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EEJ Digital Engineering

Shifting mindsets

Laing O’Rourke has more than 15,000 employees globally, so changing the culture to one that embraces the digital age was not going to happen overnight. James Eaton is championing new ways of working across the Group.


Laing O’Rourke is currently undertaking a massive change management programme as the Group wholeheartedly embraces digital engineering to deliver innovative solutions for its clients. It’s about taking people on a journey, taking away the fear of new technology, breaking down traditional roles and relationships to get people operating in a different way than they’ve done before – more collaboratively.

It’s important that we begin with the end in mind and ask ourselves: ‘why exactly are we doing this?’ The digital engineering process will deliver an integrated set of geometric models, data and documentation that builds over the life of a project to capture all knowledge related to that built asset. It’s clear that this offers many benefits: an increased predictability of project outcome (in terms of safety, design, cost, programme and quality) and an ability to lead the marketplace and increase the penetration of our key sectors and clients, with an enhanced reputation.

The benefits are not just internal. Building Information Modelling (BIM) and digital engineering offer clients the necessary information to efficiently procure, operate and maximise the value of their assets over their entire life. Of course, clients will also have an increased confidence in Laing O’Rourke’s abilities as we demonstrate our understanding of the complex build process and associated risks.

With the benefits clear, how to get there? There are three strands to our strategy: culture, process, and technology, and the opportunity is there to leverage these across all projects stages – concept, design, manufacture, delivery, and operation. Digital engineering alone delivers no value. It is the combination of a clear strategy, the right people and culture, the right technology, high-quality data and lean processes that create the value – any weak link in this chain will inevitably have an impact somewhere along the line.

It’s important to shift the mindset from: ‘it’s something else to do’ towards: ‘it’s how we all go to work’. Skills and people are evolving and the key is to demystify the speed of change and help take people on the journey to bring about change in ways of working (process) and use of new technologies (the tools available).

The route to deploy digital engineering globally is taking many roads and it’s a journey that will take three to four years to travel. A mandatory awareness-raising training module was the global starting point, conducted among 3,500 staff in Europe before being rolled out to the rest of the business. That was followed by a series of five-hour senior leaders’ awareness sessions, targeting all key individuals globally, from executive board level through to project leads. The intensive workshops provided an overview of the issues, hands-on training, the reasons for cultural change and offered opportunities for engagement via exhibition-style stands. They were followed by roadshows across the Group.

Perhaps the most important stage is to map out how digital engineering affects the majority of staff and what it actually means to them on a day-to-day basis. The key is to embed digital engineering within the functional disciplines and demonstrate the value it can bring into their roles. We’ve developed over 200 reference case studies, so we’ve cut the benefits through different lenses, if you like.

SuccessFactors, Laing O’Rourke’s performance management system, enables employees to create individual personal development plans that identify the skills required to progress through their discipline. These are aligned to a DE competency matrix (specifically designed for the relevant function – design, engineering, procurement, planning, estimating, etc) so staff can track where they are currently and what level they need to achieve next. ‘Career Toolkits’ are also used to support this process. These show staff how to get the support they need and, when undertaking projects using digital engineering, project tracking tools map out exactly what is required.

As well as technical training courses in software such as Revit, Navisworks, Synchro and ArchiCAD, Laing O’Rourke’s intranet, iGATE, is packed full of useful articles, case studies and information that makes digital engineering relevant to users. We’ve embraced a philosophy we call ‘teaching them to fish’, which will allow the specialist DE team to step back over time. If you look at the adoption curve, we are still at the early-adopter phase of this transition and the next 12 months will be crucial as we move into the early majority phase.

The company’s change process must look externally as well as internally, both in terms of the consultants that Laing O’Rourke engages with and its supply chain. On the consultancy side, we have been meeting with them on a business-to-business strategic level, discussing our aspirations and expectations and what we require them to deliver. It’s fair to say that competencies are variable and we will be pushing those that aren’t up to speed hard.

The company is now about to start the process with the supply chain. We will be tackling this over the next 12 months. We are currently managing this on a project-by-project basis but will be looking at this strategically next. There is a massive task ahead.

Certainly, there are many construction companies yet to even begin their digital engineering journey, let alone reach BIM Level 2 by 2016, as mandated by the UK Government for public-sector projects. A recent survey in NCE magazine showed that 75 per cent of respondents were not even at Levels 0 or 1. As an industry, we are nowhere near where we need to be.

We are confident that Laing O’Rourke is ahead of the pack, but know that we mustn’t rest on our laurels. This is the critical year.


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