digital infrastructure

The customer mentality keeps on changing under the pressure of internet technologies advances. Customer expectations jumped, while traditional engineering services providers' ability to match them actually keeps on dwindling.

Engineering like any other type of business activity shall enrich the customer experience, demonstrate unmatched level of professionalism, and, of course, be profitable. By far the most important part of the customer experience is trust out of first impression gained navigating the internet.

One might guess that researching the purchase of the multi-million-dollar desalination plant shall be much more engaging than ordering the 20$ pizza which, unlike the former, is fully trackable on smartphone today. But the project is much more complicated; the single menu click is not enough. What will the first impression be if no company today offers interactive web tools (menus) guiding the customer through her/his requirements sharpening?

We are accustomed to Google search. Surveys say that the customers are 55 - 75 percent of the way through the decision-making process before they contact companies for information.

Ironically, megaprojects have not yet been discovered by the internet.

At best, they are represented by one-page leaflets describing the multi-million-dollar projects. At worst, the customer is forced to contact the company through "Contact Us" which takes substantially more than the 9 seconds – average time limit to catch the customer attention. Long list of the world technology providers (over 30) makes chances of the customer return very slim.

The customer is curious to know how the company can maintain the highest expertise level (to call itself a technology provider) if it has been awarded the last similar project two or three years ago?

If the company valuation is on the same level with the project cost, the customer will definitely search web for any news from the engineering offices and the project construction sites as well as company quarterly financial reports.

To the customer, silence reigning on the internet and Linkedin forums may have only one plausible explanation - no lead technology provider has any obvious advantage worth talking about.

The customer righteously expects more free browsing of the projects history, feedbacks and "likes" from the former customers, satisfaction expressed on the forums and after-sales history - just not to be another case in a sad metrics saying that over 50% of the infrastructure projects are behind schedule or/and above the budget. In other words, the customer direly needs transparency.

Next step after googling is requesting companies for the project quotation. How long is the customer willing to wait for the project offer meeting her/his expectations?

The customer does not know that the first step the company does is try to assess the immediate seriousness of the quotation request, thus admitting that there will be the second "first impression" and the third, and so on.

The logic of the company is simple: higher project offer quality means substantially higher costs and more man-hours. Detailed project offer is in fact the FEED package. FEED means front end engineering and design. Its preparation takes 6 - 9 months and may cost up to US$1.0 million for the SWRO desalination project of above 75000 m3/day.

Nowadays no customer is willing to wait so long. So old "ball-park-figure-offer" mentality tenaciously persists. It opens Pandora's box for the avalanche of changes during the project execution, triggered by vague definition of the project scope.

"Ball park figure" and "overnight construction" times are gone; instead customer prefers to get the projection of the cumulative expenditures over the project life - the solid basis for project financing, indexing and cancellation. It's a dream that never came true.

The project offer and first impression "dents" cannot be mended by any guarantees - they are useless in building the brand. It is all about the scope details. The less details, the longer the bidders' queue and more fierce the competition are. As Peter Thiel put it, competition is for non-professionals?

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