Welcome to The Future Distributed Podcast, the weekly show that brings you the latest and greatest in Built Environment Innovation from around the world.
This week’s show comes from London. I sat down with Hannah Vickers, the CEO of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering and the woman behind many important industry transformation programmes within the UK.
In this episode, we’ll be answering some big question like:
- Why is the current model of designing and constructing broken?
- What is Project 13 and what impact will it have on the UK Infrastructure delivery model?
- And what is the Future of Consultancy campaign and how will it impact the sector?
Future of Consultancy links:
More background on Hannah:
A civil engineer by profession, Hannah joined the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) from the Institution of Civil Engineers where she led the policy and public affairs team. This included the development and roll out of Project 13, the industry-led response to creating and adopting a new infrastructure delivery model and establishing a new industry “think tank” to set future strategies for civil engineering communities around the globe.
Prior to this she was headhunted into a role at Infrastructure UK, part of HM Treasury, leading their Project Initiation Routemap team which focused on advising senior stakeholders from private and regulated sectors to improve the delivery, performance and outcomes of major projects. Spearheading a combined team with academic, government and industry experts, she delivered 22 successful Routemap exercises, supporting increased value for money and confidence for a range of projects including HS2, Crossrail 2 and the development of the Olympic Park in London.
As part of this role, she also developed and delivered successful training programmes on infrastructure planning, appraisal and delivery to the governments of Indonesia, Argentina, Indonesia, China, Egypt and Brazil on behalf of the UK government. She chaired a panel of industry experts to produce technical materials on asset and risk management considerations. She was also called on as an advisor to ministers on infrastructure, working closely with the Commercial Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
She joined Infrastructure UK after ten years at the Environment Agency where she worked in a number of different roles, including project management across a range of flood defence schemes, as well as broader management positions in capital construction and corporate and commercial strategy.
She successfully completed a BSc in River and Coastal Engineering from the University of West of England and was incorporated as a civil engineer (MICE) for her work on the hydraulic design of flood embankment and flood storage reservoirs.
Thanks for joining everyone. And today we are joined by Hannah Vickers here in London. Thanks for joining me today, Hannah. Thanks again for agreeing to have a chat. So if you could just start by briefly describing how you got into the world of engineering and then how you came to be the CEO of the ACE?
Yeah, sure. I’m much of an accidental engineer. So, I’m dyslexic. After school, it was quite hard to work at what I was going to do and I ended up applying for an engineering apprenticeship just because it sounded like something where you wouldn’t need to write a lot of essays for. That’s how I started in engineering. I don’t know anything about engineering for a start, that worked with the Environment Agency on work mentorship and actually found that for someone who doesn’t read and write very well, engineering is the most logical thing in the world. So really enjoyed it. Went right through. Got my membership status with the ACE. Spent about 14 years of my career with the informant agency. Knowing sorts of things is a really fantastic experience. Designing reservoirs, day project management. I ended up doing commercial strategy and negotiating with the Treasury say at that point, because I had mentioned states and concessions from the Treasury, which is somewhat a head off, they asked if I would go with them. So I spent two years being a civil engineering advisor to the Chancellor which is a high-risk job as you can imagine, feel like being a matador. I spent two years there and then came out into industry. Say more recently, I work for the institution civil engineers and now with ACE, a slightly unconventional career path for an engineer.
Excellent. Really interesting is great that you came through the apprenticeship. Now the focus is on apprenticeships. We’re going to meet the future demand for people that we need to work in the industry think friendships are really important now.
Okay, I completely agree. Actually, it’s the simpler and easier rates into the professional world to be accessible and make it and therefore the different kinds of people you know, had I been asked to do a traditional degree, there’s no way I would have ended up in engineering, so I think that what makes it a whole lot more inclusive as a profession so I support all apprenticeships.
Definitely. If I need to be inspired, then you’re probably the person to ask for the apprenticeship route.
All right, so I think I have our presentations on, I think it’s important and it should help people back and that’s probably what I am ordering professionals today.
Great. And if you can just help people, perhaps who are listening from outside of the UK, just explain what the association for consulting engineers is and what their goal is?
