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The industry must embrace change to fulfil the National Infrastructure Strategy, project delivery expert urges

06 June 2022

ICE hosted Transforming Infrastructure Performance (TIP) live, bringing together leaders from across the sector to discuss how the industry needs to change to deliver the £650bn national infrastructure pipeline.

If the industry fails to embrace change, the delivery of the National Infrastructure Strategy is at risk, chief executive of Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) has said.

Nick Smallwood, who spoke at Transforming Infrastructure Performance (TIP) Live, said the strategy represents the biggest investment programme for a generation, but if the industry fails to embrace change, there won’t be the financial or human resources to deliver it.

TIP Live was hosted by ICE at its HQ, One Great George Street, on 20 April 2022.

At the event, Smallwood called on the infrastructure sector to focus on outcomes such as net zero and levelling up and to introduce the collaborative delivery models needed to deliver them.

Productivity has to improve, modern construction methods and platform models must be embraced and the digital revolution should be exploited, he said.

Too many of the technologies that the sector sees as cutting edge have been the norm for years in other industries, Smallwood suggested.

Supply-chain businesses need to play their part

Mark Thurston, chair of the Infrastructure Client Group (ICG)’s steering group, said that clients were the “meat in the sandwich” between policy and delivery.

Clients need to play a key role in translating the aims of TIP into action on the ground, Thurston said.

The ICG is working with supply-chain leaders on major initiatives such as Project 13, which is driving forward new data-driven, outcome-focused, collaborative delivery models.

Supply-chain businesses of all sizes and in all sub-sectors of the construction industry all need to play their part.

The Construction Leadership Council’s Andy Mitchell warned that when infrastructure was delivering more for less, and doing so faster, more safely and with less carbon, other construction clients wouldn’t settle for less.

The right skillset

So how can these big strategic outcomes be translated into tangible change?

Nick Yandle, head of programmes in the IPA’s Project Futures team, cited TIP’s focus on place-based regeneration.

Local stakeholders are best placed to identify what the programme means for them and how to design packages of new-build, retrofit and other interventions that build on existing infrastructure and deliver more for their communities.

All of this will need people with new skills – still, Lydia Walpole, digital operations and performance director at Costain, said she believed that opportunity attracted talent.

She is recruiting for digital-based roles such as enterprise architects that barely existed in infrastructure even five years ago.

Improve organisational and staff performance

The industry’s ability to attract the right people and develop its existing staff is also affected by its delivery models.

Tony Meggs, chair of Sellafield Ltd, explained that one of the benefits of the organisation’s Programme and Project Partners (PPP) model was that full-time, permanent employees now accounted for about 90% of the programme’s workforce.

The PPP has drawn heavily on Project 13 principles to create a 20-year collaborative enterprise between Sellafield and four partners to deliver a complex nuclear decommissioning programme.

Partners can innovate and collectively improve both organisational and staff performance under a model that can be extended to other suppliers as work ramps up.

The right data

Economist Bridget Rosewell argued that securing better outcomes was not merely about more effective delivery but also about better project selection.

She cautioned against relying on historical data in a rapidly changing world.

Leaders need a clear vision of what they are trying to achieve and the data that helps them to make the best possible judgments to realise it, she said.

As a nation, we need to create infrastructure systems that can adapt as more information becomes available and circumstances change – for example, as the private car fleet converts to zero emissions, she said.

The role of trust and collaboration

As discussions drew to a close, it became clear that trust and collaboration would be central to delivering TIP while coping with the economic headwinds affecting the industry.

Clarity on outcomes is a precondition for working together effectively, the speakers concluded.

They noted that delivery models can help to reinforce collaboration – and Brexit is bringing new freedoms to make bidders’ past behaviour a key factor in selecting suppliers.

Data and technology can help to provide real-time information and a single source of truth, they said.

They said systems thinking, drawing on the insights of colleagues from a range of professional backgrounds, will be crucial in getting more out of the existing network, which in turn will be central to achieving net zero.

At the same time, clients, government and the supply chain need to make a conscious choice to trust in one other and to build strong personal relationships – TIP Live is a vital part of that process.

  • Mark Hansford, director of engineering knowledge at Institution of Civil Engineers