Article | April 12, 2020
Tom, we’ve known you for many years while you were the CTO of EllisDon, one of Canada’s largest general contractors. Now you’re the President and CEO of CanBIM, a non-profit focused on construction technology in Canada, probably the largest organization like that in Canada. And a founder of wired.construction https://www.wired.construction/, which you describe as being a CTO for hire. Can you tell us a bit more actually about wired.construction.
Article | August 4, 2021
In amongst the chatter about how we can 'do' infrastructure better, there's now a growing consensus that we need to improve the way we design our interventions - 'design' in the broader sense of the word, rather than the narrow sense we tend to use as engineers.
My front-end principles for better infrastructure
Over the course of my career, the following front-end principles have served well to ensure we think through, before we rush in where angels fear to tread.
Be clear about the purpose and the expected outcomes, and engage communities in decision-making through an effective communication strategy.
Prioritise the user, aiming to offer services that are modern, effective and affordable.
Seek to improve people's quality of life and support the transition to a more sustainable future, while also facilitating the functioning of the economy, enhancing productivity and accommodating growth (to the extent possible, given other competing objectives).
Extract greatest value from existing infrastructure through timely maintenance, repurposing, renewal and upgrading. Seek to remove constraints and bottlenecks.
Aim to make best use of data, automation, innovation and technology (including for future asset management), recognising the complexity and risks this may introduce.
Recognise, analyse, mitigate and manage technical, environmental and climate risks, and complete any surveys necessary to support this.
Improve governance, with robust, timely and transparent decision-making, supported by strong evidence-based planning, clear prioritisation, and best practice technical design and delivery.
Seek an appropriate funding balance between 'user pays' and general taxation which incentivises behaviours in the best long-term social, economic and environmental interests.
Complete well-evidenced business cases and risk assessments of proposed initiatives before embarking on projects, including financing proposals. Aim to allocate the risks identified to those best able to carry them.
Facilitate collaboration between the government and business to promote delivery of the broader social, economic and environmental benefits.
Clearly, there are many other issues to consider as a project develops, and the above principles may seem obvious to some, and a counsel of perfection to others, but it's surprising how many are overlooked in the rush to build.
Article | July 6, 2021
One way or another, we all work on infrastructure; whether design, construction, operation or maintenance. We solve problems and make things work – often without the public realising the complexity of our task. We sit in the background and don’t make waves.
We are good at the technical challenges, but how often do we take a step back and think about how our work or project fits into the ambitions of wider society? Who is commissioning it? Why are they commissioning it? What are the political drivers? What do they want the outcome to be? What has changed since we started work on it?
This sort of questioning will help us deliver better projects, as we see the bigger picture, beyond our technical solutions. With so much of our infrastructure delivered through public bodies, it is important that civil engineers understand, and give professional advice to, the political process that drives infrastructure investment for our communities.
Article | July 20, 2021
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has recently launched an operational review of the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) regime. This regime, established in 2008, was put in place to bypass local planning approval for projects that had a predominately national rather than a local impact.
Over the last few years, the regime has taken a significant battering with ‘development consent’ (the granting of planning approval) for major infrastructure programmes being brought before court due to the corresponding National Policy Statement (used to determine if a project is in line with government ambition) being out of date with latest government policy. The most notable example being a third runway at Heathrow. This highlights that something is wrong with turning strategic policy intent into decisions on granting development consent.