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New Black & Veatch chief eyes data role for firm

Black & Veatch’s new European water chief believes the firm’s blend of engineers, scientists and IT specialists can win over a new era of clients.

Scott Aitken was this week unveiled as managing director of the US engineering giant’s European water business.

The industry stalwart, who left CH2M Hill at the end of last year, has 27 years’ experience in the water sector and is a former chairman of the water special interest group at the Association for Consultancy and Engineering.

His task at Black & Veatch is to provide the leadership and direction to grow the water business sustainably for the long term.

And he told NCE this week that he has clear ideas of how to achieve this.

“Black & Veatch’s focus is on critical human infrastructure, working in water, energy and telecommunications,” he told NCE. “We bring expertise in those three areas to really benefit clients.

“The interconnectivity of those skills is vital. We will bring expertise from energy and telecoms into the water sector.”

This means taking IT skills from the telecommunications arm, and data analysis techniques from the energy side, and using these to enhance what the company can do for water companies.

“For the past decade, our energy business has been working with clients on how we can help analyse a wealth of data so they can optimise performance of assets,” said Aitken. “The way we look at that data helps us intervene at the right point. This is just as critical in the water sector.”

The way water companies manage their assets is changing, with a focus on wringing the maximum value from existing infrastructure and achieving the efficiencies demanded by regulator Ofwat. This brings opportunities for Black & Veatch, Aitken said.

“We are on the path to smart integrated infrastructure, which is needed to add value in the regulated totex [total expenditure] environment,” said Aitken.

“Water and waste water plants rely on chemistry, inputs, weather – a number of factors that impact on performance. We can help clients understand that with real time information.”

While the IT staff may bring the hi-tech solutions into being, and scientists may tell them what to measure, Aitken insists there remains a critical role for engineers in making the tools work for clients.

“It is hugely important that engineers look at the data,” he said. “We do not just bring analytics, it is about deep interpretation and a translation into real solutions.

“Our engineers are energised by the way things are moving.”

Black & Veatch is one of eight contractors named to carve up £1bn of work through Yorkshire Water’s Asset Management Period (AMP) 6 programme. It has also secured £340M of waste water infrastructure work, in partnership with Amey subsidiary Byzak, during Scottish Water’s 2015-21 investment period.

But the firm narrowly missed out on lucrative AMP6 deals for Thames Water and Anglian Water.

Black & Veatch made 250 redundancies last year, which it blamed on the cyclical nature of the water industry.

It hopes to begin increasing headcount as AMP6 reaches its delivery stage, and Aitken’s strategy kicks in.

He said plenty of potential work existed for the company outside of the main AMP6 capital frameworks.

“Opportunities continue with Thames Water and Anglian Water,” said Aitken.

“Water companies are large companies with a number of demands in different areas. Opportunities remain ahead as we continue to engage with these companies about what we do.

“Black & Veatch consults, delivers and manages for clients. We can really take client assets through their lifecycle.”

While the UK remains a major focus, the company is also looking further afield.

It is considering hydropower opportunities in mainland Europe as well as bidding for the Cork Lower Harbour drainage scheme in Ireland.

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