It’s time to get to grips with digital

It’s time to get to grips with digital

Author: Lesley Waud – Transport Design Development Director, SNC-Lavalin Atkins

Lesley Waud

By people, I really mean a culture and a mindset: a perception by many that doing things ‘digitally’ is a threat to long-held technical specialism or expertise. But I don’t see it in those terms. To me, the risk is in us not helping people embrace the benefits of using digital systems and processes in their work. As leaders, it’s up to us to empower our teams to use technology as an enabler, and it’s up to us to have the appetite and desire to show leadership as to why doing things differently now matters.

That means upskilling our workforce and helping people who may be resistant to change by providing the right support and opportunities for them to develop. It’s about reassuring them that digital transformation isn’t a threat, but an opportunity to learn new skills to equip us to face the digital future. If we don’t tackle this issue now, the discourse will continue to be dominated by those that would rather tell you all the reasons for not doing something, rather than finding ways you can – which alienates those who are eager to adopt new technology, and who are snapping at our heels to use it.

When we deploy digital processes to carry out repetitive activities it frees up our valuable time and lets us focus on what really adds value for our clients. At a recent presentation to clients, an Atkins engineer told of how he and his team had developed a simple algorithm that could come up with literally thousands of design options in a fraction of the time it would take for them to develop one design had they been using traditional, passive methods. The algorithm now helps inform their decisions at each stage of the design process – while outsourcing the time-consuming task of data processing – so that the team can dedicate more of their time to what’s important: validating the findings, assessing the best options, and improving the ultimate final design. In short, applying their expertise to the higher-value end area of the process.

Embracing digital doesn’t mean the prestige of a career in design and engineering is diminished. Today, we are fortunate that we have game-changing digital technology to support our tasks, that many before us simply haven’t had access to, so let’s capitalise on that, and use it to our advantage.

The second barrier to digital transformation within our industry is commercial models, and how they are structured; in fact, in my view this is a serious barrier to digital transformation happening at all. This is where we must start thinking very differently: we need to reshape commercial models, root and branch, a tough ask, perhaps, as many clients are still comfortable with current models based on unit cost and input of effort, as opposed to thinking how, as an industry, we might link cost instead to the value of the service. We need to redistribute value earlier in the process and capitalise on the benefit of doing so.

We need to start asking how we can create components and constituent parts of a project – supported by digital transformation – that are compatible and that can be configured more intelligently so they have a life afterwards. We need to be asking: how could we break a project down into components that allow an element of selection, for example, like choosing from a car brochure, without reverting to bespoke designs for every element, and whereby certain design elements can be reused?

Take motorway construction, for example: there’s a perception that if you have a one-size-fits-all approach, you’d be wasting material because it would be overdesigned for the majority of circumstances. But in reality, we know that we don’t necessarily save material by designing precise components for a single location due to the challenges we face on site in achieving a consistent quality in variable conditions and not using surplus materials – for example, the partial concrete load that goes to waste. By manufacturing a standardised solution, offsite, even if it’s going to be oversized in some circumstances, it will have been manufactured in a very controlled environment, and with very precise material quantities and quality control. So already, significantly less material is wasted compared with building it from scratch on-site.

However, if payment and the measurement of value is linked to time and materials, we will not recover the considerable investments we are making and will continue to make in transforming our industry.  A single standard solution that will add considerable benefit needs to have its value linked to the outcomes it enables rather than the input effort in creating and, importantly, maintaining the relevance of the product and we all need to work together to create long-term sustainable future models for our industry.

The good news is, some of our clients’ responses to the government’s agenda to do things differently and drive productivity have been very positive. We are already seeing some good, early examples of commercial models that incentivise suppliers, based on results. I believe our clients want more digital solutions to infrastructure questions, and that they want to improve productivity. But to get this right in the long term we need to get real and stop mixing old-world commercial models and behaviours with new expectations.