Yeah, So we are a business association. Unlike their professional body that has members, there are individuals who are focused on training and qualifying these individuals. We work with businesses, so we will work three things with them: for business advice, legal advice. HR. Business advice is teaching quite have any what we do. We also do a lot being on their behalf. Again, we’re not for profit. But we help to improve business environment and then lastly, we do quite a lot of work around driving the industry forward, the agenda of the industry forward and perception, the clients’ perception of it. So again, this is slightly different remits from being in a professional body. I quite enjoyed business.
Interesting. You mentioned the clients there. Is it more focusing on the client aspect, or is it the consultant engineers? Who do you spend most of your time speaking with?
So, my members of the consultancy and engineering firm, so I spend a lot of time with them to understand what’s challenging their businesses. I then take that to the clients and tries influence them on behalf of the members and media, a bit as well. So sometimes it’s a little bit of education on both sides**.**
Okay, and you mentioned the Brexit there. But what is the core focus for the ACE for the next 12 months? Is it Brexit? What are your core goals, the things that you’re focusing on?
So, we need to make sure that members are ready for things like Brexit but then I suppose it’s been ongoing focus for the last couple of years. But in terms of actually where we’re, you know, trying to set the agenda, we’re looking very much up influencing high infrastructure in constructions did of it so it didn’t quite work with the industrial strategy. We’ve got our future consultancy campaign, which is a little by actually setting out strategy for where the business is going, what they can offer to clients in future and how they’re going to take advantage of, you know, the new technologies and the plethora of data that’s open, that’s really what we’re focusing on. Getting business is to be consistent in, you know, in that sort of narrative around where they’re headed in future and then, you know, once you agree with all that, we can sort of stop to remove some of the blockers and in place to make it happen. We think things like contracts, the business models and some of the skills work is one of the challenges of professional bodies to deliver the skills of what the businesses need in the future.
Yeah, really interesting. And is that related to the work that you previously involved in Project13? And is that the future of consultancy in terms of changing shape of business models for these consulting engineering companies?
Yeah. Project 13 is certainly a part of it, but that is probably applicable in terms of how clients are going to come to market differently in relation to major, complex major infrastructure programs. So what we’re trying to do is expand like to the whole industry, so predict that this is probably 5 to 7% of the entire market. So, we’re looking at what’s going on in the rest of it. So that would be things like offsite manufacturing, how do you get your consultants engaged in the threats to their business model? Is it an opportunity for them to be more creative? So there’s all sorts of questions that we need to answer for Project 13.
Okay, so that’s a little bit more about what the ACE do, but digging down a bit more personally on what you did, what does the day in the life of Hannah Vickers look like?
It’s a lot of variety, which is great, because I enjoy that. I’ve got a typical day. So, I got breakfast with an industry leader that typically politicians, early on having a chat, for us to know what’s current, what’s relevant, what’s on their minds. You run a business here, you also have the infrastructure intelligence, or probably then spend some time internally making sure my team are fine, if they’re up to speed of what they need to be doing. Typically, my day it involves some sort of member engagement, so I’ll be giving advice to them, probably potentially giving advice to their clients as well. So you kind of working both sides of the table to to move things forward, and then you can imagine for a woman in our interest rates with somewhat of a rare case, probably in the evening or the other speaking or Hastings dinner because that’s what happens I think when you want to get the diversity, you get a lot of dinner invites.
Very, very busy schedule, yeah, completely respect everything you’re contributing to the industry so well done and thank you. Okay. I just want to dig down on something you mentioned there in your previous role advising, you get government. You weren’t quite a lot on infrastructure policy, and you’re still very, very involved in that space. How did those early years working for the Treasury impact how you work now in your current role?
I think the biggest thing is understanding the process and the mindset of the central government. Because the accounting rules on to the approvals and everything is so different. So, what you do in the private sector is certainly even probably quite different what you do in a client organization. And I don’t say that it was better or worse, i’s just different. They have different drivers. They have different metrics of success. So actually, just getting under the skin of that and really thinking about how Treasury makes decisions. You know, we’ve got a huge decision that affect millions of people’s lives. How do they make these decisions? Do they weigh up? And you know, how can you possibly be sure you’re making the right decision? So, actually understanding that the decision-making process, I think it’s really valuable because then it gives you that sort of insider perspective along. Like right now, I’m talking to businesses and they’re getting really frustrated and saying why is the Treasury doing this? You can start to sort of temper some of that with, well, actually your own issues you have. You’re looking at it slightly differently, and sometimes it’s like sometimes it is, you know, just frustration, and they should be doing things differently but it definitely helps always feel like you’re the translator between the two parties. So it’s useful in that sense.
