When Bruceshaw commenced operations in the Middle East nine years ago, the region was in the midst of an economic downturn. Today the consultancy, rebranded as Linesight, is riding a similar wave as reduced oil revenues continue to plague the construction sector.
However, Linesight is keen to seize this opportunity to guide its clients through tumultuous times, enabling them to emerge stronger once the market has recovered.
Since its establishment in 1974, the company has provided a range of construction consultancy services, including cost and project management, for major developments in multiple regions. In the Middle East, Linesight has worked within sectors such as healthcare, technology, education, hospitality, and oil and gas.
Interestingly, the firm’s September 2016 rebrand was more than purely cosmetic; the exercise saw Linesight add a number of new services to its business, and industry experts to its team.
Niall Greene, managing director of Linesight’s Middle East operations, tells Construction Week that the firm’s rebrand elicited a positive reaction from the market. He explains: “The journey we’ve had over the last 12 months was about the rebranding of the business both globally and locally.”
Linesight’s Middle East head says his team has moved beyond the provision of cost consultancy and project management services; the company is now equipped to offer tailor-made packages to clients.
“We started out as a cost consultancy and project management firm, and over the years we’ve tailored our services to suit different markets,” he notes.
“Here in the Middle East, we’ve introduced new services, and they’ve been working well. We’re not necessarily trying to [create] new services; it’s more a case of identifying niche markets in which we are needed. Clients are looking for [a consultant that can provide] project controls, scheduling, value engineering, and project, cost and supply chain management, and so on.”
Encouragingly for Greene, it seems that such services are in high demand. For example, since introducing its new offerings to the market, Linesight has won work from Saudi Aramco. The kingdom-based energy giant selected Greene’s team to take responsibility for some of the functions it previously conducted in house, concluding that it would be more efficient to hire a third-party consultant.
“We’ve worked with clients that have access to significant funds and substantial real estate portfolios, but that have never built anything,” Greene continues. “We are able to help clients to establish development-management teams and, again, this is moving away from our traditional [competencies of] cost consultancy and project management. We’re becoming involved in projects right from the outset. Imagine you want to develop a piece of land; you’ll need to conduct a feasability study, create a funding strategy, and talk to the banks. At Linesight, we have the expertise necessary to do all of this for our clients.”
Greene goes on to outline some of the other ways in which Linesight is adding value to its clients’ operations. “We bring together stakeholders when projects are in their infancy,” he explains. “In addition to the banks, we engage design consultants which, again, goes beyond the realm of conventional project management.”
Citing one of Linesight’s recent contracts as an example of its enhanced service offering, Greene says: “We’ve been supporting the $700m (BHD264m) Villamar project in Bahrain, which is being developed by GFH Financial Group in collaboration with Rajhi Bank. This delayed project has become somewhat of an eyesore during the past eight years. It came to the point where something had to be done or the project would have been [abandoned]. So we’ve been working with the stakeholders to come up with initiatives to get it back on track. They’ve now signed an agreement, and work has recommenced.”
As the economic slowdown has continued to negatively affect project completion in the region, cash flow has become a major challenge within the construction industry. As such, Greene is of the opinion that banks and developers must increase their focus on due diligence.
“It’s very important for Linesight, as a consultant, to consider project roadmaps, look at our clients’ sales strategies, and formulate a clear and consistent programme that incorporates all of these requirements.
“We’ve been engaged by a number of banks to facilitate the development of such strategies. We’ve always offered this service in Europe, but not in the Middle East. In the past, cash flow has not been as big a problem as it is today; regional clients are really looking for ways to stess test their projects in a bid to ensure their decisions are fully informed. That’s where we can come in and add value.”
As for the future of the industry, Greene is optimistic that the current cash crunch will dissipate during the next five years.He elaborates: “The oil price has had a significant impact on the Middle East in the last 18 months, particularly in Saudi Arabia. The downturn has [negatively affected] numerous large-scale projects in the kingdom, within sectors such as healthcare, education, and infrastructure.
“The Saudi market deflated last year; in 2017, we expect that it will either stabilise or continue to deflate. Nevertheless, we’re hopeful that the country’s construction sector will begin to recover in 2018.”
Greene notes that Bahrain has been one of the most resilient markets in the GCC during the downturn, and predicts that the UAE will bounce back in Q4 2017. He concludes: “We expect this to be a period of stability for the Middle East. Towards the end of the 2017, and into the beginning of 2018, we anticipate that there will be an uplift [in construction].”