As the UK member of FIDIC, the International Federation of Consulting Engineers, ACE attended the 2008 FIDIC annual conference in Quebec from 6-10 September. This global gathering for the consultancy and engineering sector is a key event in the industry's year and ACE was an influential player at the conference, with a significant delegation making the trip to Canada. With ACE hosting next year's conference in London, UK delegates in Quebec were looking forward to learning lessons for 2009 and to promoting the London event.
- Wednesday 10 September 2008 (Day 3) -
'Scott Wilson's Nielsen calls on FIDIC to tackle unfair contracts'
Former ACE chairman and Scott Wilson commercial director, Martin Nielsen, captured the mood of conference on Wednesday morning with an impassioned plea for FIDIC to throw its weight behind a campaign to tackle the industry-wide problem of inequitable contracts.
In Nielsen's view unfair and unrealistic contracts were an enduring threat to consultancy and engineering firms being able to build successful businesses. Speaking as a platform speaker in the "Building Strong Organisations" session, Nielsen cited the UK construction industry as a sector that had seen numerous reviews and reports which urged better working yet the industry was still bedeviled by clients imposing contracts which made team and collaborative working almost impossible.
"It's time for FIDIC to throw it's weight behind a campaign to stamp out the iniquity of inequitable contracts," Nielsen told his audience to applause.
Other speakers at the session included John Dionisio, chief executive officer and president of AECOM USA, who outlined his vision for building a strong business.
As well as describing his organisation's focus on people, enlightened recruitment policies, diversity and their work in the community, something common to many of the firms represented in the hall, Dionisio was at pains to point out the need for firms to focus on business. "Without being profitable we will not be able to do all the things that we want," he said.
Turning his attention to future prospects, Dionisio concluded: "We are in a very exciting business in very exciting times. In 37 years in this business I am so proud today of the things that our industry is doing to make peoples lives better."
- Tuesday 9 September 2008 (Day 2) -
'Getting FIDIC fired up about communications'
Good communications and the need for engineers to raise their game in this area is a common theme at this year’s FIDIC conference. SUZANNE STEVENS, president and founder of Canadian communications consultancy Ignite Excellence and a speaker at the conference, took time out to answer a few questions from ACE.
Why are you speaking at this conference?
This is an industry undergoing change in a number of areas and having worked with engineers in the past we know that they are receptive to change. We can help people in improving their communications to win business and also after they have won projects to assist them in better communications with their clients. So, we are committed to this industry
How would you rate engineers as communicators?
That’s an interesting question. Some people would say that engineers are poor communicators but I’m not sure that I would necessarily agree with that. They may be shy but they are not alone amongst professionals in having that trait. Are they better or worse than other professionals? Again, a difficult one. What I do know is that we have worked with many engineers on improving their communications skills with great success.
How can professionals improve their communications skills, given that many have spent many years not improving them?
There are three groups to target here. Programme leaders and trainers, who need to understand why they need to better communicate and need to understand the industry. Organisations need to instill a culture of communication. They have to want to become better communicators and make it a philosophy at all levels. We can then reinforce that by constant contact and follow up. Most importantly, the individual themselves needs to be open minded and a life-long learner. It is important to convince people why they need to become a good communicator. FIDIC is recognising this at this conference so delegates can take away the ‘why’ and make it practical.
What in your experience is the biggest barrier to good communications for businesses?
Often it is simply that people don’t know how to do it or why to do it. Technology is not the answer. It is an aid not a substitute for face to face and verbal communication. Resorting to email all the time can create mixed messages. Use it sparingly as an accompaniment to good communications not as a substitute.
What do you think makes a good leader?
Someone who practices what they preach and who is first in line to demonstrate these competencies. In our experience the drive for improved communications starts from the bottom or the middle of organisations. Good leaders are ahead of the game and not only practice what they preach they also communicate the aims of the organization so people at all levels know what they are doing. It’s not enough to just be doing your job, you have to see the bigger picture.
Who is your role model communicator? And why?
