Transforming the perspective of highways infrastructure as an enabler for economic change and improved public health

David Ogden, Business Director
09 July 2020
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Innovation takes many different forms, but by definition, it’s all about enabling continuous improvement to deliver better outcomes for communities, and ultimately UK Plc. I believe we have a window of opportunity to reposition the industry and change the way we’re perceived amongst decisions makers, taking the industry from transforming service delivery to being an enabler for green economic growth and improved public health through the acceleration of active mobility, decarbonisation, clean air and net-zero. By placing innovation at the forefront within the highways and transport sectors, we can accelerate that change towards safer, smarter and more sustainable ways of delivering services, but its success is dependent upon private and public sectors at all levels collaborating openly towards shared outcomes.

Focus on improving safety, customer experience, creating value, boosting productivity and seeking opportunities for growth in market share, profitability or contributing to growth in UK GVA are all drivers behind why we seek to be innovative within a business. All of this can be achieved by introducing new technology, services or products with existing or new clients, by focusing on those tactical deliverables - which product to pilot, which process to tweak, which tech solution to implement. These questions are all of value to achieve change at a granular level, but for innovative solutions to leave a lasting impression we should be looking at how innovation can deliver service and sector transformation – this should be the starting point for any conversations about innovation with clients, the supply chain and with industry professionals.

Having data maturity and reliable real-time data are elements that can start to unlock what innovation we, as industry sectors, focus our attention on. In recent years we’ve seen a greater emphasis on understanding the vast amount of data we have available to us, using and understanding it to make recommendations on what type of “innovation” we should be considering. At Amey we’ve spoken before about Vision 2030 and our focus on considering innovation through a safety lens. Industry data, and our own data, shows sadly people are being hurt working on the network so we have a responsibility to address this and look after our people – removing them from harm means we must fundamentally change the way we deliver services from the traditional approach. By focusing on safety, we will also positively impact; net-zero, wellbeing, inclusivity, customer experience, and productivity.

An enabler to service transformation and community outcomes

Using data as an industry we should focus on how highways infrastructure can support achieving better outcomes for local communities addressing the issues that impact them from clean air quality and mobility solutions to tackling economic growth and decarbonisation.

One example which has used community data to encourage product and service innovation into the industry is the ADEPT Live Labs programme. We’re delivering this programme in Kent and Staffordshire, working with SMEs to test innovative solutions that will address the issues on air quality, intelligent mobility solutions and data-led highways service transportation. The open and collaborative approach we’re taking will enable us to share the outcomes across the industry setting a framework on how to deliver collaborative, not competitive, innovation, that addresses community concerns at a local level.

Collaborating across industry drives real benefits

But introducing a collaborative approach to innovation and encouraging people to be innovative is incredibly difficult when we’re all time and resource pressured. By innovating our industry-wide working model to one that works more collaboratively – we could better utilise time and resources, minimise wasted funding and avoid the duplication of ideas. We can start to see pockets of cross-sector working and those relationships coming into fruition and delivering on a shared goal. The autonomous IPV project which we’re involved with alongside other organisations and Highways England is focussed on delivering a product that addresses the challenges our operatives face on a live carriageway when laying traffic management. This project will deliver across multiple levels of safety for both the industry and our customers.

Covid-19 has created a time like no other in our recent history, as a global community we’ve all been in the same difficult position and forced to adapt to do things differently. As an industry our response was immediate. Through the Highways Sector Council, the public and private sectors quickly engaged with the Department for Transport to develop and issue industry guidance in response to Covid-19.
It’s even evident for those working from home - collectively we all introduced a new way of working. According to the Office for National Statistics, 49 per cent of adults in employment were working from home as a result of social distancing measures introduced in the fight against Covid-19 – a statistic that I wouldn’t have believed if you’d told me that at the start of 2020 this would be ‘normal’ for nearly half the population by Easter!
Now more than ever we have an opportunity through innovation to enable diversity within our sectors traditional roles, as well as developing skills for the future requirements, again collaboration will be the key to truly delivering change.

Being placed in a situation out of our control has given us the platform to think differently about our approach to change and the vital role highways has in keeping the economy moving. As the industry, and the UK’s attention, shifts to look at the “bounceback plan”, we must take the chance to challenge everything we thought was possible and consider if or how it needs to be adapted for the new world.

Refocusing on partnership outcome-focused delivery models

We need to start with being open about innovation. It’s easy to talk about but often hard to change what we do, due to sometimes restrictive contract mechanisms. Where the right partnerships are in place – based on trust, these conversations can flourish.

The right model, however, needs to be in place for all parties and it needs to be focused on delivering the required outcomes for the local area – one size doesn’t fit all. If the strategic local outcomes are clear and shared, traditional highways contracts can become an enabler for change alongside other commissioned services - altering those preconceived attitudes of a highways service provider – through our innovations, we can be known for boosting the local economy, reducing carbon and through mobility infrastructure directly improve public health.

This also needs to be applied when looking at funding opportunities and how innovation could be used to mitigate any future funding challenges by being ahead of the curve now in terms of looking at new business models, revenue-generating services and efficiencies when introducing new solutions as part of our everyday.

Innovation presents both a challenge and an opportunity and there are many ways we can all encourage and embrace different types of innovation. But we can no longer do this in isolation, this needs to be done collectively. The opportunity for us in the post-Covid world is to build upon the collaborative approach we’ve taken to address the pandemic challenges and stop using the “we’ve always done it this way” rhetoric as a blocker for change. As a country, we’ve found ways to keep services running through this historic moment in time and seen people forced to adapt and be successful. Imagine what else could be achieved in a 12-week window if we all used the same approach that enabled us to continue through Covid-19?


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