Conor McCarthy is on secondment from WSP in the UK to drive ACE’s work with the Construction Innovation Hub (CIH), researching and developing delivery models and commercial strategies which develop new definitions of value.
We spoke to him about what he’s working on, why the research matters and how ACE members can get involved.
Q: Hi Conor. Welcome to ACE! Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m an associate within WSP’s Transport and Infrastructure business and based in Glasgow. I am a Chartered Engineer and Chartered Project Professional specialising in project management, contracts and highways/infrastructure delivery. Recently, I’ve held senior roles on several key infrastructure projects in Scotland and Ireland, including the A9 dualling, the NM20 Cork to Limerick road improvement scheme and the A5 western transport corridor.
I started my career as a site engineer in Ireland, learning to manage construction projects. After a few years, I moved into consulting within the highways sector, focusing on design and construction management. Over the last decade, I have moved into management and leadership on multidisciplinary transport and infrastructure projects, which I very much enjoy.
In my free time, I am an avid scuba diver, DIY enthusiast and enjoy spending time with family and friends.
Q: What are you working on?
ACE is working with the Construction Innovation Hub (CIH) to develop the Value Toolkit. The project consists of four modules – Value Definition, Delivery Model and Commercial Strategy, Procuring for Value and Ongoing Value Measurement.
ACE has been tasked by CIH to deliver Module two which guides clients’ decision-making processes - from value profile through risk profile, client profile and market context, to ultimately identify a suitable delivery model to achieve their required outcomes. Internally we’ve called this work Recoding the DNA, which I think fits well.
As programme lead, my role includes coordinating the various workstreams, setting up and leading the project management office and stakeholder management. I’ve been overwhelmed by the support from ACE and how much this has enabled the programme to get off to a great start.
Q: Why did you want to get involved?
Having experienced the challenges associated with delivering complex projects, often procured on a lowest capital cost basis, I am eager to see the industry broaden its definition of value. I believe that we would all gain from moving to a more sustainable approach which promotes and incentivises innovative solutions while fostering a shared set of priorities and success factors, articulated around understanding value in terms of the Five Capitals Model.
Being involved in this work has given me the opportunity to help shape what that future delivery models look like. Whilst it’s perhaps not the most glamourous area of our industry, it’s one where I believe we can have a huge impact and unlock the most value.
I am hopeful that the outcome of our work will lead to a step change in the way projects are developed and delivered, and help to nurture a sense of partnership amongst all delivery agents on a project. This was one of the reasons I was keen to be involved, as innovation and collaboration in the sector will be critical to making the most of the digital revolution and accelerating delivery of Government priorities, from net zero to the levelling-up agenda.
Q: Why do we need to reassess how we look at value?
Society is changing rapidly and the expectations of the public at large regarding the built environment are increasing. Gone are the days of projects gaining social licence to be delivered simply because they were the cheapest. Delivering value today is already broader, and rightly so.
Finding ways to incentivise and quantify valuable outcomes for the supply chain – the funders, beneficiaries and broader community – is really important and something industry is keen to get right.
A lowest cost commercial strategy acts as a brake to innovation and at a time when society is undergoing such rapid change, our sector has a window of opportunity to shape our built and natural environment in a sustainable and inclusive way, making the most of technology and innovation to deliver social value. Different models can, and should deliver for a variety of clients, while reducing embodied carbon, increasing productivity and ensuring greater social value for all.
Q: Looking at business models and delivery, ACE’s delivering a key part of the overall programme?
In addition to developing module two of the Value Toolkit, ACE is developing business service model catalogues for consultancy and contracting which will identify the range of possible models that industry can adopt in response to a client’s chosen value profile and delivery model.
In layman’s terms, we are trying to create a common language for consultants like WSP and our contracting partners to shift mindsets towards outcomes rather than means and agree innovative business service models that ensure our industries long term prosperity and success.
Q: This is all vitally important work, isn’t it?
The engineering consultancy sector, and the construction and planning industry more broadly, has a fight on its hands to stay relevant, but also a unique opportunity to take the centre stage as the country aims to ‘build back better’.
As people who have been following ACE’s Future of Consultancy campaign will know, the potential to increase our sectors’ productivity through automation and digitalisation, combined with an increasing desire to deliver real social value, and a clear need to reduce the carbon footprint of our buildings and infrastructure, was a clear challenge for our industry before COVID-19 – now, these challenges are central pillars of our recovery.
The time to examine how we deliver value to end users of our places, buildings and infrastructure, is now. Adjusting our course to encompass a wider definition of value, refining delivery models and collaboratively developing commercial strategies that manage risk and promote transparency and collaboration, will drive positive change in the way we deliver projects.
I am confident that WSP, and other ACE members, will benefit from our work. The value toolkit and business service model catalogues will facilitate informed conversations with clients around value profiles and how, as suppliers, we can support them to achieve those outcomes. I also hope that this programme will quench the real thirst for partnership that exists in our sector today.
But more important than all of that, it’s faster, simpler and focused on value creation for clients!
Q: Thanks for your time!
The findings are expected to be published by CIH in early 2021. Conor and the Recoding DNA team will be running a number of industry engagement exercises over the coming months.
Anyone wanting to reach out in advance can do so by emailing the project team.