“How does it all fit together?”
The question is raised time and again. The reason it gets asked is because no-one considers the gaps or how individual elements link together when they are being produced.
Everyone has a day job, focusing on the in-depth technical aspect of one particular part of the system. Engineers are professionals who dedicate time and effort to mastering a particular discipline.
Bridging the gaps
Policy’s work is here to facilitate, support and convene these specialisms and bridge the conceptual gaps. But to make sure we are making the most effective impact on society, we all need to be aware of the bigger picture and how we contribute. As such, there are four priorities we should all be thinking about in 2018.
First, the differentiation between sectors is reducing. This is illustrated particularly in the recent publication of the Infrastructure & Projects Authority’s four steps diagram. This sets out a scale of increasing returns, from a focus on the capital efficiency of a single project at the lower end to whole life efficiency of the overall asset system across sectors at the top end. Many of you are already aware of this, but the reason it is coming to the forefront now is that the enablers are in place. Digital transformation will revolutionise how we prioritise, design and deliver programmes, delivering benefits across sectors.
Second, investors and sponsors are increasingly focusing on defining outcomes for customers and end users. The political rhetoric since the General Election has noticeably shifted to make politicians more clearly accountable to beneficiaries in their decision making on infrastructure spending. This creates the space for pooling expertise from individual professions to collaborate, respond to problem statements and achieve the holy grail of innovation in construction.
Third, the line between asset creation and asset management is blurring. It has been a long lamented frustration of many engineers that they are constrained in making decisions in the interests of the capital project rather than the whole life of the asset and its relationship to the overall system. We now have the opportunity to fill this gap as political rhetoric shifts; we can start to make decisions on the asset system as a whole. New tools, better data and information on asset performance will continue to provide our evidence.
Fourth and by no means least, the future of the professions and how they interact is changing. If we are to continue to apply our expertise effectively, we need to consider the gaps between the different professions. We cannot look at evolving and responding to these in isolation. The ICE is currently working on the final version of the In Plain Sight review along with a review of Engineering Skills for the Future led by Ed McCann, its vice president. Both of these will contribute to defining our role in future. The risk that we need to manage is how that fits within the changing wider ecosystem.
By engaging on these four issues and accepting that they are the grand narratives within which we are working, civil engineers will be well-placed to grasp the opportunity from the gaps and avoid the risks.