Technical excellence is the cornerstone of the civil engineering profession. Civil engineers need to be able to extract the maximum learning from what has gone and also think hard and imaginatively to find new ways of addressing ever more complex challenges - be it building longer span bridges, taller buildings, or more space-efficient roads.
So it’s rather encouraging to see that Highways England has this week hired engineer Jim O’Sullivan as its new chief executive.
O’Sullivan’s CV looks absolutely bang on; he’s a wealth of experience leading capital projects in the aviation sector for BAA successor Heathrow Airport Holdings and in the utilities sector for Eon and working in technical roles, notably serving as chief engineer for Concorde and as technical director for British Airways.
NCE has always placed technical excellence at its heart, and to emphasise that we are establishing a forum of experienced engineers who can meet to discuss and share how the industry can continue to advance its technical expertise.
Our first gathering will discuss building information modelling (BIM), and specifically how current business and project leaders understand, manage and exploit the capabilities offered by technology and the new generation of technologists who will be using it in anger.
The evidence showing the benefits of embracing technology is clearly there. It reduces risk, improves project certainty and ultimately, ensures projects are delivered on time and on budget. We are seeing that on Crossrail for sure, and many other projects - I judged a dozen or so of them for the BIM category of the British Construction Industry Awards this week, and they were all cracking, real-life examples of how BIM is making a real difference.
So one hopes that BIM, and all the other elements of best practice available to us, are exploited to the full on the startling project to rescue the Palace of Westminster from its current state of terminal disrepair. On face value a project where one option is a £5bn-plus wholesale renovation of a World Heritage Site – while still in full use – spread over an estimated 32 years, has got cost and time overruns written all over it. Even vacating the building and moving the MPs and peers into temporary accommodation to allow a more concerted programme of work is still estimated to cost £3.5bn and take six years.
It’s an extraordinary job to take on and it’s hard to conceive of a project that could face more political scrutiny, the range of options available is vast and nailing down a firm scope and agreed delivery plan is going to be massively challenging.
It’s going to need BIM, technical excellence, project management excellence and more. Here’s hoping we’re up to it!
- Mark Hansford is NCE’s editor