Critical support in the crisisJune 9, 2020
Herbert Klausner, CEO and general manager of Siemens Kuwait, talks to The Energy Year about how the company is maintaining critical infrastructure in Kuwait and how the crisis will impact work methods for the long term. Active in Kuwait since 1959, Siemens provides solutions and services related to all areas of infrastructure and the energy industry.
As a company in charge of operating and maintaining essential power assets in Kuwait and “keeping the lights on in the country,” how prepared were you for this pandemic in terms of critical infrastructure vulnerability scenarios?
The main impact from Covid-19 is not on our business but on our people and customers. Our main concern from day one was keeping our people healthy and safe. Lockdown started on March 12 and we immediately implemented our work-from-home policy. We closed our office to guarantee social distancing and advised our staff to stay at home.
We have also switched to virtual platforms like Microsoft Teams. Most of our communications and meetings are now virtual. If we must meet, for critical issues, then we meet in the office, whilst maintaining social distancing and wearing protective equipment in line with the government health guidelines.
Our main goal remains to keep our people safe, but at the same time we have to support our customers, many of which work in critical infrastructure such as power stations, the national control centres and the oil and gas sector. Of course, they are still operating with Siemens’ support. For our colleagues that work in critical infrastructure we had to obtain curfew passes so they could travel to the customers.
For example, during March there were still some power stations under service and maintenance, so we had a lot of people working long and hard to perform this work. This was during Easter, and although people wanted to go back and stay in Europe with their families, they understood the necessity of these critical infrastructure elements, especially during the hot summer, which is the peak energy demand season. Our focus was to make our people comfortable and enable them to stay healthy and cope with these difficult circumstances.
At the end of the day, it is crucial to remember that this Covid-19 crisis will pass, and we have to continue to support our customers and keep their businesses running. This was my aim and that is why I am still here in Kuwait to support the management of the crisis, to study what measures are coming from the government and to ensure that we know how to respond.
This is, in a nutshell, what we have done so far at Siemens and what we are working on.
In terms of the reaction of public authorities to the crisis, have you had a good level of communication with them and have you been happy with the way things have been handled in Kuwait?
The government has managed it very professionally. The Ministry of Health is proposing guidelines and giving recommendations to the ministers, who are then issuing decisions like curfews. As of Sunday [May 10], we are now in a complete lockdown.
In my opinion, the government has communicated effectively. You can read how many cases they have detected, how many fatalities they have, how many have recovered. They have a Twitter account and are publishing the latest news and details so we are continuously updated and can understand the situation and what measures have been implemented. The government in Kuwait is very transparent and has been giving clear instructions to the people.
The only worry is the people. During Ramadan people are meeting their families and relatives, which creates additional challenges for everyone. With the Eid holidays, it will be difficult to ensure that people are not mingling and violating the strict measures which have been implemented by the government and are essential to contain Covid-19.
How do you think the crisis will change your way of working and organising your teams in the long term?
It will have an impact. Covid-19 is a pandemic that developed very quickly, and nobody could say they were prepared to deal with this. We are evaluating and implementing measures for our organisation in terms of management and process style. There will be changes across the whole value chain. Within Siemens, we have been discussing digitalisation and communicating via virtual tools. So, in the future, the impact will be that we will communicate a lot more virtually, rather than going on potentially time-consuming and costly business trips.
We already have examples of this within Siemens. People couldn’t travel, so we introduced virtual inspections. Our experts sitting in Germany can guide our teams in Kuwait on how to undertake a service. For example, factory acceptance tests couldn’t be done anymore, so we prepared a virtual test using cameras and equipment. We make it as realistic as possible and it is being approved by customers.
So this will be the future, I am sure. There will be travel restrictions and limited available capacity, especially among the airlines, so we will have to utilise digital and virtual solutions in our business operations. This will be the biggest change. It is there already, we are practicing it already and it will become much more sophisticated.
We are also preparing for a soft opening of the office. We will introduce an app that will help us understand how to best allocate office space in order to maintain social distancing. We will use apps so that people can reserve a chair or a desk, and then we can make sure that the opposite desk will be free. I see that virtual business solutions will have a greater impact on our business conduct in the future.
There is a lot of talk about how this pandemic will change the world beyond the workplace. Beyond the dreams and fantasies, how do you think it will impact the way the world operates?
If you look at Venice, it is a prominent example. Since many industries have stopped and there are no tourists, you can see that the environment is recovering and healing. It shows us that human beings are the main factor for why this is happening in the world.
I don’t think we will continue as we did before and I’m happy that as Siemens, we are producing a lot of innovative digital and environmental solutions, so this will be a bigger emphasis. Siemens is a world leader in environmentally friendly procedures, promoting and supporting digitalisation on the one hand, and on the other developing environmentally friendly products to support decarbonisation. This will help further reduce any environmental issues.
Do Siemens’ competitive advantages stem more from digitalisation and renewable technologies or from the company’s strong natural gas positioning?
This is a major advantage of Siemens: We have a very broad portfolio. The low oil and gas prices are an example of how Siemens can support its customers. We have seen the oil price drop below negative, which is unbelievable. We will spend more time talking to our customers about processes, and how through our solutions we can support them in making their processes even more lean and efficient and help them survive in these difficult times. Siemens is a large and strong company, and healthy from a cashflow point of view.
During a crisis like this it is very important for companies to have cash. But it is also important to have the right portfolio and the right people in place to cope with such situations. I think Siemens is quite well positioned. Having said this, we will see companies unable to survive this crisis – that is unfortunately guaranteed.
What has been the most challenging thing you’ve had to face in the past few weeks as the leader of the company in Kuwait?
Our biggest challenge was to keep our people safe in a very vulnerable environment. Since we work in critical infrastructure, our colleagues must be onsite with other people, potentially increasing their exposure to Covid-19. In order to mitigate the risks, we implemented clear policies, so that they could only go out if they were using masks, gloves, glasses and hand sanitiser while maintaining social distancing. We have been very clear in informing our colleagues about these rules. We have had no cases so far, and I will do everything from a management point of view to keep our people healthy.
That is one of the things we have learned: Communication is very important at this time. I have implemented two measures. One is to have a Covid-19 call with our management team every Sunday morning. Then, on top of that, I take one hour every morning to call individuals to ask how they are and see how they and their families are coping and staying safe.
It’s important they know that the management is supportive, staying in Kuwait and caring for our customers – because that is why we, as an organisation, are here at the end of the day. We are helping them to survive during this difficult time.