Melanie Marchant 10 March 2020

Collaboration works

According to a report by the Independent, drivers in London waste 227 hours a year stuck in traffic, at an average speed of 7mph. London is one of the most congested cities in the UK, and it’s estimated that roadworks account for around 15% of this congestion which contributes to more CO2 emissions and poor air quality. Given the constant pressure on London’s infrastructure, our growing population, and relentless wear and tear on its roads, roadworks are an unavoidable peril of life in big cities.

It’s a big problem in the UK, so when the London Borough of Croydon engaged Fluxx, along with design consultants Atkins, to support them with solutions for collaborative roadworks, the partners jumped at the chance. The challenge was to reduce disruption to the public during planned roadworks and get multiple utilities collaborating, with a ‘dig once’ approach.

Sounds easy. But coordinated delivery of utility infrastructure is a complex matter, and creating a culture of collaboration and data-sharing with multiple companies is no easy task.

Collaboration works

Pulled together a cross-functional team from the London Borough of Croydon, Thames Water, SGN, Fluxx and Atkins. We then started by contacting all the utilities and asked them to share details of any planned works in the near future. We used the data to overlay the information on an easy-to-read online map. Immediately we spotted potential; there was an overlap of works being planned by both SGN (gas) and Thames Water on Epsom Road in Croydon. What is more, the council was also due to resurface the very same road.

Bingo. We hosted a workshop with senior stakeholders from all the utilities involved and we immediately got buy into our vision for collaboration. With agreement in place we went away to translate this into concrete work plans.

There were many bumps in the road, like project compliance and Construction, Design and Management (CDM) rules around using the same sub-contractor, almost stopping our ‘dig once’ collaboration ideas in their tracks. Instead we tweaked the plans so that not all utilities carried out works at the same time but collaborated enough to follow one after the other, on the same stretch of road.

At Fluxx, we believe in turning data into dialogue. By mapping out planned works, it was possible to identify the opportunity in Croydon. Further, by working shoulder to shoulder with a ‘learn by doing’ ethos we were able to bring together a group of passionate individuals, and drive teams to work collaboratively.

The Results

According to the GLA and appraised by TfL economists, we saved £588,000 from 85 days of disruption, avoided £201,000 in parking bay charges and received a net satisfaction score of 94% amongst residents surveyed by ComRes.

The results have not gone unnoticed; the team won the prestigious Highways Maintenance Efficiency Award 2019, and the GLA uses Croydon as an example of best practice. The GLA was set up by the Mayor, with backing and funding from the industry, to establish an Infrastructure Coordination Team to support the coordination of infrastructure planning and delivery across London. And I’m really pleased and honoured to have been asked to join the GLA’s Infrastructure Advisory Panel.

The chosen panel is a cross functional and skilled group of people who have been selected to provide advice on things like cross-cutting and sector-specific issues including data, innovation, regulation and funding. I will be helping the GLA with tackling complex challenges; ones that require innovative thinking, a different approach and way of working, along with the coordination of a significant number of stakeholders. This was demonstrated not only in the Croydon project but in our work with the Heathrow Expansion project, where the team and I are currently working with Heathrow and various utilities on the major infrastructure project. During the project we’ll be helping them to work in a different way that’s less disruptive to the public and will minimise the environmental impact.

The Collaboration Handbook

Fluxx believes this way of working can be replicated across other London Boroughs too. We’ve written a book about the Croydon Project, and how to effectively collaborate and deliver utility infrastructure. It's called The Collaboration Handbook, and is a real-life guide for how to identify, appraise and set-up collaborative schemes of work.

Melanie Marchant is a managing innovation consultant at Fluxx

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