s a very collaborative working area. It very much starts at the workspace and our infrastructure. And the way we actually operate is consistent across all our offices, and you’ll notice that if you ever come to any of our sites, and any of our design offices.
“So we believe in creating the right work environment. We’ve got virtual reality rooms in our main offices where we bring in clients and our partners, and we can help people visualise and look around a building [project]. You can also go mobile and take it over to the clients’ offices so they can view it. Technology is always a part of everything that we’re doing these days.”
WSP has a lot of small focus groups, and dedicated software teams, where the small focus groups supported by the firm’s in-house software team carry out a lot of development work such as scripts. He says: “Software is developed to make things easier and more efficient, and really, the focus around technology is to enable our people. So that finally we are able to spend fruitful time with clients and architects, to do the bit that’s needed. To spend time on the important stuff such as coordination, design, collaboration. Being able to bring the team together to get a project built on time.”
In order to be successful in this industry, the relationship between consultants and contractors is important. Farley says that a successful way of working for a contractor and consultant is always collaborative. He says: “It’s always communicative. It’s always someone picking up the phone and getting around a table and resolving an issue. We’ve got to challenge each other and to me one of the main parts of that equation is the client. If we just have a consultant with a contractor, it probably won’t succeed. We need the client to buy into that as well and be part of that process and that’s to me the recipe for a good and successful project.”
Farley concludes by saying: “We, at WSP, are always trying to look at how we improve at what we do. We don’t want to be stagnant. To me, if you have that mindset to always move forward, and always mprove, then you will be successful under any market conditions.”