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Comment | New thinking will help us deliver

Mark Hansford

Confidence is restored. I say this after spending a day this week with some of the brightest minds in civil engineering at NCE’s Future Technology Forum.

As we may have mentioned over the last few weeks, we were very excited to be putting together an event designed around getting people with a passion for exploiting technology to share, exchange and communicate.

And it really delivered. We heard bold but believable talk from key clients about how innovative thinking is now being encouraged; we heard from chief construction adviser Peter Hansford (no relation) on why we should be pretty proud of what we are achieving in this country. But more important than any of that, we heard from passionate engineers about how they want to use technology to change things for the better.

It was genuinely inspirational stuff, and you can read the highlights in this week’s NCE. It was enough to make you think we have got it cracked.

Off site construction

But there was a public health warning attached. As Peter Hansford said, it is all pretty fragile. We have only got to have major problems on one or two key projects and we will lose the reputation we have been building.

To avoid that happening it is crucial that the industry engages with the new thinking sweeping through the industry. We must all support outgoing construction adviser Hansford’s legacy - the Government’s Construction 2025 vision - and the complementary work of the Construction Leadership Council.

Its four key focus areas: industrialising construction through building a factory mentality; developing smart infrastructure through sensors and big data; developing new business models that enable innovation; and recognising the value of asset management in long-term assets were all key topics at the Forum.

And through the conversations that were had it was obvious that there is plenty of bright and bold thinking that can help the industry deliver real change on all four fronts. There was no negativity; no dismissal of ideas. Only a “can-do-if-we-want-to” attitude.

Which is a huge relief in the week that the government through transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin “unpaused” work on the previously “paused” rail electrification programme - on the explicit instruction that the industry ups its game.

We as an industry have messed this up once, and we cannot afford to mess it up again. It’s in everyone’s collective interests that we start rolling out some seriously good performances.

The government’s Spending Review is just around the corner, and there are some pretty draconian cuts that are going to have to come from somewhere.

We don’t want infrastructure to be where the axe falls. Delivery and customer satisfaction is everything and technology is the major enabler. Thanks to this week’s Forum, I’m confident we can do it.

  • Mark Hansford is NCE’s editor

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