Behind the scenes of Abu Dhabi’s tourism industry procurement setup

Behind the scenes of Abu Dhabi’s tourism industry procurement setup

Established in October 2012, the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT) was founded with a core value; to build a tourism industry in the region and to ensure the survival of the emirate’s culture and heritage.

It is a core value achieved through the creation of infrastructure across three key sectors: tourism, culture and national library.

But for Waleed Saeed Al Saeedi, Procurement Department Director, the true value that the DCT can provide for Abu Dhabi stretches beyond three simple categories.

“An organisation adds value in financial, social, reputation and other ways,” says Al Saeedi. “We ensure the survival of the emirate’s heritage through tangible means, such as the preservation of buildings, but also intangible ways such as poetry and even heritage performances.”

The DCT operate in accordance to, and fully supports, the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030. The vision was designed to guide the Emirate of Abu Dhabi’s growth and development, enabling the region to become a secure and confident society that aims to develop a competitive, sustainable and globally open economy.

The growth of the federation

Born in the late 1970s, Al Saeedi has “lived” the modern history of the UAE, he himself being the same age as the federation. Over the course of his career, Al Saeedi has seen first-hand the evolution and growth of Abu Dhabi.

Throughout his career, Al Saeed spent time as a civil engineer and contract engineering before moving into senior procurement roles. During his early career, this exposed Al Saeedi to the procurement function, understanding its significance and its impact on financial operations but also the key role it plays ultimately in the success, and failure, of an organisation.

Most significantly, during his time at the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) Al Saeedi was presented with a unique opportunity to build a procurement function from the ground up.

“It is not often that someone has the opportunity to build a department in effect, help build an industry,” he says. 

“At ENEC there were managers and specialists from all over the world, all committed to the project and all experts. This gave me, and other UAE nationals, exposure to processes, methods, technologies and best practices that would have been difficult to acquire in a more mature, settled industry.”

After 18 years working in procurement in the energy sector and achieving FCIPS certification and developing his procurement competency, Al Saeedi was presented with a new opportunity and a new challenge with DCT.

“DCT presented an opportunity to be involved in significant government initiatives – for the non-oil, or post-energy economy,” he says.

“DCT had just been formed out of the merger of Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority and Abu Dhabi Culture and Heritage Department, so there was the challenge of building a new procurement function in what was really a new organisation.”

The key role of tourism

The tourism industry has been identified as a critical component of this vision and Al Saeedi is all too aware of the key role that DCT will play in developing and enabling this industry.

“Tourism impacts the emirate on a visible
scale, through attractions such as water parks, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Qasr Al Hosn, the Al Ain Museum and others,” he says. “But it’s not enough to have interesting sites alone. We need ports for cruise ships, roads, hotels, medical services. Building all this creates growth opportunities for local firms, jobs for people and opens the door for international partnerships. As Abu Dhabi grows, so does the nation.”

In its ambition to preserve the heritage of Abu Dhabi, Al Saeedi is keen to stress that it is important to understand that culture is not limited to the past. The Abu Dhabi government places great emphasis on proactive, modern cultural programmes and since its establishment, DCT is leading the development of what Al Saeedi describes as a “different kind of economy”.

“It’s one that is knowledge intensive, internationally connected and involved with the rest of the world on a very different platform than say that of the energy sector,” he says. “It will require new skills and resources, but most of all, a new kind of people.”

The Louvre Abu Dhabi: Procurement prowess

In November 2017, on the Saadiyat Island Cultural District in Abu Dhabi, the doors were opened at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a museum that was designed to “house the aesthetic expressions of different civilisation and cultures, from the most ancient to the best in contemporary artworks”.

Described as a “gift to the world”, the Louvre Abu Dhabi encapsulates the vision of DCT, a celebration of the old and the new that brings together cultures from all around the world.

“It should be seen not as something for Abu Dhabi or the UAE, but something that we have, which we want everyone to come and enjoy, and learn from,” says Al Saeedi.

Built as part of a partnership between the Abu Dhabi and French governments, the Louvre represents a first of sorts. France and UAE have a long history of partnerships in the energy, defence and retail sectors, but the Louvre is one of the first, and certainly the largest, in the culture and tourism industry.

But it is not merely a tourist attraction. “Of course, the Louvre, other museums we have worked on as well as other historic sites will provide tourist attractions, they have already and will continue to enable other tangible benefits,” says Al Saeedi.

“They will have a profound effect on the local economy and not simply tourist revenue. To a certain extent, they will create a new economy, as an industry or business sector cannot operate without an adequately resourced supply base, including people, facilities and infrastructure.”

Supply chain and a changing nation

The Louvre Abu Dhabi represents one of many large-scale projects that the DCT has and will continue to deliver across the region and as Procurement Director, working with international partners, contractors and suppliers, Al Saeedi knows all too well the challenges that come with promise in delivering projects of such magnitude.

DCT is also working on two more museums in Abu Dhabi as well as major heritage site restorations and upgrades, such as Qasr Al Hosn and the restoration of historic fonts in Al Ain.

For Al Saeedi, the challenge was in the locality. “Abu Dhabi’s supply chain is different from those in many other countries. First, because in some cases, very little of what we need is produced or created here, it has to be imported,” he says. “We are a small country, the local economy cannot always support a full-time population of castle restoration specialists, symphony orchestras or book cataloguers, for example.”

