Striking the balance: combining certainty and agility in digitalisation
In this fourth article from our ‘Transforming performance of major programmes’ series, we explore how creating resilient, adaptable and robust enterprises is key to unlocking successful infrastructure programmes. However, the ability to balance certainty and adaptability hinges on our adoption of a digital-first approach.
All business propositions are inherently uncertain and carry a degree of risk. On the face of it, it is easy to think major infrastructure programmes would fall on the more predictable end of the scale, as a number of variables are immovable, including the physical asset, once designed, or the central task.
However, as anyone in the industry knows, evolving regulations and requirements, coupled with huge project teams spanning multiple partner organisations, are making infrastructure projects increasingly complex.
The programme enterprise model, which effectively establishes a business built of diverse talent to take forward the project, is there to tackle this complexity. Yet enterprise models are not always as joined-up as they could be.
A small loss of coherence and standardisation can risk members from different organisations diverging in ways that can have a significant impact on project outcomes. Attitudes, ethos, incentives, reporting and governance must be completely in-line across teams.
The role of digitalisation is under-appreciated as the glue that holds these enterprises together, but it is crucial to success.
Fostering a culture of collaboration
The governance and leadership offered by an enterprise approach helps to form a culture based around a collaborative way of working, where risk is shared proportionally, rather than transferred down the chain.
A culture of collaboration enables us to pull expertise from across all partner organisations while clearly promoting a 'one team' mentality, forming a more structured framework and resulting in a smoother programme.
Digital can play a significant role in collaborative culture when it is used to its full potential.
The boundaries of organisations working on a programme are becoming increasingly blurred, a change which requires more of an ecosystem approach, rather than that of a traditional value chain. Shared systems can help in this approach, seamlessly uniting teams across multiple organisations, disciplines and global locations.
Using and understanding integrated technology and data across the whole team helps to foster a culture of communication, with shared responsibility and clear, consistent standards.
Being flexible, not fixed
Adaptability for any business is crucial. Whether a startup or an established company moving into a new direction, it is challenging to know what the end result will be. As unique challenges and requirements of each phase of delivery arise, it’s important to have the flexibility to evolve the enterprise to meet those demands.
In terms of infrastructure, assets are often planned with absolute precision and organisations understandably become fixed on integrating and delivering the specification set out. As the construction industry continues to grapple with rising costs, supply chain disruption and labour shortages, there can be a tendency to develop ever more rigid programmes to try and ensure the project stays on time and on budget.
However, while a clear vision is important, the need for flexibility should not be underestimated.
Less rigidity can help to better meet set outcomes and organisations must be able to evolve over the programme lifecycle so that they meet changing needs around asset planning, design, delivery, commissioning and operation.
This relies on the adaptability of the systems being used, which will need to evolve as the enterprise grows. Just as digital systems can pull teams together, poor integration across different phases of the programme can weaken communication and break down the collaborative culture.
A digital strategy needs to be set up holistically from the outset, and with a long-term view in mind to ensure that it’s able to support the transition from set up right through to operation.
Secure by design
As infrastructure programmes grow in complexity, so too does the importance of security. Enterprises need to ensure that their systems are secure by design, so that all parties are confident and trust the technology. With an increasing number of digital platforms to navigate opportunities for cyber attacks and data breaches are far too easy.
Enterprises must understand that tight security is non-negotiable. As digital environments grow and span the supply chain, widespread safety and a robust approach to both physical and cyber security is becoming harder to ensure – but ever more vital.
Enterprises that fail to act risk losing the confidence of investors as to whether they can really operate and manage major infrastructure organisations.
As with the enterprise approach, attitudes to cyber and physical security must also be adaptable – yet with firm parameters outlined from the start as a core element of a digital strategy. Projects without a comprehensive and regularly reviewed digital strategy are de facto unsafe – and this review process helps to ensure that programmes can capitalise on any new innovations and respond to new threat.
Across the set-up of infrastructure enterprises, digital needs to be a common thread to help build well-connected programmes that tackle the challenges of complexity and foster the culture needed for success. Taking a digital-first approach which builds integrated ecosystems and establishes digitally-enabled ways of working from the outset will help deliver the adaptability needed to address the unique requirements of each stage of the project lifecycle.
If properly utilised, a clear digital strategy, and embracing ever-advancing technology, offers a chance to balance certainty and agility and offer security by design.
These blocks are essential foundations for the successful major projects of the future – but the work to set them up for success starts now.