Innovation in an assured environment

The 2019 report Common Challenges, shared responses, produced with the ICE’s Infrastructure Client Group, uses Mott MacDonald’s Smart Infrastructure Index© to assess progress since Project 13. In the last in a series of four articles based the report, Mott MacDonald’s Jon Rains explores innovation in the industry.

Developers, owners and operators have a responsibility to meet social and economic needs in a way that puts safety first, protects or enhances the natural environment and delivers reliable services. They share with government the duty to deliver value for each pound invested.

Exponential advances in digital technology have unlocked waves of innovation across all industries, but infrastructure has been slow to exploit these opportunities. The challenge is how to enable innovation in a way that does not introduce unacceptable levels of risk.

A surprising 27% of those surveyed in the Smart Infrastructure Index© feel it is unacceptable to invest in an innovation project that fails. This is worrying – innovation by its very nature can’t be predicted in advance and does require investment which may not always see returns. And investing in innovation is essential if technological developments are to deliver improved infrastructure performance. This extends far wider than technology – to processes, procurement and operating models.

Purposeful activity, not organised chaos

While all organisations recognise the need to innovate, 72% said there was limited visibility of outcomes from investment in innovation. Coordinating and aligning that activity with business objectives without stifling new ideas can be challenging.

Innovation is a means to an end, so the business need must first be defined and prioritised. From encouraging and capturing ideas, through to review, challenge and ultimately implementation, a sound support structure is necessary to facilitate and foster the right culture. Outcomes must be measurable, whether an initial pilot or full-scale deployment, with target impacts set and results reviewed and communicated.

Different approaches will be appropriate to different parts of your business – maintain high levels of assurance where required but consider where a more agile approach could be taken in order to drive innovation without compromising service. Major infrastructure owners are already doing this - Shell, for example, recently separated hydrocarbon assets from supporting infrastructure, enabling greater innovation in lower risk areas.

To help promote innovation, there are several steps you can take. Embrace a ‘build-measure-learn’ ethos, allowing ideas to fail without impacting critical areas of the business – the faster that cycle happens, the more value you will get. Develop a physical working environment that encourages informal interactions – these ‘corridor conversations’ between people in different roles often stimulate new ideas. Adopt the right systems for knowledge sharing – people across the organisation may have similar ideas and it is important to connect to avoid duplication. Recognise that different skills are needed at every stage of the process – the person who has a great idea may not be the right person to roll it out across the business.

Get serious about partnerships

A diverse ecosystem of suppliers sits at the heart of Project 13, especially in digital. Use hackathons and incubators to find potential partners, but don’t let collaboration end at the event. Follow through with meaningful opportunities for suppliers to prove their products and services will deliver value to your business. Embrace open innovation, and don’t allow restrictive contracts that demand transfer of all intellectual property to stifle progress. Instead, build trust through long-term partnerships that deliver mutual benefit.

Embrace industry collaboration

Bringing together infrastructure clients and their supply chains, i3P – the infrastructure industry innovation programme – provides a platform for the industry’s brightest minds to collaborate and deliver innovations for the future. By fostering a truly collaborative culture, i3P creates a safe space to share ideas and stimulates collaboration on projects that drive increased value across the industry.

Jon Rains is investment director at Mott MacDonald Ventures.

Richard Shennan, group digital business development director at Mott MacDonald, comments:

“If you can measure it you can manage it.” It’s a saying commonly used in our industry, and it’s clear that having a standard methodology for measuring digital maturity will help infrastructure owners and operators accelerate digital transformation. 

"The Mott MacDonald Smart Infrastructure Index© provides that standard. It enables organisations to plan change based on a clear understanding of their current position and provides a methodology for implementation and measurement. It also provides a valuable benchmark with respect to peers."

Click here to access the SI Index© and benchmark your organisation’s digital maturity in just 15 minutes.

If you would like to contact Andy Walker about this, or any other story, please email awalker@infrastructure-intelligence.com.