INTERVIEW WITH RENEL DOBRE, SIXENSE GROUP COUNTRY MANAGER FOR BULGARIA
Earlier this year Sixense Group came to Bulgaria and Sofia News Agency got the opportunity to talk with Renel Dobre, country representative of the company.
Hello Mr Dobre, can you say few words about yourself and the company you are representing – Sixense Group?
I have been living in Bulgaria for 9 years out of the last 12 years and working with different jobs assignments. It all started with up to 6 months in Sofia but it turned out more because of the good business environment and opportunities to work with good people. This was back in 2006 then I came back in 2012 for another project and in 2014 moved with my family to Sofia. I was involved in various different project but this is not the subject of the interview today. In the spring of 2018 I decided to take the challenge of joining the SIXENSE GROUP.
It is part of VINCI Construction through SOLETANCHE FREYSSINET which brings together the specialist business activities.
VINCI is a major player in concessions and construction operating in +100 countries.
Our goal is to contribute to building a more sustainable world by fully embracing our role as a private-sector partner working in the public interest.
SIXENSE offers expert solutions and digital solutions dedicated to structures, soils and environment.
These solutions help to better understand, analyses, predict, optimize and sustain investment throughout the infrastructure lifecycle.
The decision to come to Bulgaria is not something new, SIXENSE GROUP tried couple of years ago (at that time was called SOLDATA), but realized that if they don't have regular presence in the country it would be difficult to make it work remotely. The Bulgarian market is specific, also speaking the local language helps to foster the communication.
The Group is present in 23 countries, including Bulgaria. It has more than 600 specialists, out of which 450 are high-skilled engineers. We digitalize our monitoring services and provide support for our clients throughout the key phases of an infrastructure's life-cycle to optimize and prolong its life.
The first thing that comes to my mind as a great potential – Bulgaria has one of the highest rates of absorption of EU funds. This means that the key infrastructure is currently being built with that kind of funding. In a sense Bulgaria is sort of a champion and I am seeing that because I also can compare with Romania in that respect. Here the success story is totally different. When we speak about highways for example, this is the best case of how EU funding is being used. The railroads are also another key area which it’s benefiting from EU funding and lately the Sofia-Burgas high-speed rail which is in progress. Work is being carried out at different segment and this project is with significant financing: around EUR 1 billion.
What is the potential of the Bulgarian market?
What Sixense can bring “on the table” +25 years of world-wide “know-how” with thousands of projects implemented in monitoring in different countries, environments and handling different challenges..
We are here to build strong partnership with key players in infrastructures: architects, designers, builders, concession companies, infrastructure owners, project manager, asset manager and last but not the least investors in infrastructure.
We can come up with “tailor made” solutions which helps build better.
According to the law, infrastructure is built to last minimum 50 years and sometimes up to 100 years. When building for long term we have to assess all the factors which interact with such project and propose the right monitoring solution.
In brief, one of the opportunities in Bulgaria is accessing the EU funding for building infrastructure, the othermarket potential for a company like ours is that major infrastructures: dams, high-way, tunnels, railways which were build 40-60 years ago in Bulgaria and by that meaning I will address it as very important infrastructure.
For example, some of the dams which are used for production of hydro-electricity are quite old and this is not something supposed to be automatically considered as bad. If I explain it in a more non engineering language, let it call more “human” way, these assets have a certain age and this can be seen as people going to a health assessment were there are reviewed, analyzed/investigated and then prophylactic measures are proposed, as well as per our services are kind of assessment from a specialist in the infrastructure.
So, in this sense I will define and address the other market opportunity.
Recently, the Bulgarian Prime Minister Mr. Boyko Borissov stated that the country has quite old infrastructure and this has to be asses it and make the things in a proper way in order to secure these assets.
In addition, the government of the country is aware that this kind of endeavor needs a holistic approach.
We at SIXENSE we can detect, measure and model geotechnical, structural and environmental phenomena by transforming this data into high added-value information.
Our structural and geotechnical monitoring solutions are designed to provide to our clients with precise, reliable information on the behavior of structures and soils in order to preserve the existing facilities and also to prevent a tragedy before it happens.
Sixense is all about improving security, you say this kind of planning is also making things happen much more efficiently... so is it also making the process of renovation more expensive?
Yes, but that is only if you look superficially at things. A better way to put it is that you would be making an investment. Infrastructure is more or less like humans.
First you are young, usually you don't need to pay much attention to your health, after years you go through different experiences. At some point you will need to visit a specialist, maybe to have taken blood sample and this is the case because it is very easy to correct a minor thing like dietary habits trough specific type of physical exercise or waiting to the last moment and having life experience alterated by a kind of unplanned surgery for example.
To go back to actual infrastructure – yes, if you act late, of course there are measures/actions that could be applied, but if it comes as last solution it usually costs more and sometimes building a completely new asset is the best option, but not the less expensive.
