Project teams tasked with delivering major infrastructure to time and budget need to take the new and unexpected in their stride, especially now as they grapple with the challenges of COVID-19.
Constant access to real-time data is the key to making swift, well-informed decisions in response to constant change and unfolding events, allowing projects to be steered away from trouble.
This is why we created Smart Insights.
Procurement services on the 820km Whistler natural gas pipeline in Texas, USA, have continued throughout the COVID-19 crisis, paving the way for construction kick-off activities to commence in late June 2020.
Since June 2019, we have been providing project management and controls, engineering, procurement and construction planning, and environmental and right-of-way co-ordination services on the pipeline.
Smart Insights, our online GIS project management and controls reporting system, has not only been essential to the efficient execution of these services, its advanced steering capability has mitigated potential financial and schedule impacts on this major capital project as a result of the pandemic.
What’s more, before the spread of coronavirus, Smart Insights had already delivered cost savings of more than US$20M through efficiencies in project controls, and improved procurement accountability and contract conformance.
This is because Smart Insights shows in real time how projects are performing against programme and budget, enabling project managers to proactively control and influence project outcomes.
The tool manages and interrogates data on key metrics, and displays results in a way that provides insight and empowers practical and effective decisions – throughout the lifecycle of a project.
Reports include cost control and forecasting, schedule control, earned value, change management, risk management, health and safety, deliverables and actions, environmental permitting, land acquisition, procurement, and construction management and inspection.
Smart Insights also collates and presents useful data on sustainability, carbon reduction management, social outcomes and other related disciplines.
Real-time data management
Software packages for reporting are aplenty, but Smart Insights stands apart from the crowd for three main reasons, according to Matt Roberts, the principal project manager at Mott MacDonald who has led development of the solution.
“Smart Insights gives you information in real time,” says Matt. “New data goes in, and you can see immediately what the implications of that data are for the project overall.
“We chase data all the time – from manufacturers, labour agencies, contractors, specialists, and the logistics chain. At the start of the project, we set out performance baselines for, say, programme and cost.
“And as the project advances, we can see day by day how things are going – actual performance compared to baseline, upgrades to projections and forecasts, where adjustments are needed, and holding contractors and vendors accountable for contractual commitments. We can see how all of those individual performance categories affect the project.”
That insight enables teams using Smart Insights to drive results ahead of the curve, as well as address the root causes of issues in the early stages – this allows for corrective steering before major problems occur. “What you get is proactive project control rather than after-the-fact reporting,” explains Matt.
Smart Insights is currently being used by Mott MacDonald on several other energy sector projects across North America to cut costs, reduce risk and manage schedule performance. These include:
- The construction of the 241km Louisiana Energy Access Pipeline where more than US$25M of savings have been attributed to Mott MacDonald’s project execution methodology and Smart Insights.
- The upgrade of compressor stations on the Iroquois natural gas transmission system in New York and Connecticut.
- The construction of the Gulf Run Pipeline, a 217km interstate natural gas transmission pipeline in Louisiana.
- A programme of upgrades and brownfield development at Shell lubrication plants in California, Michigan, Oregon, Texas, West Virginia and Ontario.
Domain experience, digital knowhow
A second major attraction of Smart Insights is its relative simplicity in use. “The system does not rely on a ton of fancy coding by users,” says Matt.
“Some tools require weeks of computer programming and expense before you get value. Not with this. The back-end is deliberately simple and robust.”
At most, it takes a few days for a small Mott MacDonald team to sort and format the raw data to make it useful from the start. Our in-house expertise combines domain experience in engineering and project management with digital knowhow to determine what data is necessary and how to manipulate it effectively.
Data itself can be extracted for use by Smart Insights from just about any source, making it widely versatile and compatible with all engineering, technical, GIS, project management and office management systems. Data can be readily exported for use in other applications, too.
Smart Insights’ third strength is its graphic interface. Performance and risks are set out on easy-to-read integrated dashboards. Data can be interrogated from many directions – to see trends over time, performance against benchmarks, projections of future performance, and comparisons with other projects in a programme or portfolio.
The dashboards include a live risk register, highlighting where mitigation measures are being employed into ongoing project execution. The graphic display is smartphone-friendly “so users can access the data they need on-site, where and when they need it,” says Matt.
Initially developed for clients in the North American energy industry, Smart Insights, part of Mott MacDonald’s Moata suite of digital solutions, is now proving its value on a large number of active infrastructure projects across different regions and sectors. These include HS2 in the UK and Sydney Metro in Australia.
Jon Barbalich, Mott MacDonald’s energy sector leader in the US, adds: “In the perennial pursuit of certainty on complex capital projects, Smart Insights provides asset owners and operators with the means to take a firm hold of the reins.
“They benefit from a clear, transparent view, helping them to control project outcomes and save time and money by solving problems early.
“Our contractor clients also appreciate the greater control Smart Insights gives, helping them to win and deliver with confidence.”