Yeah, yes, it’s interesting. To what extent are they using or making the most all technology in data to make these important decisions about future investment decisions for the country?
So there’s some of different progress in that area. On National Infrastructure Commission. It’s very, very active, so they’ve set some quite high standards. Everything’s like for public good. They report that problem with the series of recommendations around how we can sort of open our data right when the client states are up and include that into the decision-making process. Something else that I worked on when I was in Treasury was called the Transforming Infrastructure Performance Report and that, in itself is quite useful because it started to always take what was seen globally. It’s quite a good system for national restructure planning and then assessing the business case and looking at how you would take that from being good system for projects up to being the best system for making policy decisions. So, that’s quite ambitious, you know, realizing of a whole lot more data and evidence and just understanding what your baselines are. So that’s something that the Treasury is still working on that we’re going to put in place you know, some of the things like a better understanding of comparing the benchmarks across different departments. So you have just a building cost for the Department of Education versus how much it costs in the Ministry of Justice. So those sorts of things I think are are ongoing. All of that solves greater foundations for being able to make you full policy decisions on data.
There’s a lot of work going on in that space is in the public, early days as well, but yeah, lots of lots more to come. Okay, great. That’s really interesting. Thank you. I just one more question about policy side of things. As you know, this podcast will be traveling around different countries and trying to learn about best in class from different countries. To what extent do you learn from what other countries are doing with their policy and try and perhaps implement the best practice from different countries?
It’s interesting because when you start to dig into working how different countries govern, how their cultures are different, how their data sounds different, how the public’s expectations are different is actually very difficult to just kind of lift and shift something and say, well, you know, I know this from working in the Treasury and, you know, being offered age as an advisor to other countries that you actually, by the time you kind of boiled, I’m stuff that would really work in that country. You know, you got in with the whole sort toolbox of remaining stuff, and you may be that one or two things say, and that works back the other way. But it’s just I think when you start to, um, pick up and understand how other countries operate and how they make decisions, it’s quite interesting for sense checking your aim governance, and decision-making systems in terms of how resilient now because you’ll start to say, for example, one of the challenges when I was working for Treasury was that you’d come across a lot corruption. It was not something that you think would have a problem with the UK, but because I actually think, well, if we did, if there was suddenly a endemic problem with corruption would be even they had to deal with it. So, you start to pick up things like she how they did that, how they are even starting to address that in someone like Brazil, where the whole government has basically collapsed. As a result of that say, we’re starting to pick up extremes that may be taking that back to your own country and thinking, yeah, okay, if the same thing to happen here, are we even safeguarding against it? So I think that’s a waste. Start checking your own preach,
Which is the only resilience to our own policy decisions
You don’t know what you don’t know if we’re not doing corruption, we’re not thinking about it to the same level because it’s not current and it’s not an issue at the moment. You got to be resilient in the future.
Interesting. Thank you very much for that. Okay, I’m also interested in talking about your role in developing Project 13 once you’re at the Institute of Civil Engineers, perhaps for any international missions. We mentioned that in passing earlier, we are not familiar with Project 13. Can you just describe what it is and what it is seeking to achieve?
Yeah. Say, um, Project 13 was sponsored by the infrastructure client groups that came into being when the group of, you know, client’s delivering complex major infrastructure projects came together and said, If we were to pick all the best things that we do and how we deliver our projects, what would a perfect approach look like? So that’s what Project 13 is. The reason for Project 13 is because this group of clients that works on the number of different things before, this was the 13th one. But I didn’t know until they actually start and stick with that sort of best practice together and what it would look like. So they pulled it. Project 13 was working title, and then it never got christened anything else.
