First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Nathan Kebede: My family and the global ARRB family are doing well under the circumstances. I know that the pandemic continues to impact millions of people worldwide, and I am hopeful that we will come out on to be better and more resilient when the pandemic is eradicated.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you joined ARRB Group Inc.
Nathan Kebede: I am a civil engineer by training, and I have dedicated my professional career to the advancement of modern pavement asset management methods and applications for transportation departments at the local, regional, and federal level in the U.S. as well as abroad. I was introduced to the world of pavement engineering through my time in graduate school at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. After completing my graduate education, my career path has led me to work on many airfield and roadway pavement management projects of varying levels of complexities.
Over the past decade, I have grown to realize that the industry of infrastructure asset management has not kept up with the technological advancements we witness in other sectors of our global economy, and I wanted to become a part of the movement that allows transportation agencies become more efficient by leveraging the best that technology has to offer. In 2019, I took the opportunity to join ARRB as the COO and embarked on a fascinating journey of introducing and implementing genuinely cutting edge technology that is revolutionizing roadway infrastructure condition assessment for transportation agencies.
Tell us more about ARRB Group Inc.
Nathan Kebede: ARRB Group Inc. is part of the global ARRB Systems family of companies with operations in Australia, South Africa, Sweden, India, and the USA. ARRB Systems develops and manufactures roadway infrastructure data collection equipment. We also deliver data collection services in certain markets. Through our global offices and an extensive distributor network, we are the premier suppliers of roadway infrastructure inspection equipment for numerous public and private organizations worldwide. We are also the only transportation infrastructure inspection service provider with operations in 5 continents.
How does ARRB Group Inc innovate?
Nathan Kebede: We regularly invest in R&D to come up with better, faster, and more efficient ways of getting the job done. More recently, we are focusing on delivering services using the next generation of technologically advanced roadway infrastructure inspection equipment that can enable the collection of comprehensive and detailed data with little to no interruption to the traveling public. Our iPAVe (intelligent Pavement Assessment Vehicle) can collect all the data a transportation agency needs to make structural and functional maintenance decisions on roads and highways; our iSAVe (intelligent Safety Assessment Vehicle) can collect all the safety parameters a transportation agency needs to maintain safe roads, and we can operate both the iPAVe and iSAVe at traffic speeds so that we can collect continuous data. These advancements are a first for the industry, and the adoption of this technology is bringing about positive change in our industry.
Roads and highways are one of the most valuable and expensive assets any transportation agency and government maintains. Having a good roadway network that is regularly maintained is the primary driver to economic growth, and making smart and timely decisions on when and where to perform roadway maintenance can save agencies billions of dollars over the life of their infrastructure. ARRB Systems regularly innovates so that we can develop the tools that transportation agencies use to save billions of taxpayer dollars.
How did the coronavirus pandemic affect your business, and how are you coping?
Nathan Kebede: The biggest impact we have seen at ARRB is the transition to working from home and maintaining safe distance among our manufacturing crew. Because of our global footprint, each of our offices had to respond to local mandates and restrictions; however, we were fortunate to be able to quickly transition to working from home because of our existing experience of working with staff remotely from all corners of the globe. Our manufacturing facility in Australia was also able to quickly implement the protocols that allowed us to resume the production of equipment for our clients.
Our service teams in the U.S. and South Africa were able to maintain regular operations despite restrictions because we qualified as an essential workforce due to our direct involvement with the public transportation infrastructure. In many ways, our U.S. service operation has exceeded the record productivity rates we saw in 2019, and that was not something we expected to witness amid the pandemic. The most significant impact we have seen throughout our global operations is the restriction on business travel. We heavily rely on visiting our clients, attending conferences, and performing on-site equipment assembly as part of our day-to-day routine. The inability to travel has required us to find other ways of meeting these daily routine requirements.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Nathan Kebede: Fortunately, the most difficult decision we have made is to transition to working from home. We haven’t had to lay-off or furlough any staff, and I am very proud of that. Our field services teams routinely go out to collect data around the country; however, they are taking all safety precautions and have stayed healthy. The biggest lesson of 2020 for me has been to remain flexible for as long as possible because rigid business and operational processes will break in the face of major shocks such as the one delivered by the pandemic.
How do you project yourself and your company in the future?
Nathan Kebede: Despite the economic shock caused by the pandemic, the leadership and management team at ARRB is convinced that now is the perfect time to invest in the business. We are reviewing our strategic plans and finding ways to accelerate our growth by making the required investments now rather than wait. In many ways, the acceleration of our strategic growth plan is pushing us 2 or 3 years ahead of schedule. I anticipate that ARRB will be a bigger and more global company soon and that our clients are going to leverage the solutions we provide to meet the goals and expectations the traveling public has as the global economy starts to recover.
Your final thoughts
Nathan Kebede: The ability to move people and goods from place to place is the cornerstone of the global economy. While the internet has changed how business is conducted in the 21st century, the world still relies heavily on having access to well-maintained roads and highways to conduct business. Governments and their transportation agencies spend billions of dollars every year to build and maintain this vast network of roads and highway; however, funding for roadway maintenance is almost always lower than what’s required.
I believe technology can help bridge the gap by allowing us to pin-point repairs and predict cheaper maintenance requirements to avoid more expensive interventions in the future. We at ARRB Systems and ARRB Group are continually innovating to provide proven, accurate, and reliable solutions to make the global transportation infrastructure system efficient and more productive
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