The role of the infrastructure owner: more to it than you think

Infrastructure owners are more than clients; they are investors, innovators, operators, and the voice of the customer. Eunice Maytorena and Graham Winch from Manchester Business School explain, ahead of a free Infrastructure Client Group webinar next week.

There is increasing awareness in the infrastructure sector about the important role that infrastructure owners play in the provision of infrastructure services, yet little understanding of the owner capabilities required.


To find out more, register for the free Infrastructure Client Group webinar ‘Role of the Owner’ on 9 July 13:00-14:00 here.

Traditionally infrastructure services has been considered as an asset, engineered and constructed to a requirement with an emphasis on technical performance. But investments in infrastructure are made to yield benefits both for the investor and final user, and it is these benefits that can be conceptualised as infrastructure services such as, positioning, communicating and transporting.

Focusing on infrastructure services is important because it can provide insights to owner organisations. For example: insights on customer needs; understanding of the multiple services that individual assets can provide; improved understanding of operations and maintenance; understanding the interactions between services and associated issues; and potential customer service innovation.

A good example of the latter is the combination of roads and satellites providing enhanced commuting services through real time data on bus movements.

It is well documented that the provision of infrastructure services adds value to the economy and to society, as investment in infrastructure assets stimulates growth through the Keynesian multiplier effect of investment and through the provision of services to support new business.

The sum of these two benefits means that infrastructure investment can pay for itself. But owner organisations need to consider three things:

  1. an understanding of the service to be delivered is vital to effective project management;
  2. projects that provide service benefits as well as multiplier benefits should be selected;
  3. projects need to be delivered against the business plan.

These three points require owner capability.

"Initial findings indicate that infrastructure owners need to be more customer focused and have a value driven mind-set."

It is important to emphasise the term owner rather than client. The term client is narrow and implies a commercial relationship with suppliers, being a “client” on a project is only part of what infrastructure owners do. 

The term “owner” is much broader and captures a full range of capabilities as an investor, operator and innovator in the provision of infrastructure services.

Current research funded by Heathrow Airport Ltd and led by Professor Graham Winch from Manchester Business School is exploring the role of the infrastructure owners and the capabilities required for:

  1. investing in and developing infrastructure;
  2. providing infrastructure services to customers;
  3. maintaining and operating infrastructure.

Capabilities are the organisational ability to achieve the desired end and are a function of the effective deployment of the resources -including the competences of staff - available to the organisation.

Owner capabilities are distinct from supplier capabilities. Initial findings indicate that infrastructure owners need to be more customer focused and have a value driven mind-set. Owners need to move beyond seeing projects as technical engineering projects and focus more on their management of programmes and portfolios.

It is about understanding customer needs, understanding where the value lies and how that value is going to be released to the customer.

Owners need to realise that more of their owner capability has to be built in house rather than through consultancies; as well as understand which capabilities can be developed in house and which ones can be bought in the market.

Our focus on the role of the owner in the provision of the infrastructure services vital for economic development provides important new insights around the capability to ensure the “voice of the operator” and the “voice of the customer” is incorporated in the front end definition of infrastructure investment projects.

To find out more, register for the free Infrastructure Client Group webinar ‘Role of the Owner’ on 9 July 13:00-14:00 here.

If you would like to contact Jackie Whitelaw about this, or any other story, please email