Integrated solutions - making the whole more than the sum of its parts

The industry needs to improve the way it collaborates at every phase of a project to get better outcomes and truly integrated solutions by embedding innovation and boosting productivity, says Costain’s Adam Bennett

Over the last few years we have had a number of heavy-hitting reports into the infrastructure the country needs as a basis for sustainable economic growth. Some common themes have emerged.

For example, there is recognition of the vital role the construction industry plays in the economy’s health, employing almost three million workers directly and worth around £90 billion annually. 

However, there is also an acknowledgement that we need to get better at offering integrated solutions in a bid to deliver the required strategic objectives and improve productivity, which has lagged behind other sectors of the economy.  

Seeing the bigger picture

Consider these three statements from the government’s National Infrastructure Delivery Plan 2016-2021, published in March.

  • The Infrastructure Cost Review identified evidence that showed delivery failures can often be traced back to how a project was initially set up. This suggests the need for a greater focus in the early stages on how the strategic objectives of projects are established and how the sponsors articulate these requirements to ensure they are set up to succeed.
  • Establishing clear strategic objectives and performance requirements for a project upfront will have a major influence not only on the initial capital costs but also the whole life cost and asset performance.
  • Defining the purpose and desired outcomes of infrastructure should precede the design of a technical solution, creating opportunities to innovate and to propose alternatives that may improve delivery of the benefits, maximise operational performance and minimise whole life costs. 

Note that the emphasis is consistently on the importance of getting the right input at the early stages of a project, not only to be able to plan it in the most cost-effective and sustainable way possible, but to ensure that the way it is delivered embraces the latest innovations across the board. 

Let’s say we have to deal with heavy congestion on a section of a motorway. The best solution will be based on an understanding of the front, middle and back end of the whole process and the application of that knowledge across the life of the asset, not just its construction. Most importantly, it will be done for the benefit of the customer. And when I say customer I mean those motorists or rail passengers or water users within the wider social, economic and political context. 

Sometimes we can lose sight of this. That’s why, as an industry, we should improve the way we collaborate at every phase of a project to get better outcomes by embedding innovation and boosting productivity. 

A new direction

It will be a challenge. It demands not only a rethink of the contractual regime but a new mindset to change the perception of our industry to one which adds genuine value by taking a longer-term, more integrated focus for the benefit of the end customers. We have to show what we can contribute to the strategic stage of a project as well as constructing and maintaining it.  

At Costain we have already started on this journey by building on our expertise in four service areas:  consultancy (including project, programme and portfolio management), technology, asset optimisation and complex delivery to define a new integrated services approach that benefits the entire supply chain, from end customer to clients through to our partners and people. 

Through proactive stakeholder engagement, both externally and internally, education and having some quick wins to highlight just how powerfully an integrated services provider can add value, we have proven we can significantly improve the chance of project success by offering integrated solutions. 

Adam Bennett is advisory and consultancy services manager, highways, at Costain.