If we’re serious about innovative solutions, we must grasp the opportunities of working to innovative commercial models – and that means being emboldened by the transformative powers of digital technology, not threatened by it. When we do so, we will not only uphold our professional status, but it will also mean we may collectively share in the added-value of a project’s lifecycle.

Seven things we can start doing right now…

1.         See digital as a game-changer that can support traditional roles

2.         Understand, guide and develop those fearful of change

3.         Foster new digital behaviours and upskilling, such as knowledge-sharing

4.         Reshape commercial models to encourage digital ways of working

5.         Use digital to encourage value through standardising components

6.         Use digital to behave and act more sustainably

7.         Procure services in smarter and more sustainable ways

Lesley Waud is design development director for transportation at Atkins, part of the SNC-Lavalin Group. Lesley will be exploring these themes further as part of the Big Thinking programme at Highways UK on 6/7 November.

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Future mobility, made possible

Future mobility, made possible

Author: John Batten – Global Cities Director, Arcadis

John Batten

By 2050, more than two thirds of the world’s population will live in cities, and this rapid rise in urbanisation will dramatically reshape how we live our lives. From climate change to mobility, the impact of population growth means we will need to rethink many of the ways in which we, as citizens, interact with our environment, says John Batten, Global Cities Director at Arcadis

Cities everywhere are grappling with congestion, overcrowding, poor air quality and the need to drive greater prosperity and competitiveness. Our experience of a city often comes down to how easy it is to move around, yet with transport contributing to 20% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions and 7 million people dying from air pollution every year, the challenges are clear.

Is there a solution?

Seamless, Connected and Sustainable Mobility

The answer to a seamless transport experience lies in the smart application of technology. New innovations and low carbon solutions that can be integrated with and complement the existing transport network offer the best opportunity for progress. However, this can only be effective if the needs of the citizen are put at the heart of future transport plans.

Numerous emerging trends will have an impact. From Artificial Intelligence and drone technology disrupting first and last mile delivery, to the reduction in car ownership and the rise of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV) and Mobility as a Service (Maas), success ultimately depends on how a city aligns its vision with the citizen experience.

Postcards from around the world

We are already seeing some exciting interventions happening in cities all around the world.

We are working with the city of Amsterdam to design and procure a MaaS solution for their Zuidas business district. A MaaS service makes it easier for people to plan, book, pay for and access a range of different transport modes with a single App. Our work included business engagement to achieve agreement from 15 of the largest employers in the region to combine their ‘buying power’ for the MaaS solution; creating a demonstration service (an “experiment”) to challenge employees to give up their car for a month to experience MaaS, generate early adopter advocates and to capture essential user feedback to input to the procurement approach; and consultancy support for the MaaS procurement.

As people start making smarter choices about how they move, we hope to see a reduction in the pressure on the crowded road network in Amsterdam’s business district, improving air quality, and helping citizens to be happier, healthier and more connected.

New York is also a city feeling the strain of population growth and an overburdened transport network. With people living in increasingly close proximity, buildings often don’t have the space to store or recycle waste. The result is that, in one day alone, up to 34 waste trucks are traversing four boroughs to service businesses in a neighbourhood where the infrastructure is already straining under the weight of demand.

In response, we used our digital knowledge to develop a waste collection strategy that made better use of existing resources. Based on a simulation model, we found that a zoned approach would reduce truck traffic by a staggering 18 million miles a day. A simple approach, with a significant outcome.

Putting future mobility into practice

There are some huge opportunities for UK cities to benefit. Turning our attention closer to home, Cardiff’s new electric vehicle strategy demonstrates how an ambitious city is upping its mobility game.

Government policy dictates that all new cars and vans will need to be Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (ULEV) by 2040, yet Cardiff has significantly fewer charge points compared to other core cities. The council needed to develop an Electric Vehicle (EV) charging network across the while city, leading by example by cleaning up its own fleet. This is a large, wholescale change that can only be achieved through collaboration with key partners, ensuring the EV agenda sits alongside a much wider sustainable transport strategy.

