Making a difference by leading digital change

WSP is sponsoring the Best Use of Digital category in this year’s Consultancy and Engineering Awards. We spoke to Louise Lawrence, head of discipline for intelligent transport at WSP, about the company’s mission to highlight the importance of digital transformation across the industry.

There’s a lot of talk about digital transformation in the industry currently. How do you view it at WSP and how do you ‘default digital’ in an organisation?

The phrase “defaulting to digital” has been often used and become a bit of a buzz-statement. At WSP, we are clear that without digital we will not be able to achieve our ambitions for transformational change and it is the absolute building block around everything that we do. To ‘default to digital’, we are first focusing on our people and making sure that we are developing, attracting and retaining the right people that have that digital mindset and digital skills. We are also investing in new processes and new technology to continually improve the way we identify challenges and develop solutions and embedding that approach in the work that we do. It’s not just the people that we bring in or the tools that we use, it’s also the solutions that we design and enable for the sector.

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How does digital enable transformational change?

Around 50 years ago, when the first digital watches came to market, a digital watch meant having an LED display on your wrist that told you the time. Fast forward to today and a digital watch is now a smart watch because it doesn’t just tell me the time anymore, it gives me my route maps, it tells me how far I have walked, it tells me when to stand up, I can use it to pay for things, I can use it as a boarding pass and I can also use it as a ticket at a train station. 

Because of digital technologies, such as 4G connectivity, something that was once just a watch can do even more than it could have done 50 years ago. The performance of that watch is transformed. In the same way, for our industry to enable transformational change we have to be able to reimagine how we design, build and deliver using the advantages now enabled by digital tech, but we have to learn how to think with a digital mindset because that is how true transformation will emerge. 

How can the right approach to digital help the industry to address big issues like net zero?

Digital transformation is critical to achieving net zero outcomes. If we break it down into design, construction, operations and the customer, each of these are opportunities for where digital transformation can deliver to net zero. Carbon modelling tools embedded in our design processes, how we work with the supply chain from production through to the way that goods are transported and delivered to site and carbon in the materials that we are using themselves. Digitally-enabled design reduces our carbon footprint and for customers and communities, ubiquitous connectivity is crucial in contributing to the net zero agenda by enabling everyone to make smarter and greener choices. 

What will a greater focus on digital mean for the skills needed in the sector and will this make the industry more attractive to new entrants especially the younger element that the industry needs to attract?

A greater focus on digital means that we will definitely need to attract new skills into the sector and that will also make our industry more attractive to everyone. It means that we can provide more opportunities for retraining, development and progression and most importantly, because sector-specific knowledge is vital to digital transformation, we also need to get better at keeping our people in the industry too. So, I think it’s not just about attracting new younger entrants - and we will attract those - it’s also about keeping those sector professionals with deep corporate knowledge in the industry as well.  We need both to achieve transformation.

Why is WSP keen to sponsor and highlight digital excellence in construction?

As a society, we are fast-tracking our way to climate crisis. We not only need to put on the brakes, we need to undo the impacts of our carbon footprint on this planet. Our industry and the role that we play within it is crucial to that goal. The tonnes of carbon we can remove through modern methods of construction, digital twins, digital asset management, data collaboration, how we design, build, deliver, maintain, operate and dispose will all make a difference. WSP understands the need to come together and catalyse the learning, innovation and best practice into reality. We all have a role to play in achieving digital excellence and WSP is leading that industry change.

WSP is sponsoring the Best Use of Digital category in this year's Consultancy and Engineering Awards. The finalists' shortlists for all the awards will be announced on Thursday 5 August 2021.

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