A digital disruptor for infrastructure delivery

Arcadis’s new global digital business, Arcadis Gen, aims to focus on rapid development of data-driven solutions and foster next generation thinking. Andy Walker spoke to its chief executive Rachel White.

Rachel White, chief executive of Arcadis Gen, the consultancy's new digital business.

Many consultancy firms in the industry are paying much greater attention to digital given the massive changes taking place as a result of the implementation and application of technology. Arcadis have taken the bold step of launching Arcadis Gen, the Dutch-based consultancy’s latest move towards becoming a fully digitally enabled business. Operating as a separate legal entity, Arcadis Gen will be led by chief executive, Rachel White. With 200 employees based across the globe, it brings together recent acquisitions SEAMS and EAMS Group with software development specialists from the Arcadis business.   

“We’re doing something the industry hasn’t seen before,” says White. “We’re launching a tech company that brings together some of Arcadis’s brightest digital minds in an environment for thinking differently. The thinking behind it is quite customer and market driven. 

“A lot of our customers have very big asset portfolios and how they optimise and plan those, improve performance, maintain them and optimise investment decision making is becoming very important. That combined with the fact that whilst a lot of industries have been disrupted with technology, the engineering and construction industry is probably the last industry to really be positively disrupted by technology. If you bring together those two components – customer demand and the opportunity in the market – we felt that now was a good time to bring our capabilities together and launch a global, digital business,” White says.

The new business will accommodate a range of tech know-how and experience that is different from those usually found in a major engineering consultancy firm, while still leveraging the link with the wider Arcadis company. 

“Technology skills and capabilities are quite different and if you try to have them in a large corporate entity that does other activities it can be quite difficult to maximise them,” says White. “This business is a much more agile operation, with quite different skills and capabilities and different types of people, so it’s quite important that it can create a culture and an entity to apply that agility in a thoughtful way to our customers. What’s also important is that we don’t lose the connectivity through the Arcadis clients with the deep asset knowledge we have of our customers and their challenges. So, it was about better serving our clients and to incubate and develop talent and also to bring together a core of capability,” White explains.

As well as employing digital experts, Arcadis Gen will also enable current Arcadis staff to retrain and develop their tech skills and to change as the industry changes around them. “We have software developers and user experience designers, which are different skill sets to the normal engineering portfolio, but we are also using this as an opportunity for our workforce of the future, so some of our existing engineers can transition into more analytical and digital roles because I think it’s really important for the industry that we continue to refresh skills and capabilities and give people opportunities to grow with new industry challenges,” said White.

While White recognises that Arcadis Gen will have some still competition in the shape of some of the large technology companies, she is undaunted by the challenge. “What they don’t bring is the deep knowledge of the assets that our customers have, so that gives us a different perspective because we are better able to develop and implement solutions for our clients that are more related to the asset type and to the specifics of that particular sector or industry,” says White.

Given that the new organisation will be focused on rapid development of scalable digital products and solutions, I asked White how will it do that coming from a sector that has not been noted for its agility while the digital sector is known for very quick and innovative thinking?

“We are intending to bring all that good practice from the technology sector where they run 12-week product sprints to develop solutions,” she said. “We will also be a lot more focused on co-creation and with agile teams we can divert resource. There is a huge opportunity for this sector. If you look at much of the technology that we’re using, whether it’s the core asset management systems, where a lot of them are not very user friendly, they aren’t necessarily able to be used on a mobile platform out in the field where customers and clients need to be collecting date. What we think we have an opportunity to do is to help quickly solve some of those challenges by working closely with our customers,” said White.

Arcadis Gen will have a significant footprint in the UK market and work with a range of clients across the infrastructure, utilities and built environment sectors. Last year, Arcadis announced its biggest ever digital contract win from Transport for London (TfL) and Arcadis Gen will lead and manage the project providing a single platform to manage all of TfL’s infrastructure assets with the aim of improving reliability and performance on the London Underground and London tram networks.

With someone like White at the helm of Arcadis Gen, you can’t help thinking that we’ll be hearing a lot more about the new venture. Her history in the industry is one of innovation and doing things differently, qualities which will stand her in good stead in her new role. “We are looking forward to working with large organisations like IBM, where we are a technology partner, and also with smaller, start-up organisations that are bringing fresh thinking into the sector.

“This is about helping to be a disrupter in the industry and a positive force for change in the way we deliver infrastructure,” said White.

If you would like to contact Andy Walker about this, or any other story, please email awalker@infrastructure-intelligence.com.