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22 Nov 2023

Uncover the secrets of running a successful Global Engineering Centre

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With the rise of global markets and ever-increasing demand for highly advanced engineering solutions, operating global engineering centres in relatively low-cost countries, such as India, can be an invaluable asset to any organisation. As well as the cost savings, operating this model has proven benefits in terms of increased efficiency and improved resource utilisation and in today’s digital age, the barriers to operational efficiency across borders are almost non-existent. However, juggling multiple cultures, languages, time zones and regulations brings a unique set of challenges when managing a global engineering centre. In this article, we hear from Lakshmi Venkatesh, as she discusses both the benefits and challenges that come with running such an operation in order to give you valuable insights into what it takes to effectively run one successfully.

Establishing a GEC in India has been a business boon in numerous ways. Our location provides access to an abundant pool of some of the world’s best technical talent, who are proficient in English and can seamlessly merge into any global project. This demographic dividend, coupled with a vibrant, affordable ecosystem, has propelled us to heights we hadn't imagined and seen the team grow to over 600 people in just 18 months.

The blended rate of engineering that comes with global teams work-sharing with India has helped global organisations like Exxon, Shell, and BP, as well as most engineering companies, stay competitive and successfully execute projects. These major players have made substantial investments in developing teams in India, as they recognise the unparalleled value it offers.

Our GEC in Mumbai partners with engineering teams within Kent entities across the globe, including Asia Pacific, the Middle East, UK, and the Americas. Our 600 strong team includes experts in process, mechanical, piping, electrical, instrumentation and civil engineering as well as project support functions such as procurement, project control and document control. However, with the vast array of benefits opening up a GEC can offer, it's crucial to remember the challenges we face.

Tackling global project complexities

One of the key challenges is understanding the specific intricacies in the variety of work we undertake from brownfield engineering work, greenfield detailed engineering or the more conceptual FEED contracts. All of these require different types and levels and collaboration between the local teams and the engineering centre. Then there’s adhering to region-specific codes and standards, not to mention any client specific company standards. It's an intricate dance we must participate in, ensuring the right competency is met, and site-specific requirements are understood. This, coupled with the use of specialised software tools on different projects, such as AVEVA, Smart Plant or AutoPlant, presents a complex but exciting challenge.

Navigating team dynamics and cultural differences

Internal stakeholder expectations can be high - but rightfully so. When working with a GEC, the local office wants to ensure team members with the right skillset are deployed to their projects and will continue on that project to completion. In order to make the collaboration between global teams seamless, there needs to be a fundamental recognition of the important roles everyone plays plus the agility to work across time zones, respect for cultural differences, and clarity in defining roles and responsibilities are paramount. At Kent, one of our guiding principles is to be visible, accessible and kind, and this couldn’t be demonstrated more than looking at how our teams collaborate across borders. The differences between cultures can present unique challenges. I’ve often found that when issues arise it will be because of a gap in communication rather than technical competency. Simple words and phrases can be interpreted differently across the continents. It’s not enough to simply communicate, you need to build relationships with your teams across the globe to truly understand each other.

Maximising profitability

Running a GEC profitably presents its own obstacles – managing the number, mix, and expectations of employees, and attracting talent in a competitive market, to name a few. However, we've found our own ways to navigate these waters. Cross-training has become our backbone in maintaining a balance between resource availability and project demands. Having resources who are able to operate in different environments brings flexibility when resourcing to suit the project mix and allows more agility through project forecasting. This approach provides career development opportunities, creating an environment that helps control attrition and meets employee aspirations, offering more variety to their work. It’s a win-win situation for everyone and one we are very passionate about.

Competing for top talent

As we continue to improve our brand value and create a positive work environment, attracting the right talent becomes an enjoyable challenge. This has led to the evolution of our selection process. “Recruit for attitude and train for skills” is a useful dictum we follow, so we now place specific emphasis on traits of integrity, initiative and enthusiasm during our selection process. A good referral scheme has proved successful in attracting employees who blend seamlessly with our organisation's vibe.

In a market where there is a huge demand for talent, our compensation and benefits team work tirelessly to ensure that our salary levels remain competitive with the market. We also maintain strong and trusted relationships with reliable subcontractors to help manage short-term peak demands.

Offering more than just low-cost

The demand for global engineering services is growing, spurred on by the high-quality, cost-effective solutions they provide. However, Kent’s GEC is gaining a reputation not just as a low-cost model but through our ability to provide technical solutions, value engineering, safety considerations, and process standardisation/automation. We have welcomed to Mumbai some of our global, clients from the US to Australia, and they have left with the utmost confidence that our team is the right team to meet the challenges of their projects.

In a rapidly changing world, our Global Engineering Centre is not just about surviving, it’s about thriving! It has been an incredible journey thus far, and we only look forward to what comes next.

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