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In touch with tomorrow: Pierre Santoni, Parsons

With multi-million dollar infrastructure project pipeline including a GCC-wide rail project, technological advancements are considered to be of supreme importance. Present in the Middle East for more than 40 years, Parsons’ first project in the region dates back to the 1950s.  In the last 10 years alone, Parsons has completed more than 900 projects in the Middle East, including Dubai Metro, Etihad Rail Phase 1, and many more. The company has also been awarded the site-wide infrastructure design and construction supervision services contract for the Expo 2020 Dubai site and are also involved in several other projects that will contribute to providing the infrastructure required for Expo 2020.

In an exclusive interview with CBNME, Pierre Santoni, senior vice president at Parsons, tells about how technology is implemented for large-scale infrastructure projects to stay one-step ahead.

Mention few infrastructure projects that Parsons is currently working on?

As Parsons, we cover a wide variety of the projects in the infrastructure sector, where we try to provide end-to-end solutions for the fields that we are involved in. Some of the mega projects that we are involved in includes the Expo 2020 and Dubai Metro Red Line expansion (Route 2020). We also collaborate for a lot of work with the Government of Dubai and the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA); a vast majority of roads and bridges in the emirate have been designed and are managed by Parsons.

We also do a lot of work for private developers including the likes of Emaar and Dubai Properties. We are also the project managers for the Santiago Calatrava’s Dubai Creek Tower in the Dubai Creek Harbour. Some of our recent successes include the Dubai Design District and the City Walk project in the emirate.

Regionwide, we are working on the much-awaited Doha Metro. In addition to that, we have a very active practice in Saudi Arabia where we have around 1,200 people working for us at the moment.

Any particular projects that Parsons is eyeing for in 2018?

We are currently tendering for a lot of projects in the region. It’s actually very exciting; the beginning of 2018 saw the issue of big tenders for projects like the Etihad Rail Phase 2. In addition, we are a member company of Hyperloop One’s technical advisory board, which is designed to facilitate a close dialogue between Virgin Hyperloop One and a small number of key partners. We have contributed technical resources and know-how to advance the complex engineering that is required for such an innovative transport mode.

We are lucky to be in this part of the world who are thirsty for innovation and technology and every single day we get request from clients asking us to do better work. Our role is to bring the requests to fruition.

Parsons is always in the forefront for collaborating with tech companies. Any more to come in the future?

We are one of the most technology driven companies in the industry. We have tied up with technology partners to extend in the region and also have our own technologies developed inhouse. One of the most effective and the important ones is the Intelligent NETworks (iNet) platform which is an advanced transportation management system. It is a platform that can be supplemented with as many pointers as you want to support smart cities.

Then we tied up with Renovo, a Silicon Valley-based mobility software technology company and together we collaborate to enable the deployment and scaling of commercial automated mobility on demand (AMoD) systems. These systems are designed to manage an entire transportation ecosystem made possible by ride hailing, highly-automated vehicles, next-generation intelligent transportation systems, and other technologies that are now commercially available.

It’s a partnership that started about six months ago and gained popularity quite quickly. The first AMoD deployment will be in 2018; we are waiting for the right opportunity.

What kind of support have you received from the regional governments?

There are a lot of ways to deliver support; one of that is through the proper implementation of projects. We work on projects that are financed by the respective governments and in turn, they also have the responsibility to set up regulations and legislations, which are sustainable in the long-term. We lead in different ways, but the governments provide us with the effective enabling environments. For example, for the Dubai Metro, we carried out program management and construction supervision services. We are also doing the same for the Etihad Rail, the first freight railway network in the UAE.

Which is the best performing market for Parsons in the region?

Dubai is the most dynamic market for us at the moment. The emirate has sustained growth for the last few years and has shown impressive performance despite dipping oil prices and geopolitical issues. We are also quite big in Saudi Arabia with a strong presence. We delivered some big projects there; we are also in the process of delivering the Riyadh Metro soon. It’s the single largest civil engineering project at the moment in the world.

How does Parsons contribute to the energy infrastructure sector in the region?

As a whole, we are not focussed on the production of energy itself; what we provide is protection for the infrastructure. One of the trends we have seen in the recent years is the threat to critical infrastructure. Parsons is one of the strongest in the industry in critical infrastructure protection (CIP) and cyber security protection. From physical to cyber threats, we provide services for the prevention and mitigation of these threats throughout the delivery of the project – starting from the very early planning stages to the operation and commissioning. Regionally, we are in talks with some of the main energy providers like DEWA, FEWA, and many more to collaborate with them for such services.

Any particular strategies that Parsons have adopted for 2018?

We are looking and extending our business in innovative mobility, which we provide in other parts of the world but not so much in the Middle East. Any technology driven solutions for the clients that we work for is our current focus. We believe in bringing the best practices first to the Middle East market. Clients are very innovative in this market. I have never seen a client here that has held us back in terms of innovation.

We have several main divisions, including public and private sector and defence and security. The defence and security division look after CIP and cyber protection, where we are seeing a very strong growth in the region. Also, private sector developers have been performing tremendously well for us in the region.

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