So that’s what it is, really. It’s an approach that was developed by the clients to describe how you would set up your governance, how you would manage your sort of client, an industry relationship, how you would manage your relationship with the between the client and the capable asset and how to work effectively in a perfect world. So you start from scratch, you. How would you build that with that approach being? And what were the important considerations, say. That’s what Project 13 is.
Essentially what they’ve now tried to do, they published a number of documents on that. So there’s a blueprint that sort of describes the system and the roles within that system and what each party should do on. There’s a commercial handbook that described how you would structure a sort of an enterprising, more collaborative relationship between the client and the supply chain so that’s being published about a year ago and what they’re trying to do now as clients is to get a few pilots on the way. Say, actually, how hard is this time to build this little perfect, complex major infrastructure projects for delivery. So they’ve got four earlier doctor programs that they are working with and then you can imagine because of the timeline of the major infrastructure project there, you know, they were applying it but it’s not particularly quick in terms of late findings, because it takes quite a while to work through some of the details, so that’s where it’s up to. I think, you know, if we look forward in the next 2 to 3 years, there’s a program to move through their lives like where you’d get an interesting learning but actually, was there sort of hypothesis that the, um, structure clients set that are really the case. So while some bits of it are more important than others, there are some bits that are easiest to implement than others, So I think that’s, you know, that’s something that we should we should keep an eye on. I think in the meantime, the risk is that we get carried away into thinking project that means a policy, it and it’s going to cure all the well dues where is. Actually, I think what it is is a, you know, hypothesis that we are testing and try to apply it. Interesting. What’s this phase? But it is, you know, as infrastructure protect are, it’s probably going to be a long game.
Yeah, you’re right. Definitely, really interesting that I think probably the defining feature, at least from the outside looking in, would be the client and there’s lots of the top clients you seem to be supporting this, which maybe wasn’t the case of some of the previous change programs. Do you think that’s been a defining success factor in a way?
So I think it is important that the clients seem to show the leadership, so the more committed they are, the more likely industry is to respond. But actually, if you want to treat it with collaborative relationship, you’ll probably want both parties come into the table. I’m thinking it’s a good idea, so I think that’s again, maybe a risk that, you know, thinking it’s being driven by the clients and you’re back into that sort of parent-child relationship with the industry so we just need to be careful but actually the case has been made in the industry is as supportive as the clients are. They kind of move on the journey together. You will need the other behind. It would be a success. So, yes, in short, it is important. But to be careful to take your partners with this.
Okay. And to go back into your current role in ACE and Future consulting program that you’re leading, can you quickly explain about the steps that you’re taking to, I believe, move towards a more value-driven approach to engineering consulting rather than the traditional time and expenses type one?
Yeah, absolutely. I got that, right? Yeah, you got that right. So that’s so That is what we were trying, we’re trying to move forward where they are actually recognized and rewarded for the body that they have. So we’ve looked at the sort of various different drivers of disruption so some of the things are, you know, changing on their clients. So, we’re seeing much greater devolution much more of power being given to the geographic areas. So, the metro mass is coming increasingly powerful around infrastructure planning locally alongside that you’ve got that kind of disruption from digital transformation, which is helpful and that brings a whole lot of tools. But it will say, because I mentioned earlier the National Ministry of Education and what they’re doing. It’s going to thrive to a much greater open data. So all of that, you can remember all that together and say, well, what is it that consulting engineering firms could be doing in future? And you start to see that, actually, the market they’re operating into their current market around design is going to be disrupted and this is where the point and time of materials comes in. Because, actually, if we are embracing digital technology, it will help us design will quickly and do more alterations, you know, shape plans, different things, potentially in the way in which were being rewarded for that. It’s going to be different for us to make a return on investment, but also to incentivize us to, you know, to do the best things. So that’s really what the value-based business models is about. So that’s, you know, it’s about the client kind of coming to market with a really good understanding of what they value and then incentivizing their consultants they found to deliver that value, rather than, you know, time or inputs and were actually saying that this is what we are, this is what we’re aiming to achieve. What have you got in terms of your new technology for your consultancy offering that can help us achieve that aim? So it’s quite a different relationship, but in there it should be a lot more innovative, a lot more exciting and actually a lot more rewarding for the people working in the industry.
