he world is changing. Technological, environmental and human advances have disrupted many industries. The internet revolution has changed the way we shop, listen to music, watch TV, and even engage with politics. Further advances in big data, AI and virtual reality are promising to do the same for many others, including consultancy and engineering.
Our industry now stands on the brink of the fourth industrial revolution. Led by data and technology, new tools are emerging, including self-monitoring infrastructure, offsite and modular construction, drones and virtual reality which enables engineers to monitor projects from their desks, digital design which takes minutes, rather than weeks. All of this to help build the ‘smart’ infrastructure society is demanding such as more efficient turn-up-and-go transport networks and sustainable, yet affordable housing.
Engineering and technical consultancy in the UK remains the backbone of the economy as infrastructure investment is the only way to ensure post-austerity and post-Brexit growth across the whole of the country. In this economic and political environment, our industry is more important than ever before. However, with the demands we are now facing, is our sector, collectively, ready to meet this challenge? It is clear that in order to do so a change is required – not just on a technical or project level, but on strategic, market
and industrial levels too.
The government has shown leadership with its commitment to the industrial strategy and Construction Sector Deal and our industry is exploring future opportunities through our own R&D programmes and campaigns like Project 13. We’re all aiming to build an industry that is future-proofed and sustainable while remaining prosperous in the UK and increasing its impact internationally.
It’s clear that within this new prism, there are significant opportunities for consultancy and engineering firms to improve outcomes and deliver better quality services for the end users of infrastructure, but this must be enabled by the actions of the government and private sector clients. They are ultimately responsible for creating the environment which will allow us to bring forward the best the industry has to offer. Exploiting these new technological opportunities will improve the productivity of our sector and its export potential.
On a delivery level, there is an opportunity for our sector to help deliver transformational buildings and infrastructure that is sustainable, affordable and - most importantly -
wanted by society. This will enable us to bridge the north/south divide, better connect regions to the economic centre whilst fuelling London’s continued growth, build the 300,000 homes a year the country needs and ensure the UK is better connected to the world and post-Brexit markets.
But realising these opportunities, and our industry’s transformation, requires deeper collaboration, not just within our industry, but with government, clients and users of the built environment we create. This will ensure our consultancy business can build the skills, tools and capabilities needed to meet the ambitions of the Construction Sector Deal, the modern industrial strategy and beyond.
This is why I was delighted to announce ACE’s new Future of Consultancy campaign at the European CEO Conference in London in November. A multi-year, two-phased campaign which will firstly scope new areas of opportunity, identify and explore new business models for consultancy and analyse the sector’s changing needs in terms of skills. Secondly, the campaign will pull together findings from phase one and focus on enhancing existing revenue streams and the development of new ones, piloting tomorrow’s training, apprenticeship schemes and contracts and creating effective and fit-for-future-purpose industry forums and partnerships to support a vibrant, profitable and sustainable sector.
All of this will help all our members, no matter what their size, seize the opportunities that lie ahead of us. However, for this to happen, we will need to build a consensus for change, not just among ACE members, but with wider stakeholder and government bodies too. I look forward to working with you all over the coming months to help turn this into a reality.
This opinion piece originally appeared in Infrastructure Intelligence.