‘Be Aware’ is the current guidance for consultant engineers in Middle East

The Middle East is full of opportunity, says Nelson Ogunshakin, but there are pitfalls for the unwary and ACE is there to offer advice and support.

After two weeks touring the Middle Eastern region, I have seen first hand the commitment of  professional consultancy firms to the positive development of much needed infrastructure projects within the Middle East, and witnessed the resulting potential for large scale business growth.  The international collaborations that ensure local needs are met are inspiring.  While I see the benefits for members engaging with projects in the region, I must also urge companies to be aware of circumstances before choosing to engage.

ACE’s Middle East Group (MEG) continues to provide the industry with guidance on regional involvement, with the companies involved holding a strong and collaborative role in the development of regional infrastructure. Overall the Middle East market within our sector is stable, and growing in a sustainable way. Yet there are still hurdles for business.

"While I see the benefits for members engaging with projects in the region, I must also urge companies to be aware of circumstances before choosing to engage"

The region is still plagued by the challenges that have been seen by established professional consultancy firms for years. These include late payments, difficulty managing client expectations, contractual labyrinths and the general lack of institutional capacity to deliver.

While these issues may occasionally be faced domestically as well, in the Middle East issues such as late payments stretch far beyond what is seen in other regions. Some see payment delays of or greater than 200 days for large scale projects which means consultancy firms require significant amounts of working capital. This puts a significant strain on companies that are counting on regular payments to provide for expenses.

The majority of UK based professional consulting and engineering firms currently working on projects within the Middle East have learned through experience the best business tactics to handle these financial challenges. However for those UK companies in the sector still contemplating involvement in the Middle East or for those just commencing regional involvement, these challenges can be a major inhibitor to business success, and a potential deal breaker for those firms without sufficient internal resources to make accommodations.

For those prepared for the potential hurdles of business in the Middle East region, the realignment and better controlled investments in social and economic infrastructure projects present opportunities for business growth.

It is often the young consultants and engineers that embark from the UK in great number to work on Middle East projects.  Because of the unique challenges of the region and the prevalence of young professionals, ACE is establishing a Regional Progress Network Group (PNG). The formation of the Regional PNG is designed to help people under 35 meet others in the region and cultivate positive relations. It will be launched in November this year.  This will, we hope, aid in creating an attractive working environment in the Middle East for young professionals where they can network, share professional knowledge and provide opportunity to debate business issues affecting the area through series of evening meetings with guest speakers from ACE member and non member firms

Because of the unique challenges facing UK based professional consulting and engineering firms in the Middle East, ACE encourages knowledge sharing to raise awareness of the businesss difficulties. To help members understand their clients and to be able to benchmark their own performance in the region, ACE MEG will be running two surveys which will result in guidance on regional client relations as well as a regional benchmarking. ACE will use such tools to continue to address challenges and aid members working within the Middle East.

There are exciting opportunities ahead for working in the Middle East with EXPO 2020 in Dubai in five years, and the World Cup in Qatar in 2022. But I feel it is incumbent on me to continue to protect as well as advocate for the interests of the UK based professional consulting and engineering firms working in the region, offering current and future support.

Nelson Ogunshakin is chief executive of ACE