Laurent Farge, general manager at ALEC FITOUT, on how digital transformation is the key to success in the future and how a solid crisis management plan must be put in place for uncertain times

By Roma Arora

The first impression is the last impression. For this, clients rely on fit-out services more than ever. Fit-out sector is considered as the backbone of the construction as well as design industry. One of the most promising and leading names in the MENA region is ALEC FITOUT— they specialise in the fit-out and refurbishment of five-star hotels and resorts, cultural, immersive, and luxury mixed-use developments.

Laurent Farge, general manager at ALEC FITOUT

Leading the brand to the highest standards of leadership and workmanship is Laurent Farge, general manager of ALEC FITOUT, who has been with the company since 2008, bringing with him 24 years’ experience of delivering luxury interior fit-out projects in Europe, the Levant, and the GCC. Over the years, Farge has played a crucial role in the growth and development of ALEC FITOUT across the region. The COVID-19 outbreak is an unprecedented situation for governments, companies, and societies. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has affected everyone globally, no matter what industry we are in.

Farge says: “Many projects across the region will suffer delays due to COVID-19. ALEC FITOUT operational teams are working closely with client and consultants on a project-by- project basis to mitigate time impact wherever possible. We will continue to focus on delivering luxury fit-out and refurbishment interior solutions for five-star hotels, mixed-use developments, and cultural projects in UAE as well as targeting new projects across the MENA region.”

Waldorf Astoria, Dubai

In such challenging times, the events have been put on hold and postponed like Expo 2020. ALEC FITOUT was doing large-scale exhibition fit-out contracts for Expo 2020, including Mobility Pavilion, KSA Pavilion, Opportunity Pavilion, as well as building the ENOC Pavilion. What is the current situation now and how is it affecting your business? Farge answers: “ALEC FITOUT is very proud to be involved with EXPO 2020 and our teams are delivering a variety of exhibition fit-out contracts where our scope of works combines traditional fit-out with AV, media, theming, and content. Thankfully our projects there such as Mobility Pavilion, KSA Pavilion, Opportunity Pavilion, and ENOC are continuing with all project stakeholders keen to complete the works. In terms of impact, there will obviously be a time impact due to COVID-19, however, our site and support teams are working closely with Expo 2020 and our respective client teams to mitigate wherever possible and focus on delivery of world-class immersive and experiential solutions that will be a major part of the overall Expo 2020 visitor experience” The fit-out firm is working on a variety of projects at Dubai International Airport as well as luxury fit-out at the new Mandarin Oriental Hotel at Wasl Tower.

The firm is also completing major fit-out packages at Address Skyview by Emaar and also the luxury residential project, Marina Gate in Dubai Marina. In terms of COVID-19 measures, the ALEC FITOUT core value is their people and their safety. The operational teams are working very closely with the ALEC Group Health and Safety team to ensure a safe working environment and preventative practices are carried out on all projects irrespective of size or location. “We maintain consistent communication with project stakeholders including client and consultant teams to ensure all practical measures are in place and are strictly adhered to on-site,” informs Farge.

Caesars Palace

Amid the outbreak of coronavirus all over the world, digitisation is gaining prominence and is crucial for innovation. A large majority of players in the industry today recognise how digitization is affecting every part of their business too. Farge echoes the same and believes that digitisation is the key to succeed. ALEC is driving a number of initiatives to accelerate its digital transformation. In addition to having an innovation department which capably drives and assists with over 100 innovative initiatives per year, they have numerous developments occurring in our Digital Transformation space. Farge shares: “We are digitising our core through the implementation of an ERP process which aims to connect over 53 applications, 219 core processes, scores of departments/business units/sites and employees. The pandemic has forced us to introduce technology not previously considered for our industry. This technology has shown great potential to provide long term benefits.”

IT spend will change to incorporate digital advancements post COVID-19 situation and some of the technologies use cases are:

• Video and audio conferencing (Microsoft Teams) will replace the physical meetings as it showed huge productivity increase during this situation

• Enable mobility solutions will digitise all physical paper processes at project sites.

• AI and computer vision will provide a new frontier in the construction across multiple use cases like automating construction labour attendance, detect social distancing between labour, safety detection features and progress updates using images’ comparison

• IOT (Internet of Things) and wearable will provide new sensors’ solutions to track all construction projects’ objects (workforce, machines, cranes, hoists).

Farge has great business acumen and he foresees that there will be some interesting changes in the field of fit-out in the coming years. A major trend in the coming years will be the combination of traditional fit-out with immersive technologies such as AV, media, theming, and content. Farge elaborates: “A memorable visitor user experience is highly valued by operators and clientele and as such we will see immersive experiences integrated across retail, hospitality, and leisure solutions. As a result of this new emerging trend, we also expect to see more negotiated design-build projects with repeat clientele. Already we are working closely with our clientele to create (or receive an approved concept) and then ALEC FITOUT develops the design intent, budget and specialist packages as part of a single contract – thus facilitating timely delivery of a highly bespoke and specialist solution for the client to an agreed target budget.”

Drift Restaurant and poolside area, Dubai

Farge’s focus is on quality and working on various kinds of projects that are challenging and exciting. They’ve been recently awarded a major luxury five-star hotel fit-out in Dubai. Farge is optimistic that there will be a lot of hotel refurbishments projects that would boost the business. He comments: “With the unfortunate delay of Expo 2020, we expect to see some more hotel refurbishment projects in Dubai in particular in the coming months. Our team is also targeting new projects in KSA – we expect to see a variety of large-scale fit-out projects there across hospitality, leisure, and entertainment sectors.” The global outbreak of the coronavirus is creating significant challenges for the organisations of all sizes. Farge is a visionary and feels that once this pandemic is over, the world would come out stronger. He says there some great learnings here as well.

“The foremost lesson to learn is that we have to have a solid crisis management plan in place that prepare us for all scenarios. A dedicated crisis team and a solid structure to support them is very crucial. Also, there have to be the measures in place to make all the employees feel at ease including a communication structure to be transparent with the situation and the decisions taken by the company. Last but not the least, develop and implement different tools and technologies to help your employees and your whole supply chain navigate through this challenging time.” “We believe employees will become more agile and comfortable with technology. Innovation will be a key driver and we will all develop a better sense of urgency and become more efficient. Speed will increase and we will become less wasteful,” signs off Farge.