Delivering infrastructure more productively

Deborah Singerman
May 26, 2015

Limited public funding and an expanding population have worsened the already sticky problem of how best to deliver infrastructure. With transport, finance and political pressures, the all-too familiar scenario requires productivity improvements to combat issues such as waste, mistakes, risk allocation, project team collaboration, standards, skills and materials.

An innovation panel organised by the University of Sydney’s The Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering Limited (TWC) recently discussed how a productivity focus on technology and innovation would best deliver infrastructure that will maximise value from these limited funds. There is a need, for example, to look at:

  • Cultural change with more transparent business models;
  • Procurement with more collaboration and integration;
  • Governance with most emphasis on projects and their delivery rather than on stakeholders especially within a corporate environment; and
  • Technology including whole-of-life BIM (building information modelling) implementation and integration of design, manufacture and supply.

With less public money available, governments tend to be even more risk averse than the private sector which, in turn, will be increasingly relied upon to fund projects that were once regarded as public.

Megaprojects already overrun their budgets by 50% or more. Furthermore, TWC has identified that “inefficient application of resources (wasted effort, time and expense) is estimated to cost Australia up to $30 billion a year”. The Centre wishes to raise the profile of this ongoing, chronic problem and identify critical actions that could lead to “a program of transformational change”.

More big data and 3D detailing is needed to better integrate the infrastructure site and systems and reduce the risk of there being surprises on the project. A Deloitte Access Economics (DAE) Report for Consult Australia, ‘Economic benefits of better procurement practices’, identified the importance of procurement with investment in early stages of a project, more professional briefs, and delivery models and contracts for reducing project costs and delays while improving their quality and saving money in later work stages.

The DAE recommendations for improving public sector procurement practice and results targeted better specification of project objectives, only using contract clauses that were useful to the project, full verification of government briefs, clear compliance provisions and procurement frameworks evaluated and adapted to encourage innovation.

The role of technology

Michael Bass, Senior Vice President Global Business Development and Product Management for Intergraph, has shown how its materials management software, SmartPlant Materials, can improve certainty and productivity on a project. Rather than use traditional manual drawings and bills of quantities to show and explain a project’s requirements, Intergraph’s program creates electronic requests and streamlines process and procurement, while reducing risk and processing time.

Requisitions can be transferred accurately to other systems further reducing cost and time, with less likelihood of making mistakes when ordering materials, ultimately leading to less waste.

The working of the technology is crucial within these new execution methods and opportunities. Technology allows all stages to be completed within the one system, all digital, able to be visualised, interlinked and transferable from computer to mobile. Direct access to information allows faster decision-making.

With the outcome of many projects different from the expected capital project performance, a more certain work flow is likely to improve productivity. Working from the supplier database and web portal, the planning supply chain becomes the focus, fabrications are expedited, materials weighed, plants modularised, and purchase orders closed. Construction work, ideally from a validated construction plan, is ongoing and on-site.

This better tracking and monitoring of projects alongside use of materials management software, efficient product procurement, standardisation, cost control, traceability and sustainable management aims to help improve productivity and reduce costs and delays. Laing O’Rourke, for instance, offers a work flow with 70% of the construction delivered by manufacture and assembly rather than traditional construction.

There may be new software available but more companies need to know about this and be better trained to use it to improve project delivery. Urging the industry to pursue this is not easy but the project manager may end up being integral to effecting shifts to greater productivity.

Author avatar
Deborah Singerman
Deborah Singerman runs her own writing and editing consultancy. Her Twitter handle is @deborahsingerma.
Read more