Drivers behind our AI-powered restart service for capital and infrastructure projects. By, Mott MacDonald and Nodes

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Drivers behind our AI-powered restart service for capital and infrastructure projects. By, Mott MacDonald and Nodes

Regaining control of capital projects hit by COVID-19

Across the industry concerted corrective steering is needed to manage
the critical re-planning and re-mobilisation of projects that were under construction when the coronavirus pandemic broke out, and to drive efficiency on those planned to commence and in procurement. A new service combines a leading artificial intelligence (AI) tool with our planning and programme management expertise to support industry.

COVID-19 has significantly delayed many construction projects, while lockdowns, illness and furloughs have hit delivery in a variety of ways. In some cases, activity has ground to a complete halt. As it tentatively resumes, delivery teams have an exceptional challenge in efficiently and safely reprogramming projects to account for lost time. For ongoing and planned projects, the control of scope, time and cost is paramount.

In order to unlock the complexities of project planning in these circumstances, yet also remain agile in decision-making, it’s our view that project planners and risk managers should harness the power of AI to enable informed decisions to be made quickly and achieve optimal efficiency.

New service to reinvigorate effective planning and project delivery

A new digital and management solution, SOART (Scenario Optimiser AI-powered Recovery Tool) launched by Mott MacDonald with partner Nodes & Links, is designed to enable time and cost savings by cutting excess time and minimising the propensity and impact of risk from project schedules. SOART combines Nodes & Links’ state-of-the art AI technology platform, Aegis, with Mott MacDonald’s extensive project and programme management experience. It focuses on key strategic planning and management configuration decisions for complex major projects, helping to drive time and cost efficiency, and reducing the incidence and impact of identified risk.

SOART is a diagnostic health check of a project delivery plan and its underpinning delivery strategy, conducted through a five-step assurance process:

  1. Thorough data quality assessment using up to 80 data integrity checks
  2. Rapid scenario testing using artificial intelligence to test the robustness of the plan
  3. Re-planning recommendations to mitigate schedule-related risks and maximise opportunities
  4. Real-time monitoring via automated reporting throughout the project
  5. Access to expert support whenever needed.

James Dowle, Mott MacDonald’s head of infrastructure advisory, says: “SOART is a new and unique opportunity to support clients in configuring and driving complex major projects that historically have been blighted by a lack of insightful data and informed decision-making. SOART unlocks the complexity of major project problem-solving with an unparalleled level of intelligence and results-driven success. The key objective of SOART is for clients to recover, grow, prosper and succeed.”

Agile programme recovery

SOART is a particularly timely offering for major projects which need to be re-planned, reinvigorated or reassessed in light of disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It has the following advantages:

  1. The speed of the AI means multiple iterations of schedules can be developed, tested and assessed in hours rather than the weeks it would take humans. This improves delivery teams’ agility in tackling the complex challenges, uncertainties, supply chain disruptions and social distancing rules faced as projects return tentatively to full operation.
  2. The robustness and resilience of schedules can be tested in the face of new infection control and response risks. This additional insight allows project management, and higher levels of management to find out if these projects are being managed appropriately in terms of both effectiveness and optimisation
  3. Unnecessary time buffers (‘float’) can be identified, utilised and/or eliminated. Float arises at the interface between activities. Increased float can creep into a schedule making it inefficient if contractors and suppliers are over-cautious as a result of the pandemic and its legacy. Whilst eliminating float can present a risk in itself, optimising its availability presents a project with a new suite of possibilities.
  4. The SOART service provides for ongoing support rather than taking the form of a one-off re-planning exercise. This is ideal if a continued monitoring and control requirement is required. The emphasis is on the right level of resource and technology application that provides the maximum outcome for a project. The key objective of SOART is for clients to recover, grow, prosper and succeed.

AI for better risk management and resilience

As well as delivering productivity and efficiency savings to projects, SOART can also contribute to better risk management.

Nik Farrar, an experienced planning and programme management professional who heads our relationship with Nodes & Links, says that the traditional risk assessment approaches work well for common or generalised risks that have occurred frequently in the past, but are fundamentally flawed when it comes to rarer events. Projects tend to overlook them or view them in a devalued sense as ‘black swan’ occurrences that cannot reasonably be planned for.

“During my career, I have spent innumerable hours of working time analysing and facilitating complex delivery scenarios on key major projects around the world,” says Nik. “It has been a source of great frustration when you speak about low-probability, high-consequence risk on projects and people simply don’t want to hear about it – they are routinely negated. For them, ‘risk’ is an administrative hypothetical or commercial issue. But as has just been demonstrated with COVID-19, unlikely events with high impact can and do happen. We cannot necessarily prevent them occurring on a universal basis, but in utilising a service such as SOART we can identify the risks, analyse them and take improved preventative action.”

The potential consequences of many risks perceived as low probability are becoming greater because the systems that surround us, in our infrastructure and society, are increasingly becoming more interconnected and interdependent. AI can be used to identify, test and monitor these interdependencies so that projects can be set up in such a way that they will not collapse like a house of cards.

“We are entering an age where there will be a greater focus on robustness and resilience,” says Greg Lawton, CEO of Nodes & Links. “We can all make statements about how long something is going to take and how much something is going to cost. But under how many scenarios does your statement hold true? And have you got the right thinking and the right mitigations in place to defend against the scenarios where it is not true?

“The best way to answer those questions is via a quantitative risk analysis process, where you run an analysis, and then go back and iteratively change your plan to create resilience. In the past that process has taken a tremendous amount of time, and the actual insights into what is driving the situations where you don’t deliver against your targets has been hugely limited.

“With SOART we are overcoming both of those barriers: we’re conducting processes that used to take several weeks in a few minutes, and we are giving a level of information that’s never been had before, so schedule planners can make informed and targeted changes using their expertise.”