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Interview: Tarek Zakaria, ABB

Tarek Zakaria Having studied electrical engineering, Tarek Zakaria joined ABB in 1988 as manager for building automation in Heidelberg, Germany, where he developed the export market for ABB within Western Europe. The ABB Group of companies operates in over 100 countries and employs 145,000 people. Its power and automation technologies are designed to enable utility and industry customers to improve operating performance, grid reliability and productivity whilst saving energy and lowering environmental impact.

In 2002, Zakaria moved to ABB U.A.E., becoming the regional development manager for the MEA region, where he helped in the growth of KNX building automation. He is now ABB’s head of building automation for U.A.E. and Southern Gulf, and he has also been elected president of the recently-opened KNX Association Middle East.

In this exclusive interview with KNXtoday, Zakaria tells us about the opportunities and challenges facing KNX in the Middle East.

Q: Why did you join the KNX Association?

A: After ten years working in the Middle East, we managed to create the right platform for KNX technology and we feel it is time to join hands with our fellow manufacturers and members. Together we can bring awareness and a higher level of acceptance throughout the market.

Q: What is your perspective on the KNX market at the moment, what trends do you see?

A: Many projects carried out today are KNX specified. It is evident that KNX adoption is a growing trend and the protocol is widely accepted. In addition, the government’s regulations regarding energy efficiency are set to have a positive impact on KNX systems, since we are leaders in this field.

Q: What excites you at the moment, what opportunities do you see?

A: Right now, there is a high level of excitement in the market. Part of it is owing to announcements from the Dubai Government about big projects coming up to the region. An example would be the World Expo 2020, which is likely to be held in Dubai.

Organised every five years and for a period of six months, World Expo attracts millions of visitors. The last World Expo was held in Shanghai, in 2010 with the theme ‘Better city, better life.’ 73 million people visited it. The next one will be held in Milan, Italy, in 2015, and its theme will be ‘Feeding the planet, energy for life.’ The theme proposed by the UAE World Expo is ‘Connecting minds, creating the future’. The World Expo has never been held in the Middle East, Africa and South East Asia in the history of the event.

The World Expo would boost property development, both residential and hotels, which would create new business opportunities for KNX. I expect that the FIFA World Championship in Doha, Qatar, in 2022, will have a similar effect.

Q: What are the challenges facing KNX, what are its weaknesses?

A: In the past KNX only faced limited competition from a small number of proprietary technology suppliers. Now there are many proprietary technologies in the market. Companies are prepared to operate at a lower price range and this is providing strong competition in an unsettled economy.

Q: What do you recommend as a strategy in helping the market to develop?

A: We need to expand our KNX association membership, to bring further awareness and acceptance of the protocol in the market place throughout the Middle East. With this objective in mind, we are hosting seminars and workshops in Dubai for consultants to demonstrate the efficiency of KNX products and highlight the benefits of joining the association. We have road shows in the U.A.E., Qatar and Saudi Arabia planned for May 2013. We are also going to participate in the Light & Building Exhibition in October 2013.

Q: How do you keep in touch with the market, which trade events or resources are helpful/of interest to you?

A: KNX Brussels floods the market with information about developments to member companies and customers via member customer databases. This is a very useful source of information. As ABB we also attend multiple exhibitions and seminars throughout the year, such as the Arab City Event in April and the Hotel Show in September.

Engaging with the trade press is similarly a key way to keep in touch with the market. Editorial coverage provides the credibility and readership level that is required in such a competitive industry.

Q: Where do you see the industry being in a year’s time?

A: Growth will continue, especially now that we have the newly-founded KNX Association Middle East. We opened in November 2012, and I expect to see the market doubling in size over the next 12 months. Furthermore, the global KNX organisation membership now has over 300 associates from all over the world. This, in turn, will drive the industry to plan more products and solutions based on KNX – all of which will benefit us in the Middle East region.

Q: What is your advice to the industry?

A: My advice to the industry is to continue developing solutions, taking into consideration regional requirements, which can help buildings operate in a more energy-efficient manner, whilst satisfying customers. It is also imperative to recommend the global KNX Association, and to keep up Middle Eastern growth in membership.

Tarek Zakaria is head of building automation for ABB in U.A.E. and Southern Gulf. ABB is a leader in power and automation technologies that enable utility and industry customers to improve performance while lowering environmental impact.

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