International auditing firm, PricewaterhouseCooper’s (PwC), has found that many companies are looking to technology and private sector investments in order to maintain survival.
In its latest Middle East Capital Projects and Infrastructure Survey, conducted between February and April 2020, PwC has captured the evolving sentiment of industry leaders. The survey’s results come in light of the progressive influences of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on the strategic thinking of these leaders.
The data was gathered during a “pre-COVID-19” period before 3 March 2020, the time frame relevant to the Middle East, and a subsequent “during-COVID-19” period after 3 March 2020.
Sharply falling oil prices and the impact of pandemic have resulted in the Middle East’s capital projects and infrastructure industry navigating a perilous market landscape. The current set of circumstances has forced either the cancellation or temporary suspension of many projects.
The survey outlines how the economic shock due to COVID-19, and the lower oil prices, has compelled the industry to address long-standing issues, including lax project management and inadequate technology.
When asked to name the top key challenges facing organisations in the region, 52% of respondents identified risk and change management as one of their organisation’s five most pressing internal challenges. A total of 40% of respondents identified financial performance as a major internal challenge, while 37% of respondents said funding and financing remained an issue.
Externally, 57% of respondents identified delayed payments from clients which did not vary much between the pre-3 March and post-3 March results. This underscores the degree to which delayed payments are an enduring issue for the industry, due to the length of supply chains.
On the other hand, there was a significant difference between the pre- and post-3 March results regarding market volatility, ranked second (50%) in the overall survey as a major external challenge.
The survey found that the pandemic has pushed organisations to digitalise functions and operations. A total of 67% of those surveyed believe digital innovation will either transform (29%) or effect significant change (38%) to the infrastructure market over the next two years.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also sharpened the perceptions about the top five technologies to disrupt the industry in the next two year. Two thirds (66%) of the post-3 March 2020 sample indentify Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning in their top five, compared with just 50% in the pre-COVID-19 sample.
“The overall message from the survey is clear: technology will be the major enabler for organisations as they optimise costs and improve productivity in order to maximise value from capital portfolios and address the daunting challenges that lie ahead,” said Andrew Stead, PwC Middle East Capital Projects Services Partner.
A total of 83% of the survey’s respondents agree on the importance of private sector funding, in line with the 2018 survey, where 80% of respondents noted this. Survey respondents are acutely conscious that successful projects will depend more than ever on deeper private sector involvement and greater public investment efficiency. This is particularly given the impact of oil prices and the global pandemic on state budgets.