In the context of infrastructure that is 50 or 60 years old, a case for Bulgaria infrastructure assets, you need to assess it carefully and we do have the necessary technologies and solutions.
Yes, these assets were built in a very good way without any compromise regarding quality, with technologies and techniques available at that time and now we are facing challenges to extend their life-cycle, prevent incidents and minimize expenses in the long run.
So in the long term the implementation of your services pays off?
It does pays off, quite simply if we have to think about maintenance up to certain extent, if there is some form of basic maintenance it costs certain amount, but if it is not done having all influence factors it could be more than the initial investment .
The decision makers need to have all the data. If we have to build something new - how much it would cost, if we have to maintain the way it currently exists – again what is the cost? Sometimes the solution is to neutralize it, and we do have solutions for this as well.
Our solutions can be used from the moment of design, when the project is done by the engineers, and then it is the best way because at that stage the cost is minimum.
Usually, for a big project the cost is a very small fraction of the whole investment and at the same time really gives the security that everything goes the right way.
Again we are here to use our expertise to overcome these risks: for example, a big urban project, or a tunnel for the metro - you may come across historical heritage, you have ruins, maybe important buildings nearby, you have people! Most importantly people, safety is crucial!
The solution is monitoring. This helps because there is no perfect construction. Even if the right approach is taken. It could be perfect but then there is a thunderstorm…yes, it happens: this summer we witnessed the heaviest raining in Bulgaria for the last 15 years, if I am not wrong. You could build in a perfect way but if it rains thousands of liters, it is too much and it happens, the soil is just not as is supposed. Especially if the norms for design are for 50L rain per season and we witness 250L for only one day. This can turn into a big problem, but if you have real time monitoring you can do measuring in time and this make the big difference. We can help to take the right measures depending of the situation: e.q: water level is increasing under the structure then measuring the inclination of the asset being built, what can be done? Jet grouting (insertion of stiffening material to stabilize it) or amending the design of the project, etc.
I think here comes a good opportunity to talk about the environment and how it affects critical infrastructure. And the other way around, how does critical infrastructure affects the environment?
When it comes to the environment we are already working with EU for urban noise measurements, also there is another company in VINCI group, called NUVIA, specialized in all the activities related with the nuclear energy, from construction to dismantling.
For one icebreaker ship from former USSR build to work with nuclear energy and operate on the Arctic Ocean on the early 80’s after USSR dismantling, this ship was abandoned and contaminating the environment. For the scope of neutralization was launched a tender and project was co-financed by financial institutions (EBRD, EIB, etc). What they did: involved NUVIA because the challenge was neutralization with minimum risks, for that reason nuclear energy is not something that just turn off after the ship ends its exploitation cycle so they needed specialized expertise.
I am sharing this information to underline that we have the knowledge and expertise within our Sixense group (group of 10 companies) and in a wider scale we can involve SOLETANCHE FREYSSINET our specialized business activities cluster within VINCI Group.
We always tap into our network or into our “know how” and come up with a solutions which are modular and adapt to clients’ needs, challenges and environment to facilitate access to reliable information and to minimize related costs, optimize productivity and mitigate risk.
Yes, infrastructure makes an impact, we are not here to measure only one element, we are working close to our clients to help them build in better way, in a safer way and at the same time to comply with project design, so if the projects has environment monitoring requirements we have solution for this.
Usually, we are conducting our assessments with all the materials used by the clients, we are going there putting all of our expertise and then the clients take decision in this respect, we make recommendations and propose solutions.
We have a great deal of experience in projects concerning environment and of course infrastructure has a certain impact and nowadays construction of infrastructure in Bulgaria is following the EU regulations and recommendation.
Let’s talk about the future, what should be expected from the technologies you provide coming to Bulgaria?
All our solutions are digitalized. We are bringing all the big data, and I say that because depending on the project we even integrate satellite images with high resolution and accuracy and where there is need of new topography we can use drones and helicopters to build 3D mapping models.
For our Instrumentation and monitoring solutions we need to assess first what is needed and come up with efficient solutions for our client. Deciding what and how many sensors, data boxes we need and so on. At the end everything we have collected is integrated into one digital solution which the client receives. It is not big amount of data, it is the right amount of data based on which the decision is made: to “push the button” red or green.
So we provide decision factors with right risk assessments. In this way they know exactly what is happening with their infrastructure during the construction or during lifecycle and we make all this available digital trough SIXENSE Digital solutions.
By this meaning the data is transformed into a solution in this sense the customer receives a “tailor made” solution not a measuring product.
Constantly we optimize the proposed solution by adding the right amount of devices to provide the right data that will enable client to understand the current situation and to take the right decision.
In a more simplified way we are preventive specialists in infrastructure using different tools and techniques to put right diagnostics and propose right prophylactics measures.
In one sentence – we are THE specialists of infrastructure risk mitigation.
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