Concepts With A Future
How European On-Site Service Providers Can Best Position Themselves
Perfect Placement - There now appears to be no doubt that the landscape for chemical park operators will look different in the medium term. There has been talk time and again that on-site service providers currently under the ownership of chemical companies could be taken over by independent enterprises or investors. At present, the takeover rumor mill surrounding chemical parks has quieted down. Reports of a potential takeover of Infraserv Knapsack by the Asian company Sembcorp have faded away in the course of the economic crisis, and the planned sale of the ThyssenKrupp subsidiary Xervon was called off, too. It remains to be seen whether Xervon will still emerge as an active consolidation player in the near future despite this.
Now that the crisis has abated, and business activity and economic data have markedly recovered, renewed movement can be expected in the market - time for both independent and integrated service providers to take a thorough look at what strategy is right for the future. In what way, though, will the market develop for European providers of on-site services? Many parameters are still unsettled; what is certain, however, is that there are three key thematic areas that will play a central role in the definition of future positioning: internationalization, sub-contracting and investment concepts in the event of a change of ownership.
Internationalization of On-Site Service Providers
Potential synergies between different sites are becoming ever more important. An infrastructure service provider operating at several sites, for example, is able to bundle know-how in numerous functional fields. In such cases, an international line-up holds considerable advantages - not only for the site service provider himself but also for the chemical company. If a chemical company decides to relocate a certain part of its business to Asia, for example, the infrastructure service provider is able to provide it with comparable services in their Asian industrial park and thus help to ensure that the transfer is carried out quickly. At the same time, through active marketing of the vacated areas, the on-site service provider is able to make up for the missing volume with new product segments that have greater affinity to Europe, such as biotechnology or nanotechnology. Furthermore, with their local access to government agencies and political networks, they are able to tap into state support budgets. This location marketing function will become more and more vital in future.
By way of example, at the end of 2009 Currenta entered into a cooperation agreement with Nanjing Chemical Industry Park (NCIP), one of the biggest chemical parks in China. The declared aim was first and foremost to exchange know-how, but over and above this it is hoped that the cooperation will also arouse interest among Chinese companies for Currenta's locations in Europe.
Some players have also begun to market their services on the international stage. Both Höchst Infraserv and Sembcorp, for instance, are now also offering their consulting services in the emerging markets such as the Middle East, China or Eastern Europe. Models such as these make it plain that internationalization strategies are quite clearly gaining ground. This is also precisely where an important opportunity arises for integrated on-site service providers: the amount of know-how carried forward in their international production networks offers immense optimisation potential, which is often not comprehensively exploited today.
Sub-contracting Of On-site Service Provision
It is also questionable whether in future the core competence of on-site service providers will indeed lie in the physical performance of on-site services or whether in fact on-site service providers will not instead develop into property owners with a management function - in other words becoming a "theater director" for service provision.
A similar model can be found in the case of airports, for example, which have long been withdrawing more and more to the role of a property administrator, only offering certain core functions themselves. It is already possible for most of the functions performed by on-site service providers to be supplied by specialists. BASF, for example, states that 98% of the services performed by its global Engineering & Maintenance competence centre are capable of being contracted out.
What is important in this context is above all the combination of competence and price. It is only when competence is identical or better and costs are lower that outsourcing should be set as the aim. That said, aspects such as availability and flexibility should not be disregarded, either. Especially during the crisis, it has been shown that changes lying within one's own area of responsibility can be implemented more quickly than those in which numerous contract interfaces have to be modified and investment processes have to be run through in various service enterprises.
Choice of the Right Ownership Structure
Definition of the optimum ownership structure for on-site service providers is also a matter of central significance. Investment in a new power station, for example, belongs more to the core business of a power utility. In particular, investment in new forms of energy or CO2 storage plants is a core trend and is a top priority for site development. An energy supplier has excellent synergies in this respect, for example in grid load balancing, but also in the purchasing of fuel, whether gas, coal or waste.
However, this is not necessarily an argument that the on-site service provider should be independent. Rather, it is an argument that the physical performance of the service may be sub-contracted. In this way an integrated service provider can employ a different partner at many international locations, with each partner offering site-specific or regional advantages for service provision as a result of local synergies. Alternatively it is also conceivable to have cooperative arrangements in which it is made easier for energy suppliers to enter the market by building and operating a power station at an international location belonging to the chemical company.
Integrated on-site service providers will above all be successful when, in addition to continuously improving their operational excellence, they manage to exploit regional and international synergies and contract the best service providers in each case for each location.
Independent on-site service providers, on the other hand, should look for their opportunities in particular at smaller sites, which might be under threat of partial relocation of their business. As well as contributing investment resources and know-how, they can then introduce concepts to establish alternative capacities and raise the profile of the location.