If you can automate some of the repetitive tasks actually frees you up to being an even better, engineer, you could be creative, you can really start to dig into and understand where your work has value. So actually, you know, can you leave help the environment move towards net zero. All those sorts of really interesting, exciting and engaging things that you could be doing that perhaps all the current business that you’re incentivized. Yes, that’s what where it needs to be published on the 15th of October, and that’s really right. I’ve spent a year researching where the consulting in engineering businesses see their future looking at these disruptors. I’m looking at what we need to do to get that. So the vision, set sights on the 15th of October. Now we’re into the implementation so that is what about actually, How do you change the business models? How do you get the right skills and capability into the industry, and how do we bring the sort of academic partners in to help us with this innovation? It’s a big agenda but at least yearly, we mostly gets a consensus amongst the firms about what they’re what they aim for in the future, which I think is really important for the clients as well to know what they could be buying.
Yeah, Okay, now it’s really interesting, I guess, how do you measure value? How do you quantify this thing called value that you’ve added to business? Is it probably going to be different for every business?
Yes, you are actually right. Yeah, it’s a real challenge in these are some of the ways in which you might think logically you could measure value in some of these metrics drive completely the wrong behaviors. It is perennial, probably of people who make policies. Nobody ever makes a policy with the intention of having the complete opposite effect but frequently, that is the case. So this is going to take a bit of sort of careful working outs, as part of our research, we’ve developed something called the Capitals Framework, which looks at categorizing the different elements. So you got it was like environmental capital, social capital, things in there to start t work out actually, how would you measure these things? And part of it is working with clients. So we’re continually construction innovation. That’s part of the part of our sector deal to actually always get them, you know, bringing the client side, and we’re bringing the industry side so that at some point we will get to that stage where we’ve got degrees of metrics that clients feel fair in the industry will respond to in the right way. But it’s yeah, it’s not going to be an overnight process.
Great. Okay, we’re drawing near the end of our time here, but before we go, just want to finish with some quick fire questions. So three or four questions just whatever comes in the tub, you have 30 seconds to a minute, one each. Ready? Okay. If you could change one thing about the UK infrastructure sector overnight, what would it be?
Our data. Organize it in a way that we can actually use it and not, you know, I think it’s that it’s the organization on the sharing of data is where the value is. We don’t organize it well enough, really giving us any insights on how unequally we incentivize different parties to hold onto the data. They create a bigger market, create a bigger pile sharing that that’s what we do.
Great thanks. And what book can you recommend everyone should be reading?
This is the challenge, I don’t read.
Oh yeah, cool. Sorry.
Yeah, it’s, I think, I actually read a lot of the a lot of press, not just press. Interestingly, I spend a bit of time reading the Daily Mail because I think it is quite useful to see how they would take a number of ways through story, perhaps manipulate the messaging. Because it’s yeah, you can learn. Should be looking for things like that.
Very interesting. Good answer. Uh, yeah. Okay. And what are the goals for you and the ACE, and also in your own career in the next three years?
So everyone for career in terms of what I like to see for ACE in 3 years, I’d like some modernized what I introduce does business association from members. I think that’s left about being a servant to all the members needs, trying to move the members’ businesses forward even if it times, that might be slightly uncomfortable for them. So that’s where I’d like to get the ACE in three years. It’s really interesting.
Okay. And finally, who is the one person that you know that’s constantly pushing the boundaries with really, like, interesting, innovative ideas in our industry? Who should I go and meet?
I’ve got more than one, but that’s like, I’ll just give you a few and you can pick. So I think Keith Water from the construction of Asian helps good. He never shies away from an argument. Transforming of structure performance would never be, if it wasn’t for him. So he’s worth a conversation. If you’re broadening out. Since we’re pushing the boundaries of our industry, I’m going to see Nick Smith from Siemens. So there are quite, interesting things arranged in a position of themselves as a client of infrastructure in the future. And then, lastly, maybe Jeremy Silver, he’s the chief executive, the digital comfortable. So he invented Spotify. So again, lots to learn. I think for us, on our industry, from someone like him.
Great. You’re really interesting answers. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thanks for joining me today.
It’s been a pleasure. Thank you for the thoughtful questions.
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