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Digital engineers can deliver sustainability

BIM project

Perhaps I live in a particularly different environment, coming from a water background where sustainability is a well-loved mantra, but it did seem particularly odd that the opportunities for more efficient sustainable engineering were not highlighted as a major benefit of digital engineers at last month’s launch of the ICE’s State of the Nation report Digital Transformation.

At the launch I asked: “Has the ICE or the government considered how this digital transformation integrates with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)… in particular SDG 9 – innovation and infrastructure?” The response was less than satisfactory, and attempted to ignore this slightly off-piste topic and stick to the “skills gap” questions. After prompting from ICE president Tim Broyd the question was acknowledged but no real response given.

If we are not able to even discuss our role in achieving the UN SDGs, or acknowledge that engineering can do great good as well as great harm, then we cannot move forward.

Digital transformation has the potential to vastly improve efficiency and therefore make better use of the resources we have. This is key to sustainable development and a major focus of SDG 9. We need the ICE and the government to acknowledge their role in achieving these goals and be always considering how each new development can contribute more.

  • Brittany Harris,

Editor’s note: We are currently conducting a survey to better understand engineers’ awareness of the SDGs. Take part here.

Good procurement equals good projects

In two decades in construction, I have spent much of my time immersed in procurement. Whether working with teams trying to win bids or helping asset owners to plan their tender processes, my experience is that it is a complex and challenging area to navigate – and absolutely fundamental to the outcome of the construction process.

In short, get it right and the project is much more likely to be set up for success; get it wrong and it is without doubt more difficult from the start and risk of failure is higher.

It is good news then, to see that improving procurement is included as one of the “ten pillars” driving the government’s proposed industrial strategy. Business and energy secretary Greg Clark hopes this will transform the UK’s post-Brexit economy.

Plans to build on the successes of the “balanced scorecard” approach developed by the Cabinet Office and recently rolled out across all major construction, infrastructure and capital investment projects over £10M must be a sensible move.

Compelling clients to look beyond capital cost and take into account issues such as local business and supply chain engagement, skills development and investment in apprenticeships, has started to generate real value from investment.

By giving bidders confidence that training staff and developing innovative new techniques and products will be rewarded, we have started to see such commitments being made.

But there is a long way to go and getting procurement right across a cash strapped public sector will be vital given the UK’s post-Brexit drive to upgrade infrastructure. So it is crucial that substantial operational savings and wider benefits are designed into projects via procurement, rather than engineered out.

  • Katherine Bew

Joining up our approach to skills

This is an exciting time to work in the civil engineering profession. The articles in the March edition of New Civil Engineer are the proof, with a plethora of once-in-a-generation megaprojects and exciting regional investment programmes.

It was then with great interest that I read the article on skill shortages in the coastal sector in the April edition. Similar articles could have been written about most civil engineering disciplines.

Questions must be asked about the skills available to deliver the pipeline of investment. As megaprojects such as High Speed 2, Tideway and Heathrow gather pace they will absorb colossal levels of skilled resource.

We all have a part to play in attracting new talent into the workforce, and inspiring and retaining it. We need to think differently about how we use the skills available to deliver the infrastructure pipeline.

Working in flood and coastal risk management, my colleagues and I are well versed in looking for opportunities to deliver more for less; innovating and working with partners to find synergies. This mindset is driven by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs funding regime and the result is a wealth of schemes that deliver multiple benefits, efficiently. Crucially, if planned carefully, delivering multiple benefit schemes brings together diverse project teams. And pooling resource inevitably delivers more for less.

While the National Infrastructure Commission is looking at long term infrastructure investment need, there is no forum to bring together infrastructure delivery bodies to coordinate and align priorities, identifying synergies, efficiencies and innovation opportunities. Can we honestly say that this tranche of investment is thoroughly joined up, making the best use of our workforce?

If we do not plan to use our skilled resource carefully we will not deliver and the pipeline will disappear. Keep the investment coming, but let’s get our heads together and be really and truly joined up.

  • Fay Bull,

Is rail investment targeted correctly?

Once again I find myself delayed at a railway station. The irony is not lost on me that while I wait, I am reading about the £450M investment in the digital railway in New Civil Engineer, and have time to do so because of signal failure. I welcome the news of this investment but I am not convinced that it is enough, or whether this is the direction it needs to be invested. In other words, are the right people getting involved in the decision making? Are we civil engineers making sure our expertise is being listened to?

I should be on my way to St. Alban’s to give a talk on innovation for the ICE regional group, to whom I “apologise for any inconvenience this may cause you”. I was meant to be challenging the room to come up with ways to show how our industry could be more innovative, but as it looks like I won’t be getting there any time soon I have decided to write to New Civil Engineer and ask the readers what innovation we could bring to the rail network that could really improve this infrastructure. Is £450M enough and how should it really be spent?

I look forward to reading responses the next time I find myself stuck, awaiting a delayed train.

  • Philippa Jefferis,




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