Two very different people for different reasons. Bill Clinton as a presenter and the clear and polished way in which he comes across to people. Mother Theresa for her understated approach and her ability to get the job done.
Can you sum up what Ignite Excellence does in one sentence?
We influence, we differentiate and we engage so our clients can influence, differentiate and engage.
For further information on Ignite Excellence visit their website here.
UK delegates to the conference give their reaction on how it was for them so far . . .
"Talking about the engineer's role in the global community, Jeffrey Russell from the University of Wisconsin said: 'We have two futures: the future we create, or the future that others create for us'. We do need to seize the time. Speaking of which, a further comment from Professor Russell should be taken to heart, when he said: 'America licensed engineering in order to protect public health, public safety and public welfare'. UK engineers and politicians take note."
Neil Sandberg, Chairman, ACE
"I was impressed by the speakers at the ethics and integrity seminar and also the vocal comments from the floor on the importance to society of the need to stamp out corruption and bad practice. The discussion followed on well from John Ralston Saul's philosophising on the importance of engineers promoting citizenship".
Kevin Corbett, Group Legal Director, Faber Maunsell
"John Ralston Saul's comments on the need for engineers to get closer to and understand the needs of society and to take a leading role in responding to global challenges hit a real chord with the delegates."
Gavin English, Managing Director, WSP (MC) International
- Monday 8 September 2008 (Day 1) -
'Stand up, the revolutionary engineer'
"Society will not achieve its sustainability and development goals without engineers taking a leadership role," FIDIC president John Boyd told the opening ceremony of the FIDIC 2008 annual conference in Quebec, reports ANDY WALKER from Canada.
"The role of engineers is never more visible than in the infrastructure and buildings that surround us," Boyd went on, making a plea for the conference to take on a leadership position in society "beyond engineering and construction" to influence the future direction of the world.
Promising delegates unrivalled insights, stimulation and high level debate, Boyd pledged to return in a year’s time in London to present the first-ever FIDIC State of the World Report, assessing the planet's progress towards developing sustainable solutions to the key global challenges it faces.
Conference keynote speaker, leading thinker and philosopher Dr John Ralston Saul, picked up on the theme of engineers going beyond their immediate sphere of influence. Recalling a recent visit to Kandahar, he talked about engineers building roads and bridges. A practical solution in normal times but, given the local reality of bombs being placed under bridges in that part of the world, some modern solutions aren't necessarily the most appropriate said Saul.
Highlighting the potential of engineers and their inspirational role in a thought-provoking and hard-hitting address, he spoke about the doubling of life expectancy from 1850 to 1920, which he claimed was largely down to the work of engineers enabling people to live more healthy lives. Engineers and doctors were at the cutting edge of ideas in defending living standards and social progress, said Saul.
"The problem of specialised professionals caught in a straight jacket of ethical specialisms has meant that your leadership has taken a back seat," he said. "I'm looking for the engineers who doubled the life expectancy of people. I'm looking for citizens. Some professions are more important than others and you engineers are in the top five professions and to have you out of the loop as citizens changing things is a big problem for society," said Saul.
"Of course becoming the specialist is comforting, or intellectually lazy to be more accurate," he chided his audience. "You need to rewrite your definition of your profession to become again part of society. A return to ideas is needed. You need to be central to changing civilisation for the better. Beware of the silo concept and of defining yourselves by the narrow confines of your professionalism," said Saul.
Saul said that everything is won and lost in the universities. Universities needed a revolution to change their approach and to start developing more rounded citizens and in his view engineers were ideally placed to lead that revolution. "Changing the nature of education is needed to avoid the silo mentality that has been built into so many courses and by definition, individuals," said Saul.
"Society is not about the management of professions, who merely act as helpers to those that 'manage'", Saul said, “it's about engineers taking control of their future by leading change in the way that issues are addressed in the education system.”
Concluding his speech, Saul spoke of the enabling role of engineers in leading “a new humanism” that can transform the world and the way it addresses the challenges it faces. Delegates to the FIDIC conference need to lead, not follow, and re assume their former influence that literally changed the world and can do so again,” Saul said.
