In the contemporary investment climate, one of the construction industry’s dominant challenges is to create a business model that paves the way for the burgeoning technology ecosystem to shape the skylines of the future.

Problem-solving experts from the Middle East's public and private sectors are working to address this challenge and spur the development of a ‘smart’ urban environment. The legislative framework to support smart city projects is rapidly being developed and expanded in the region – particularly the UAE – and the onus is now on construction companies to evolve and meet the needs of local asset owners.

US-headquartered consultancy, Parsons, recognises this changing environment, and has started to prepare for the developer demands it expects to contend with in the future, according to Gregg Welch, a senior vice president at the company. Welch also heads up Parsons’ built environment (BE) division, which plays a significant role at the company that is working to transform itself as a “digitally enabled solutions firm”.

“Parsons is evolving and transforming from a service-based entity to a full-fledged digitally enabled solutions provider,” Welch tells Construction Week.

“We are embracing new technologies and tailoring our culture in ways that will dramatically enhance our value proposition as well as our commercial returns to shareholders. We foresee significant opportunities in smart cities and the infrastructure required by them.”

READ: Parsons bolsters Middle East, Africa built environment division

As part of this remit, one of Parsons’ priorities is to introduce and expand its cyber, defence, and security service offerings, which Welch says the company already has a stronghold on in the North America region. Parsons, he explains, has adopted a “think-tank approach” to drive industry innovation, and is focusing on “seven prime technologies” to achieve its goal of becoming a digital construction leader. These tools, many of which are Parsons’ proprietary technologies, cover the internet of things (IoT), critical infrastructure protection, autonomous systems, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, reality-based simulation, and space, including small satellite integration and space system resilience.

Admittedly, these technologies would be formidable additions to any construction company’s arsenal, but their functionality is enhanced by Parsons’ portfolio of high-profile construction projects. In Saudi Arabia, its repertoire includes work with clients such as the kingdom’s Ministry of Housing. Parsons is also part of Riyadh Metro Transit Consultants (RMTC) consortium, alongside Egis Rail and Systra, which is working on the $23bn (SAR86.3bn) urban rail development in the Saudi capital.

RMTC is the engineer of record for two Riyadh Metro contracts, which cover programme and construction management, and Parsons has “the lead role in the health, safety, and environment management” aspects of the development. The firm is also the project management officer for Saudi’s upcoming 334km2 Qiddiya entertainment city, which features plans for a Six Flags-branded theme park. Additionally, Parsons delivered the winning masterplan for the Red Sea project that is being developed in the kingdom.

Equally impressive is the company’s UAE portfolio, which features Sharjah International Airport’s expansion; the Abu Dhabi International Airport Expansion project; Dubai Municipality’s $3.26bn (AED12bn) Deep Tunnel Sewerage System; Emaar’s Dubai Creek Tower; and Route 2020, Dubai Metro’s Red Line extension to the Expo 2020 site, the latter of which is also one of Parsons’ projects. 

These developments underscore Parsons’ influence in the Middle East, where it has been an active player for more than 60 years. Now, as the Middle East’s construction sector digitises core processes such as cash flow management and material procurement, Welch says Parsons can actively contribute to this evolution, regardless of the differing levels of tech-savviness in various regional markets: “We deliver consistently in all the markets using the same technologies – we don’t change the way we do business in a country that may have less of a technology orientation than others, because from our perspective, consistency and [tech-driven] methods of delivery are part of what we are. So we don’t switch [our approach] from country to country.

“We feel like it’s the way to be right now, because it just makes our product better, [and] improves our value proposition no matter where we go. If we go into a place that isn’t necessarily tech-oriented, we can bring that as a value add for [the local clients], and that makes sense for them and us.”

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