Standing on a roadside in Qatar where camel once passed, I watch hundreds of trucks roll by.
I am with Philippe Garnier, corporate plant manager for QDVC, a thriving local construction company. Philippe is responsible for all the machines and vehicles needed to build the new 14-lane orbital highway that will circle the city of Doha. Ten years ago there was nothing here but sand. Building this particular 40 kilometer stretch will take four years, he tells me.
“When people drive down this highway,” he says, “it will be just another road. No one will be thinking of the thousands of lives touched by these roadworks – the men working under the desert sun and their families far away.”
Philippe thinks about those lives every day. Besides the machinery, he is also responsible for the safety and welfare of the thousands of workers and all the visitors on every one of QDVC’s projects around the country.
Massive construction cranes dot the skyline around us. These behemoths are notoriously dangerous if they fall over or crash into one another. But there is not the slightest danger of that happening on any QDVC site, thanks to a 3D anti-collision software designed specifically to save human lives.
“We’ve been using the solution for seven years and have not had a single accident or injury in all that time,” says Philippe.
Saving human lives
Powered by in-memory computing technology, the innovation is the brainchild of Dr. Severin Kezeu, one of the world’s first IoT pioneers. Back in 1991 he realized that all equipment could be controlled through IP addresses on the Internet, and that all things could communicate with each other in that way.
“It’s a matter of tagging everything – machines and equipment – and giving people wearable devices or smartphones. You just need an IP address,” he says, making it sound very simple indeed.
Severin met with lots of resistance along the way. At that time, only the military was interested in anti-collision solutions. There was also the question of financing. Just one network card cost $100,000. Twenty-five years later, every industry has been transformed by the Internet of Everything.
“My goal is to save lives. It was really unacceptable for me to see how many people were dying every day on construction sites. That gave me the inspiration to build a solution to avoid accidents and fatalities. Besides safety, the software provides a critical layer of security and helps speed up construction schedules.”
Severin’s biggest project ever was a construction site in Saudi Arabia involving 250 cranes and 30,000 workers. It proceeded without a hitch.
Treating people right
Human habitation in Qatar dates back 50,000 years. Today, 88% of Qatar’s 2.6 million inhabitants consists of expats and migrant workers.
The country is gearing up for the FIFA World Cup 2022 – the first Arab country ever to host the event, raising plenty of controversy in the process. One of the issues has been the treatment of workers on construction sites. According to Amnesty International and other organizations, conditions are appalling.
I mention this topic to Philippe, and ask if we can have a look at the workers’ camp. To my surprise, he says yes. “I can’t speak for other companies,” he says, “but our workers live in the Club Med of camps.”
We drive the 30 kilometers from the construction site to the QDVC Campus City. Four thousand workers live in rooms for two or four men. Air-conditioned buses are lined up ready to drive them back and forth to their shifts.
“The men work eight-hour shifts and get paid overtime if necessary. We work around the clock. If temperatures rise over 38° Celsius, we stop,” says Philippe.
The campus is as sustainable as possible: it generates its own power, bores its own wells for water, and subsidizes local vegetable and livestock farmers. The canteen caters to culinary tastes from India, Africa, Thailand, the Philippines, and Arab countries. There is a mosque on site. The men have access to WiFi in recreation rooms and plenty of sports facilities.
Diversifying the economy
Many countries made their fortunes in the oil and gas era, but those that invested in the welfare of their people and diversified their economy over the years reaped the most benefits. According to the World Happiness Report 2017, published by the UN Sustainable Solutions Network, Norway, for example, is the happiest country is the world, in spite of the drop in oil prices. Qatar, with the highest income per capita in the world, ranks 37 out of 150 countries measured.
For the past few decades, economic diversification has been high on the agenda of all the countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Economic transformation is not a simple undertaking. It requires a holistic approach incorporating a variety of measures. Saudi Arabia, for example, has announced its Vision 2030 plan, which aims to reduce the kingdom’s reliance on oil. One of the goals is to generate 35% of economic output from small and medium enterprises.
Experts advise countries on the diversification path to consider three things: upgrade local enterprises so they can become world-class competitors, use digitization to leapfrog economic development, and finally, build a skilled labor force capable of continuous learning.
Training the next generation
Besides providing humane living conditions, QDVC invests heavily in training.
“Recruitment is always a challenge,” says Philippe. “The turnover rate is high; we fluctuate from 15,000 to 9,000 workers as some projects end and new ones begin. Twenty percent of our people are highly skilled engineers, the others are operators and laborers. Using sophisticated software and systems requires continuous training and workshops for the operators, so that is a big part of our program.”
I look at the hundreds of people manning the construction cranes and machines and trucks as we drive down the road on our way to the airport. They may not know there are people like Philippe and Severin who are looking out their safety and welfare, but their lives are certainly changing with each new effort to improve their conditions or teach them new skills.
That is the way of progress.
For more on how the IoT is changing business, see The Internet of Things and Digital Transformation: A Tale of Four Industries.