Blog29 October 2020
Listening carefully to the sector, mapping out the members’ ambitions and what they have to offer, identifying opportunities and connecting these to tailor-made support. These are Boaz Neugebauer’s main focuses. Neugebauer, International Business Development Manager at BAM Infraconsult, recently joined the Board of the Netherlands Water Partnership (NWP). "Combining where to do business and how to profit from it is vital."
‘The first questions we have to ask ourselves are whether we are welcome somewhere, whether there is a need for what we offer and how we can capitalise on opportunities. We need to keep filling the pipeline.
When I was invited to join the Board of NWP, I did not need to think about it long and accepted immediately. I have worked in the sector all my life and I would like to share my experiences, especially when it comes to business development. I am now exploring the full breadth of the water sector, and in particular the segment I represent, the contractors, which is united in ‘Bouwend Nederland’ (Building Netherlands). I want to know more about who I represent, so I will start by reaching out to them. This market segment varies from big multinationals to small innovative companies. I am interested to know what they offer, their international ambitions, and what they need to achieve their ambitions.
Dutch water contractors have to deal with fierce international competition. Several important Dutch players have decided to withdraw from parts of the global market. Earlier this year, Royal BAM Group announced that it will focus on projects within Europe. I work for BAM's consultancy and engineering firm, BAM Infraconsult, also known as Delta Marine Consultants (DMC), and we largely focus on BAM’s home markets to support BAM’s civil engineering companies.
The Dutch water sector needs to focus internationally on sectors where it can distinguish itself and offer added value. Competing with countries such as China for major mainstream projects is virtually impossible. In other words: we must stop stacking stones and aim for contracts that require high-quality technology, higher margins and less risk. We are still ahead in important areas. We have been living below sea level for almost a thousand years and we handle it well. We understand how it works. We have been building experience ever since and are still leading the way. We also have a lot to offer the world when it comes to drinking water purification and wastewater treatment.
We have the best chance in markets where smart and/or complex solutions are needed. For example, why make dikes higher and wider all the time? The Room for the river concept could be a far better idea, especially if it is combined with sensor technology to continuously monitor flood safety in detail. This enables you to offer an adequate margin of safety, no more and no less, which may turn out to be just as safe at less cost in the long run. Infrastructure asset management is an excellent Dutch export product. It is of interest to many deltas worldwide, all of which are having to deal with the impact of climate change in their own way. We can distinguish ourselves by offering solutions that are sustainable, well managed and maintained, and are combined with local capacity building and robust governance.
The Netherlands has a clear international water ambition: to increase the water security and water safety of more than 100 million people worldwide by 2030, thereby contributing to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Public and private partners in the Dutch water sector must unite in this. It requires a more coherent use of Dutch water-related financial instruments. We need to better coordinate the demand from abroad, the sector’s offerings and these instruments. The point is to make a set of instruments like this clear, practical and usable. In my opinion, there is room for improvement.
Most of the countries targeted by Dutch international water ambitions have limited resources. A considerable part of the international competition is therefore not fought on technology, but on financing, which is often driven by geopolitical interests. It is virtually impossible for individual companies to compete with such powers on their own. On the one hand there is the ambition to help the Dutch water sector move forward, but on the other, to act in accordance with international trade agreements. But while we are trying to do this, the competition from other countries complies with these agreements more flexibly. We need to get out of the rut. We should not be the only goody two-shoes in town all the time. Of course, it is a two-way street, the business community should not lean back and wait for the government to act. But that goes without saying: if they do that, they are not true businesses.
Business can still be developed despite the coronavirus. With all the disasters that are upon us, the Covid-19 crisis has proven that it is quite possible to fly much less and that you do not have to cross half the globe for every seminar. The pandemic affects everyone, and I notice that clients accept new ways of doing business. We are now holding more meetings and I see this myself. In my new position at BAM, I had 40 introductory meetings, all online. On the one hand, the contact is distant, but on the other hand, very personal. You often see each other in a private setting and that can immediately create a click between you and the other person. That said, I admit that there is a limit to how many Zoom and Teams meetings you can handle in a day, especially if they are important and you really have to perform 200 percent.
The crisis also offers opportunities through various Covid-19 recovery plans. In Western countries, extensive support packages have already been presented and it is essential to prioritise smart and future-proof projects instead of succumbing to the temptation to implement already existing plans to build traditional infrastructure. And for that we need the well-filled pipeline I mentioned earlier, with projects in which the Netherlands can excel. Again: where to do business and how to benefit from it.’