As a nation historically of consumers, procurement in Abu Dhabi has often favoured importing materials, expertise and equipment from outside of the country and this is common across not only Abu Dhabi but the wider UAE.

But, as Al Saeedi points to, as Abu Dhabi continues to grow economically and a steady demand begins to build, this will change.

Working on projects with partners from all around the world does bring with it an inescapable challenge surrounding communication and logistics. DCT’s partner networks spans Asia, South Africa, Europe and North America and so projects and programmes are dependent on the successful working with these suppliers.

“Supply chains are not pipelines such as what are used for oil,” he says. “Materials and goods cannot be pumped smoothly and so each stage needs to be managed.”

At the start of any project, the procurement function of DCT approaches the whole process as part of an integrated team to manage the multiple stages and elements of the process. This involves working with those partners and understanding their objectives and, importantly, their capabilities.

Critical communication

An important aspect for Al Saeedi is to establish and capture milestones and work packages, allowing him and his team to configure the process internally so that DCT has the necessary resources available through to handover.

“In a large project, these milestones include the design phase in which there can be many iterations, development and construction, right through to pre-handover, commissioning and delivery,” he says.

“What we then do is build lists of requirements and schedules, identify lead times and risk levels and work with the project team to establish the procurement plan.”

This is where that communication component is key and DCT has utilised a procurement dashboard for performance planning and tracking, allowing it and end users to see into the cycle status, PO status, spending and supplier engagement. This dashboard, allows DCT to access what Al Saeedi calls as the “most used functionality” in a project – status updates.

“What we have now is the first stage in eventual automation of procurement and supply management. It will free up our people for more value adding work and a more strategic focus,” he says.

“The dashboard is really about information sharing to support executive teamwork and decision making. A great deal of the time and effort in managing procurement and supply for a large project is in working directly with suppliers and end users to achieve understanding and a negotiated win-win outcome. Thus, managing large scale procurements is as much about networking and relationships as it is about transactional tasks.”

Achieving procurement value

Having a forensic knowledge of the supplier landscape is an essential quality for any procurement leader, with Al Saeedi aware of how a reliable and cost-effective supply chain can make a huge difference to an organisation.

Ultimately, it comes down to covering all bases in order to do the best possible deal for the business - in his case DCT.

“One area where all procurement functions can face issues is achieving value for the organisation,” he adds.

“Our role is not only to supply, but to do so on the best possible terms. To do this, we have to know our markets and supplier costs, standard payment terms and best practices.

“For example, a bidder for restoring old books submits his commercial proposal: it is lower than the four other bidders, but whether it is best value is another question. “

“We have to know market prices, and we have to have at least a general conception of the bidder’s costs and breakdown, so that we can negotiate from a position of strength and knowledge.”

While commercial viability is vital, Al Saeedi believes there are a multitude of considerations to take into account before any final contracts are struck.

“The bidder with the lowest price may not be one that the end users prefer, because of some technical aspects of the service that they are proposing,” he explains.

“Our job then is to question, challenge and understand enough of the technical nature of the purchase as well as the commercial terms, raw materials costs and other inputs.

“This is not always easy for common items; it requires considerable agility and resourcefulness when it is something new, particularly something that we may only buy once every few years.”

Powered by partnerships

Supplier relationships are essential to DCT.

Abu Dhabi depends on global trade networks. DCT’s mission, as Al Saeedi notes, is to bring the world to Abu Dhabi, and to create ways in which Abu Dhabi can engage the rest of the world.

“There is a strong focus for us on delivering to global standards, whether they be art, entertainment, the built environment or intangibles such as poetry and heritage performance,” says Al Saeedi.

“We are fortunate to have one of the most varied and interesting supplier communities. Because many of our local vendors have their own overseas suppliers and local subcontractors, the chain has many layers.”

The growing importance of the procurement function

Over the course of his career, Al Saeedi has seen the growth of the region, the industry and with it the growth of the influence of the procurement function.

Al Saeedi believes that now, as the industry becomes more and more mature, transparent and robust, organisations such as DCT need to go beyond technology.

A key objective of DCT and the Abu Dhabi Government has been the support and enablement of SMEs in the region.

“Technology will enable us to identify, register and include SMEs, something that we cannot do today without enlarging our headcount – it is very hard to do it efficiently,” he says. “Imagine the possibilities if all government entities can cooperate in this initiative; the SME sector will be able to access public procurement and we can build mutually beneficial supply partnerships.”

“But possibly the largest influence we can have is in the transparency of public procurement, ethical compliance and sustainability because of the way in which information can be studied, compared and used to drive policy agendas through the supply chain.”

The increasing influence of Abu Dhabi

In such a short space of time, the DCT has become an integral part in the Abu Dhabi Vision 2030. As the region continues to grow, Al Saeedi calls back to his earlier point, that culture is not limited to the past.

“We are a young country, but in the same breath we are ancient,” he says. “Our history, culture and way of life are all much older than the federation. As we continue to deliver these projects and grow the region, we are creating opportunities, jobs and international partnerships.

“We feel we must preserve our heritage for future generations by simultaneously embracing those future generations.”