An intelligent approach to infrastructure

Bill Mcelroy

Bill McElroy

Director, Infrastructure


We outline a set of fundamental behaviours that together enable those commissioning and delivering infrastructure projects to do so more successfully.

Intelligence, acquired and applied

In this context intelligence does not just mean the acquisition of project knowledge or data – but is instead the ability to marshal information, understand its implications and to act on it.

While ours is a global industry, and the almost endless range of variables from location to labour laws ensures that no two projects are quite alike, intelligent clients invariably show the following traits:

Questioning – are we clear what we want to achieve, why we set these goals and what reaching them will require?

Honesty – do we really have the capability to do what we plan to?

Taking responsibility – it’s our project, but do we have the ability and information to verify what’s happening and whether it will achieve what we need?

Courage – are we willing to do things differently from how we have done them before?

Defining success from the start

Every stage of a project is important, but the one that tests the client’s intelligence the most comes right at the start – project initiation.

Creating the required delivery environment is a much more practical task than the building of a business case that shows the project is worth doing. It requires the client to think beyond the financial investment decision to ensure: 
-there is a clear, and appropriate, model both for delivering the project and for improving performance during delivery
-the capability and talent needed to deliver the project (both internal and external) is well defined, and there is a clear plan to acquire and retain it.

The intelligent client does not operate in a bubble – they ensure they know not only what their own project pipeline is, but also those of other players in their region.

They then structure their projects to attract and effectively engage with the supply chain. In summary, before committing to delivery, the intelligent client will understand clearly how complex their project is, the capabilities needed to deliver it and – where there are capability gaps – will have identified the best way to fill them.  

Achieving success

Once they have defined fully their project’s needs and requirements, intelligent clients then select their partners competitively and fairly, and reward them through incentivised contracts.

During delivery they support their partners while also enforcing contracts fairly, and they look beyond commissioning to ensure effective operation of the new assets from day one.

Intelligent clients take responsibility for their projects and don’t abdicate this to a project manager or EPC. That’s not to say they don’t delegate responsibility for delivery; but they will ensure that throughout the delivery phase they make smart use of data analytics to stay fully informed of progress, and to benchmark performance against that of others.

Continuous learning, continuous improvement

Successful projects often share many common characteristics, and identifying these key drivers should not be limited to academics. Intelligent clients constantly absorb the practical lessons from their own projects and those of others.

Intelligence is about more than just the accumulation of knowledge – it’s about the effective application of knowledge. Intelligent clients use lessons learned by their organisation and their projects and those of others to drive a continuous improvement agenda. The variety of potential challenges posed by a new major project is vast but there is invariably only one optimum approach – the intelligent one.