Mega-projects are challenging the industry like never before

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Major projects are becoming ever more complex with greater demands on those delivering them.

The global construction and infrastructure sector is being challenged like never before as the world looks to deliver mega-projects of increasing scale and complexity.

So says Louise Adams, group chief operating officer of engineering, design and advisory company Aurecon, speaking at a session on “Delivering and managing capital projects more efficiently” as part of FIDIC’s 2021 Global Infrastructure Conference taking place today (13.9.21).

Adams said that there were four key areas that the industry needed to focus on. “Better up-front planning and scoping, which includes multi-year infrastructure plans for a more coordinated approach. We also need to ensure the implementation of effective procurement strategies and the correct allocation of risk. Thirdly, how do we use the current investment wave to address skills shortages across our sector and finally, crucially, we also need to ensure that we leverage technology to deliver more efficiently and with innovation to provide real benefits to communities.”

Atkins SNC Lavalin UK and Europe CEO Richard Robinson said that leadership was crucial, especially in the area of data, but so was improving the productivity of the industry, which was still lagging behind other sectors, he said. “In essence, this is about using data to have a real time assessment of performance on projects and making sure that we set up the systems necessary to achieve this,” Robinson said.

Benoît Clocheret, Artelia Group chief executive, highlighted the importance of trust on projects and, flowing from that, being able to use mega-projects to innovate – this would need clients to take real leadership, he said. The issue of international collaboration and capacity building was highlighted by Herbco Technical Services managing director Kabelo Motswangole, who made the point that this would be increasingly important as the world comes out of the pandemic and looks to ‘build back better’.

Arcadis Group executive for Asia Pacific, Greg Steele, said that industry skills and resources were causing challenging issues for project delivery. “Those countries that are doing better are those that are taking a long-term, bipartisan approach to infrastructure planning,” Steele said. Such an approach made it easier for the industry to plan for peaks and troughs in demand and also was helpful in other areas, including better risk allocation, he said.

It seems that those countries that have a national coordinated plan for infrastructure were able to manage projects more efficiently, but strong and collaborative leadership was still needed.

While undoubtedly crucial, good leadership also needed to be allied to getting the right risk profile on projects. Richard Robinson said that better and more innovative collaboration approaches would only be encouraged provided companies were confident that they were not putting their financial futures on the line when working on mega-projects. This was something that could not be ignored, he said.

Returning to the question of leadership, Aurecon’s Louise Adams said that people management was crucial along with setting out a set of cultures and behaviours needed for project success. Ever more complex mega-projects would inevitably mean greater demands on industry leaders, she said. Time will tell whether the sector can rise to the challenge.