Our conversation with Mammoet CEO Paul van Gelder takes place – like so many today – from the comfort of our own homes. Against a background of fresh restrictions imposed in his native Netherlands – and elsewhere in Europe – it’s no surprise to see the topic of COVID-19 and its effect on global business on the agenda.
With characteristic optimism, Van Gelder sees the current climate not as something entirely unexpected, but a situation that was one day inevitable. “The coronavirus is not the main cause for certain changes”, he notes, “but it does accelerate them.”
As markets in the OECD move more quickly away from oil and gas, Mammoet must continue its work there but also look for other sectors. This development has been anticipated for quite some time and is just the next step in a process that has seen the company support its customers in phasing out coal-fired facilities in the power sector and increasing brownfield development in the petrochemical industry, to name two recent examples.
“The energy sector will always be important to us, and the Mammoet of the future will need to change the way it works, focusing on more innovation, and by concentrating local businesses on the segments they serve”. Clearly, digitization will be key to this process, as it allows the company to act more responsively, more efficiently, and in a fashion better tailored to each customer than ever before.
Van Gelder’s enthusiasm for the field possibilities is obvious.
“Just this morning I was watching a video by Caterpillar, showing a shovel being operated by a guy 40 or 50 meters away from the excavator, operating it at safe distance with a remote control attached to his waist. If this is possible at 40m, it’s in principle possible at 40km or 4,000km, or, let’s say, at some point in the future, from one of our regional headquarters.”
It may sound somewhat far-fetched, but it’s a process Van Gelder has witnessed before.
“When I joined oil and gas in 2005, we had remotely monitored platforms, which still had local people at sea doing operations. Gradually, we were able to take these people out of the platforms to a centralized onshore location, working in shifts to manage everything offshore. At Mammoet, we are currently exploring the possibilities of remote operation. The change in heavy lifting can be just as profound, spending less time and carbon dioxide on traveling, and restoring certainty to projects by lessening the effects of border closures and social distancing measures.”
“But digitization in the field isn’t just about keeping the business going in times of travel restrictions: it has the power to transform work for the better.
“In the future, customers will benefit by getting better quality data from Mammoet. For example, via the LIDAR scanning of routes or through analysis of exactly when and how cranes are used as to provide our customers with services in the most efficient and optimal ways.”
One on one
Interpersonal relationships are also undergoing a period of accelerated change. They were once forged face-to-face, where “people could sense and smell each other”, but must now take place via camera and microphone. A difficult atmosphere in which to build trust you might say, but again Van Gelder sees it as a chance for Mammoet to instead communicate more clearly and broadly.
“The old way of doing business is gradually moving into the background, and new ways are entering our market and our organization. The traveling businessperson, getting into a plane for one meeting – in all companies, I hear the same -people now think this process was ridiculous.”
“I was invited to go to Vancouver earlier this year for a conference because I was the CEO of a contractor. While I was grateful for the invitation, the whole process looks strange, this side of the pandemic. The flight would create a lot of greenhouse gases; because of flight scheduling I would need to stay three days for a one-day event; I would be offline for quite some time while not spending my time on the actual work for the customer. Everyone wants to be important, but people felt you had to do it – this just doesn’t make sense anymore.”
“What will be important in the future is the quality of information you can provide; how responsive you can be; ultimately – how well you understand your customer. We want to spot opportunities for them to get better at doing their work before even they do. Digitization can unlock that for us. It allows us to give customers this insight without leaving the house – never mind the continent.”
Which brings us to Mammoet’s key asset: its people. “We’ve always tried to put people at the forefront of what we do: the commitment and engagement of our staff. We try to give them a platform in our various publications, via interviews with all kinds of people who get the job done – CEO and frontline colleague, alike.”
Digitization allows us to bring you closer to the people, methods, and technologies that make Mammoet successful, from colleagues mentally rehearsing the day’s lifts – their knowledge of the site making each lift go like clockwork, keeping the client’s project on schedule – to predicting the future of floating offshore wind maintenance. “We’d really like our customers to get to know our people as individuals; what makes them tick, what they’ve achieved, and to benefit from that directly”