In demand in Saudi ArabiaJuly 30, 2020
Edward David Brown, general manager of Britam Arabia, talks to The Energy Year about positive changes in doing business due to the Covid-19 pandemic and segments with potential in local manufacturing. Britam Arabia provides emergency fire and rescue services to industrial projects related to oil and gas.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic changed your company’s operations?
This has been one of our best months for business. We had 250 members of our workforce including management under lockdown and focused on our business in ways we never had to before. We did an incredible amount of work establishing more solid foundations.
Revising standard operating procedures, such as HR policy, is often left to when you have spare time and can be overlooked. In the past three to four months, we have been able to completely rewrite our standard operating procedures, review and refresh our marketing campaign, and redraft our HR policies. It has been an enormously positive experience for the business; we will come out of the crisis much stronger.
We are well along in terms of digitisation. We already do remote work since projects are done thousands of kilometres away. However, we have refined our remote working. We are now routinely using Microsoft Teams and Zoom.
We continue to operate 24 hours a day and seven days a week because we are an emergency service. Sites are focusing on making themselves as efficient and effective as possible. We have not missed a single day since the lockdown began, and we are enormously proud of that.
A lot of other companies went through the same process. We have never been busier and now receive one or two requests for proposals (RFPs) per week. Many businesses have reviewed their continuity plans and considered emergency fire cover. The lockdown gave clients the opportunity to write detailed requests for proposals that they had been putting off.
We are focusing on Vision 2030 projects. However, the drop in the oil price may influence these. The pandemic itself would not have a serious effect on these projects, but the oil price does. Projects were budgeted for a certain oil price and may now be unaffordable.
We have strong ambitions. We want to secure two to three more projects by Q3 2020. Having Covid-19 on top of Ramadan and a drop in the oil price is a perfect storm for decision makers. No one is ready to make decisions in this environment. However, we are expecting an uptick in activity once things go back to normal.
How can Saudi Arabia enhance its manufacturing capabilities?
Saudi Arabia needs to develop an industrial base for firefighting equipment. These products are not highly technical. There is one plant in Jeddah, but they only assemble parts that are imported from Austria. There is no reason why they could not set something up here.
It would be better to have a local franchise of a global brand. A Saudi version of Rosenbauer products, for example, might take a long time for people to trust. Additionally, franchising would massively reduce costs and improve aftersales, which are generally poor. Aftersales teams are always underfunded and there are never enough people to cover the remote areas particularly.
Is Saudi Arabia open to smart technologies in fire prevention?
Absolutely. The technology is there, but it is incredibly expensive. All sorts of infrared cameras exist and can be found in a lot of European and US emergency services because they are government funded. However, if you want to have a mature fire service, you must pay for it. Aramco has its own fire service that is very well funded. Especially after the Iranian attack, spending on fire security is at the forefront of their minds.
We unfortunately will never be able to compete with firms such as Aramco. The basic salary of a fireman at Aramco is around SAR 12,000 [USD 3,200] per month. We pay captains with five to 10 years of experience between SAR 7,000 [USD 1,870] and SAR 9,000 [USD 2,400] per month.