Abbey Systems

Powering business in the third world

  • Abbey Systems

    The control room in Chittagong. Abbey Systems designed the room, supplied the equipment and wrote the software for the system. Lester Abbey (centre) is flanked by his team.

For more than 35 years, Wellington technology company Abbey Systems has been designing, developing and manufacturing telemetry systems; hardware and software that remotely monitors and controls large scale systems including power and water.

Recently, there’s been an on-going focus on international business, as managing director Lester Abbey explains.

“We’ve saturated the New Zealand market; most of the power boards and half the councils have our systems installed. But there is huge opportunity for us globally. We have 55 systems already installed in the US, but our main push at present is in Bangladesh, where we have secured major contracts,” he says.

One of those contracts has been to set up a central system that will control the city of Chittagong’s power network. Chittagong is Bangladesh’s second largest city and home to around five million people.

“Aid agencies will not give contracts to Bangladeshi companies – it is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. The Kuwait Economic Development Fund is a very effective aid agency and through them, we won the tender to design and install a central power network control system, which is worth $US 5million.

“Previously, there were 35 power sub-stations that would independently provide power to the city. Although the power requirements of Chittagong aren’t huge, around the same as Palmerston North, without a central control system it was very difficult to manage,” explains Lester.

In 2010, work started in Chittagong and Abbey Systems has a further two contracts underway. Lester says doing business in Bangladesh is not for the faint hearted.

“In any tender bid in Bangladesh, 20 percent goes to bribe. A job can cost millions of US dollars and if we did the same job in New Zealand, it would be a fifth of the price. Bribery doesn’t always mean money though – we had a situation where we had to supply Jeep Cherokees and first class travel as well. It’s part of the cost of doing business in that country.”

In November last year, the whole of Bangladesh lost power when the main feeder cable that runs from India failed. Abbey Systems provided the solution that got the lights back on in Chittagong, before the rest of Bangladesh.

“We are negotiating for a nationwide protection system based on a system we did in New Zealand for a possible Cook Strait cable failure. Cook Strait also has one power feeder cable running underneath it linking the North and South Islands. We designed and installed a system that would suddenly drop non-critical load in the event of cable failure,” he explains.

In a happy coincidence, Lester’s accountant is also named Abbey; Moore Stephens Markhams director Abbey Warner. The company has been with the accountancy firm for three decades and was Abbey’s first client when she joined the firm in 2003.

“I became a director of the firm on 1 April 2015 but when I joined, Abbey Systems was the first client I worked on, assisting Peter Smith. I’m really looking forward to working with the directors and Lester on their business into the future,” says Abbey.

“We love Abbey – she’s great,” says Lester. “She understands our business and the grey areas that often arise when you are dealing with Research and Development and their tax implications, plus our international business requirements. Hopefully she will continue to advise us on all our tax and financial management and carry on the great work.”

Published Winter 2015.

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