Costain is already using the skills and experience it gained from this summer’s acquisition of technology provider Simulation Systems Limited (SSL) to solve customer problems in new areas.
Corporate development director Tim Bowen says the 151-year-old Berkshire-based engineering giant is already using the expertise of the new staff it took on to help customers tackle their most challenging technology issues.
“We are having lots of interesting discussions with clients and our proposition has been greatly enhanced through the acquisition,” he says.
“The new capability has opened doors to many new opportunities across all our sectors that we would not have been seen as credible for just six months ago.”
Established in 1979, SSL has provided integrated hardware and software-based solutions to customers including Highways England, Transport for London, the Scottish and Welsh governments and a number of English county and city councils.
Bowen said the acquisition – which included all 165 SSL staff and the full range of its existing deals – ticked a key strategy box by accelerating the pace of Costain’s technology capability growth.
“We are seeing changes in customer buying behaviour, and the pace of this change is accelerating and will get faster still so Britain can compete in an ever more connected economy,” says Bowen.
This change is being driven by a demand across the UK for modernised infrastructure with greater capacity, he says – and the fact that this demand is far outstripping supply of investment resources.
“So this is driving fundamental change – and technology is becoming increasingly important.
“We see a larger amount of customer spending allocated for technology than in the past – historically we might have built our way out of a problem, but now we need to think differently. We are looking to build a set of capabilities in the Costain group that customers can call on when they require.”
Highways England’s smart motorway projects – on which SSL and Costain have both worked – represent classic examples of how technology is being used to solve problems that shovels and spades once tackled.
“In the past we might have widened a motorway,” says Bowen. “Now we use technology systems that predict the number of vehicles on the network and then open and close lanes as necessary and manage the safety aspects by modifying the speed limits.
“This opens up more capacity on the network without building anything.”
SSL had been heavily involved in developing technology for smart motorway schemes.
“It deployed new CCTV concepts for long-range infrared low light traffic surveillance and combined it with sensors in the pavement to measure vehicle speeds and flows very accurately,” says Bowen. “That information goes to Highways England control centres to help the client minimise congestion and maximise use of the roads.”
He cites further examples of how the technology Costain has acquired works at once-notorious bottlenecks on Britain’s roads.
“On the Dartford Crossing where operators in tollbooths used to do visual checks for dangerous vehicles, there is now a bespoke automated traffic management system for profiling vehicles carrying hazardous materials,” says Bowen.
On the Dartford Crossing where operators in tollbooths used to do visual checks for dangerous vehicles, there is now a bespoke automated traffic management system for profiling vehicles carrying hazardous materials
Tim Bowen, Costain
“It picks up orange plates and signals lorries to move into safety cells. As part of the new freeflow crossing, this has sped up journeys across the Thames, increased safety and reduced congestion when issues occur.
“On the M20, the BlueTruthTM system has been used to minimise the need for Operation Stack. This intelligent solution uses Bluetooth rather than automatic number plates to work with CCTV and look at past histories of flows of HGVs to predict when an Operation Stack might become necessary. This has reduced congestion, and Operation Stack has not been invoked since its implementation.”
Bowen adds that SSL’s approach to business – led by managing director Louis Thompson – mirrored Costain’s own.
“We saw that the way they worked with customers was in line with our thinking,” says Bowen.
“This is all about creating the solution in theory and also deploying it in a collaborative way.”
The entrepreneurial company won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Innovation in 2013 and was a finalist in the National Business Awards for Innovation in 2015.
“There were any number of third party verifications that showed this company had something special,” says Bowen.
“We saw we could add value to the acquisition by opening it up to the other five sectors we already had – rail, nuclear, power, water, and oil and gas. We could take the innovation already taking place in the highways sector and make it available to a suite of new customers through our structure.”
The integration of the firm has already taken place, and the former SSL staff are applying their skills to delivering work for Costain.
“We took on a very bright and diverse group of people, many of whom have PhDs,” says Bowen.
“We have their same offices running but they have all Costain offices available to them and we encourage them to move project, sector or office if they want to.”
Clients increasingly want suppliers to offer technology services alongside traditional design and build capabilities, he says.
“We are seeing customers looking to buy an integrated service, bundling together design, construction and technology to manage the interfaces in the best way.”
Now Costain is looking to drive value by selling the technology it has acquired from SSL into other areas.
“Network Rail is looking to the digital railway and the deployment of intelligent infrastructure – we see great opportunities in that space. We see the chance to look at sensor-rich infrastructure to see when problems may occur, and minimise infrastructure issues that delay train services.
Network Rail is looking to the digital railway and the deployment of intelligent infrastructure – we see great opportunities in that space
Tim Bowen, Costain
As well as continuing to deliver on existing commitments and bidding for new work, Costain wants to keep expanding its expertise.
“We are very much on the mission to build capability and anticipate changes in customer buying behaviour,” says Bowen.
“We are doing this through direct recruitment; bidding for work; building alliances; and acquiring organisations that fulfil something customers want to see as part of an integrated services offering.
“We want to continue to grow; it is expected of us.”
Technology will continue to be a central part of that drive for growth, says Bowen.
“We are in the middle of a revolution in the deployment of technology-led solutions. Technology will increasingly be needed to solve complex delivery and capacity issues.”
- Produced in association with Costain