The step-by-step guide we used to help Cardiff Council offers a blueprint that can help any city review its future mobility strategy.

A 6-Step Guide

1. Using the City’s vision as a starting point, define detailed objectives.

2. Review the current market.

3. Develop an appropriate stakeholder engagement strategy. Who needs to be part of the decision-making process?

4. Establish business and operating models that will work long-term.

5. Enable rollout. Is the plan seamless, does it meet required standards, and does it provide the best user experience?

6. Manage & maintain. Reliability is key to user confidence.

With just a few practical measures, future mobility – designed around the needs of the citizen – can become a reality.

John Batten is Global Cities Director at Arcadis. He is speaking on the Burges Salmon stage at Highways UK offering further observations on Big thinking from big cities, radical ideas on mobility from around the world. His colleague Tom Morgan is also presenting on Cardiff’s EV transition with Andrew Gregory, Director of Environment, Planning and Transport at Cardiff City Council, in the main theatre.

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Helping demystify the innovation support landscape

Helping demystify the innovation support landscape

Author: Simon Yarwood – KTN’s Knowledge Transfer Manager for ICT and Energy Harvesting

Simon Yarwood

The UK’s innovation support landscape is varied and complex, which proved to be the underlying observation of a Government commissioned report by Professor Dame Ann Dowling on Business and University Research Collaborations, published in 2015.

Professor Dowling’s review included recommendations to Government in two main areas. Firstly, reducing the complexity of the relationships between UK businesses and the UK’s university researchers; and secondly fostering and supporting relationships between researchers and business, particularly for smaller firms looking to innovate.

The need to reduce complexity was neatly summed up in this largely incomprehensible infographic

included within the report. It shows the complex and diverse nature at the national level of the research and innovation ecosystem. Although it’s now a little out of date – with some of the organisations changing name or amalgamating – the underlying picture remains much the same.

One of the Government’s responses to the Dowling Review was the creation of UK Research and Innovation compromising the Research Councils, Innovate UK and a number of funded support mechanisms such as the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) and Catapult centres.

This organisation plays a key part in supporting innovative UK business with funding and networking. It is, however, relatively early days and for innovators there can still appear to be a bewildering array of organisations. At the most basic level it is hard to know whose door you should be knocking on.

Sitting within the KTN, our role as the networking partner to Innovate UK (the funding body) means I interact with companies of all sizes and at every stage of their innovation journey. My first piece of advice is invariably to think about the technology readiness level or TRL of your innovation or product.

TRLs were originally developed by NASA as a method of measuring the maturity of space exploration technology. Many different industries have now adopted them as an approach to assessing technologies and their readiness for on-site deployment.

NASA today describes the system as a useful, commonly understood method for explaining to collaborators and stakeholders the maturity of a particular technology.

My point is the TRL of your innovation has a big impact on who you should be speaking to within the UK Research and Innovation family.

This certainly isn’t official KTN or Government thinking, but in an attempt to simplify and demystify the UK’s innovation support landscape I’ve developed the following quick guide. Think of it as a lens into some specific parts that can help business to innovate. The landscape support table

shows the technology readiness levels at which the different UK Research and Innovation organisations operate and outlines some of their key support activities.

In the first instance I’d suggest deciding roughly where you sit on the TRL scale and then, taking into account the type and size of your business/organisation, look at the table to determine where to start. This will help reduce time wasted knocking on wrong doors and hopefully help you reach the right people sooner. Also remember that KTN is here to help people navigate this space, so if you find yourself still wondering where to look, drop us a line and we will do what we can to help. You’ll find more information on KTN here

Simon Yarwood is KTN’s Knowledge Transfer Manager for ICT and Energy Harvesting

KTN and Innovate UK are the principal supporters of Highways UK’s two innovation competitions, both of which are currently open for entries.

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