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Digital tech can improve client and project interaction

MATHIEU DU PLOOY WSP’s focus on the African continent is more sector-based than geographical. We will follow the countries where the need is pressing

Professional services firm WSP is finding more opportunities to use emerging digital technologies in delivering engineering and infrastructure projects globally, points out WSP in Africa MD Mathieu du Plooy. This involves the managing of information and data, designing and collaboration efforts on a project, as well as the contract of implementation and design information of a project.

He notes that the products and processes that the firm has in place will help to optimise interaction with clients locally and globally. This will, in turn, benefit the delivery, quality and implementation of a project.

Du Plooy emphasises that the benefit of using emerging digital technology – such as artificial intelligence and data analysis – will also provide an opportunity for Africa to optimise processes for projects, particularly in the infrastructure space.

“Globally, we have placed significant focus on looking at how best to adopt the latest in digital technologies into workflows, while simultaneously growing skills among our staff in client interaction and project team delivery. Digital technologies will certainly support many parts of the project delivery process going forward, but we recognise that our people will continue to play a vital role too – not only from a technical expertise point of view, but in our ability to support clients and deliver their projects in a technologically changing environment. We therefore are focused on equipping our people to be more robust as technology changes.”

Du Plooy emphasises that Africa in general is in an advantageous position in terms of using innovative digital solutions such as cloud computing and open data when considering the lack of legacy systems compared with more developed countries, particularly for use in large infrastructure projects.

While emerging digital technologies will create opportunities for Africa to grow with regard to infrastructure projects, Du Plooy points to the environmental, power and transport sectors as providing an ideal opportunity for growth for WSP and the consulting engineering industry.

WSP Growth Areas

A proliferation of environmental legislation in Africa and a general increase in awareness of environmental issues “present opportunities for the firm to become more involved in projects related to environmental factors” and, hence, WSP’s focusing on environmental projects.

Du Plooy highlights that this increased prominence of environmental projects, initiatives and general awareness spans across multiple different sectors.

“If one looks at the horizon around [Sandton], one can identify many projects which we’ve been involved in. Not only vertical, but also horizontal infrastructure, and that’s not short term. These are projects which will have impacts for decades,” claims Du Plooy.

Further, WSP is also involved in the power sector, particularly on the continent, and is extensively focused on projects involving transmission and power generation.

“The electricity challenges in Africa provide the consulting engineers industry with an opportunity to collaborate with and support other sectors that rely on power.

“We have great expertise and experience in many of the sectors, such as power, which have challenges, but it enables us to bring our skills to the table to help make decisions on how we can solve them,” states Du Plooy.

There are also opportunities for growth in the food and beverage and automotive sectors, which also extends to light manufacturing, owing to the growth and emergence of the middle class in Africa, Du Plooy points out.

“More people are moving into cities and, consequently, there’s more manufacturing, more consumption of products and services. Therefore, the economy is responding and we’re supporting the relevant industries to ensure that manufacturing is capacitated.”

Meanwhile, Du Plooy says a constant challenge for consulting engineers’ projects in all sectors is certainty in terms of policy and the economic environment. These factors, which can have a direct and indirect effect on engineering projects, affect investor confidence significantly.

“Our clients need to have an optimistic view of the environment to allow for their projects to proceed. In an optimistic environment, we’re able to support and deliver their vision for their project.”

Reduced economic growth, particularly in the construction industry, owing to reduced government spending in the sector, has also remained a challenge, he states.

“We’re all aware of the desperate need for infrastructure investment in Africa. The role that we and the consulting engineers’ industry play is to deliver these projects. We see ourselves as a link between providing support for the effective delivery of the aspirations, policies and projects,” concludes Du Plooy.