Digital Ventures: Keeping our stake in the game

Oliver Hawes,  head of smart infrastructure at Mott MacDonald.

Mott MacDonald’s Oliver Hawes explains why the launch of its new digital ventures division is critical for the future of the organisation and why it’s a disruption worth embracing.  

My role within Mott MacDonald Digital Ventures (MMDV) is to be provocative, driving towards a future that tackles age-old problems in very different ways. Change is disruptive, but it’s also essential. Leading the industry and guiding our clients means changing ourselves first. If that makes some colleagues wary, then that’s probably not a bad thing. If we’re not leading change, and by extension, causing some disruption, then we are not doing enough! 

I recently joined a Microsoft event and was struck by something chief executive officer Satya Nadella said, that now “all companies are software companies”. You might sell cheeseburgers, manufacture ball bearings, produce electricity or deliver aid packages. If you think of yourself as a software company, you’ll get better results. For Mott MacDonald, this means seeing ourselves as a digital firm, first and foremost, with deep domain expertise in infrastructure and development. Our aim to deliver excellent outcomes for our clients and their customers in turn is still the same. I believe that the only way to do that is by getting the best from digital technology. 

Digital is changing the engineering rulebook

How does this play out? Let’s take an urban car park as a simple example. We know the rules for drawing up designs and procuring concrete columns. But the rules are changing. It’s fast becoming an automated process. The design itself can be automated with software, based purely on multiple input parameters, as can the specification of components for procurement and ultimately offsite manufacture. Needless to say, this process moves beyond a non-digital engineering firm.

We either curse our bad luck, or we move into a different space by writing a new book of rules that merge digital with our infrastructure domain expertise. Do we create the automated car park design tool? Perhaps. Or do we become the best at creating smart car parks that are linked to the city’s transport network and connected to an autonomous vehicle network? Either way, we have moved from the concrete column space into a more holistic, intelligent car park space. We have a new stake in this old market. 

MMDV will drive digital innovation and transformation in the infrastructure space

Our smart infrastructure proposition is designed to help asset owners and operators access the potential benefits of digital transformation. ‘See, Act, Impact’ is a model that helps you to collect data, organise it better, analyse it, and then draw useful insights to power better decisions that will take you closer to your desired outcomes. We’re not removing human criticality but supporting it and therefore improving it. Rather than machines replacing humans, it is humans working with machines to do a better job. 

We show clients that the intelligent cloud and the intelligent edge coupled to purposeful digital twins are the building blocks for modern infrastructure. Rather than a threat to how we do business, we welcome the innovation from tech houses and start-ups as a valuable addition. MMDV can also play a valuable role as a champion for those prepared to take risks and break the mould. I look forward to seeing how this positioning attracts new talent. 

Digital transformation is both exciting and scary. Exciting, because the rewards are tantalising. Scary too, because failure will lead to paralysis and obsolescence. There’s no fall-back option. Disruption is the norm going forward. Of course, there’s no fixed destination either. We need to continuously recalibrate our direction of travel according to the changing needs of our clients and their customers. As a business, we need to stay true to what got us here: embracing change with robust values. MMDV provides our platform to achieve that. 

Click here for more information on Mott MacDonald Digital Ventures.

Oliver Hawes is head of smart infrastructure at Mott MacDonald.