Second keynote speaker, former Quebec premier Pierre-Marc Johnson, gave some further "views from the outside" in reviewing some of the most important social, economic and environmental trends influencing the consulting engineering industry.
Paying tribute to the intellectual curiosity of engineers, Johnson expressed his admiration for the profession. "You have set yourselves an ambitious programme," he told his audience. Against a background of globalisation, engineers have to deal with a much more complicated, fast-moving and mobile world than previously, Johnson said. "The consequences of such growth have brought about developments that cannot be ignored. China will be the world's most powerful economy. India will grow ever more rapidly. 25% of the world’s population will be using the internet in five years. The movement of people and ideas will continue," he claimed.
“Energy use and fossil fuels have huge consequences,” said Johnson. A consensus has been established on this issue though there are some dissenting voices Johnson said. The debate is to mitigate or adapt to climate change. He also cited the "anonymity of capital" as an issue in creating a lack of accountability. Quality needed to prevail. Predictability and certainty were required by financiers and insurers.
“Managing the unpredictability of the private sector has to be contended with. You need also to recognise the value of national and international organisations like FIDIC that play a significant role in collectivising the experience of professionals to politicians and opinion formers,” Johnson explained.
Summing up his speech, Johnson issued a clarion call for quality and excellence, especially on building and infrastructure projects. “We need much more emphasis on expertise and experience in the procurement of public infrastructures, said Johnson. “If you’d hurt your arm and needed an operation, you would not put that operation out to tender amongst a bunch of surgeons. You'd go for quality and experience every time. We need to legislate to ensure that public procurement is more about quality and less about cost,” said Johnson, a sentiment with which his audience in Quebec wholeheartedly agreed.
'A capability for collaboration'
Business information systems that don't 'talk' to each other are hampering many organisations from meeting their potential. DARRYL WILLIAMSON, director business intelligence and knowledge management at BST Global and a seminar speaker at the FIDIC conference, spoke to ACE about the challenge many firms face in this area.
"We see many clients being stretched in executing global projects,” explains Williamson. “Resources are being spread around the place - my own company is experiencing it ourselves - and the challenge is to get those resources to engage globally without travelling too much," Williamson says.
"We've begun to see technology maturing to allow real-time collaboration. Chat-type technology and IP platforms have really emerged and we are harnessing that to make collaboration easier,” says Williamson. “Of course, we recognise the business pressures consultancies face and want to work with firms to provide a solid business system with the right tools to enable effective communication across offices and regions," Williamson says.
Companies are trying to usher in collaboration in different ways, through intranets and file sharing for example, but according to Williamson many of these systems don't connect with work processes. "The fragmented nature of these systems also deters people from using them," he explains. BST Global is using the maturing technologies, taking that capability for collaboration and extending it to the next level. Using the Microsoft Sharepoint platform, Williamson is looking forward to helping firms collaborate their way out of the current impasse many of them face.
"Our solution is not a silver bullet," Williamson claims, but we are talking about change management and adapting the right technology to what organisations are trying to do. Having real-time access to information when they need it gives firms the opportunity to make informed business decisions and act on them quicker than ever before. That's our aim," Williamson says.
- Sunday 7 September 2008 -
The 2008 FIDIC annual conference in Quebec City, Canada is giving engineers the opportunity to examine the important position they occupy in society. The conference will challenge engineers to build a stronger industry that more effectively serves society, focusing on their role in influencing decision makers and opinion leaders while delivering quality services to meet global needs.
Participants will be challenged not only to recognise and explore the issues but also to recommend specific actions to be undertaken by FIDIC and its member associations in order to “build a strong industry serving society”. Beginning with a plenary session, each day of the conference will focus on one of the three key sub-themes - Influency Society, Delivering Quality and Building Strong Organisations.
ACE has a prominent spot at the conference, promoting its hosting of FIDIC 2009 in London.