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Construction workers examine a tablet

Breaking new ground with innovative digital solution

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Construction workers examine a tablet
Published: 2 Nov 2023

Among the finalists at the International Quality Awards 2023 in the Digital Innovation category was a Balfour Beatty VINCI team that developed a digital tool to streamline processes for employees on site when breaking ground as part of the HS2 rail project.

Streamlining processes for any large-scale project is a welcome move for all involved, particularly when it removes a significant amount of paperwork and ensures improved safety and efficiency for all involved.

Such is the case with team members from Balfour Beatty VINCI (BBV), who worked with SiteAssist to develop digital permits for use when breaking ground. Since implementing the digital platform, safety incidents have been cut to zero, against a 50% increase in permits. In addition, Digital Permits has enabled BBV to track all actions throughout the permit lifecycle, while smart filters give easy access to relevant documentation, and real-time analytics guides decision-making and continuous improvement.

Working on a large-scale and complex development such as the HS2 rail link inevitably brings excavations into the same environment as underground or overhead power lines, cables or water/sewage systems. With onsite teams making up to 1,200 excavations a month along a 90km site, in an environment with complex utility information of varying accuracy and completeness, it is essential that permits to break ground are completed before work starts.

Each excavation could have up to 150 pages of documents, giving much scope for paperwork to be incomplete, open to misuse or even go missing – all of which impacts on a right-first-time delivery.

A root-cause analysis identified areas for improvement in this system, including geo-location of site operatives and data, photographic records at point of use and safety hold points where digital signatures evidenced compliance with safe systems at work. Each of these areas pointed to the need for a digital functionality.

This led to the development of Digital Permits, which have now become an indispensable part of the process at BBV. As well as SiteAssist, the project included input from key stakeholders across BBV.

Testing and trialling

Work began with a review of all high-potential incidents previously recorded. A Digital Permit Solution Deployment Plan was created to define business requirements and timescales. Collaborative workshops were held with subject-matter experts and a detailed gap analysis was carried out to compare existing workflows against the proposed ones. Once mock-ups of the digital platform had been developed, high-level scenario-testing was completed.

"A great example of a large firm collaborating with a small technology provider to deliver real value in the field. It was pleasing to see that the initiative covered the complete range of process improvement, change management, strong product design and benefit realisation."

International Quality Awards 2023 judging panel, Digital Innovation category

During this test phase feedback was collated and improvements made to the platform. Among those involved was BBV’s Neurodiversity Network, to ensure the platform was as inclusive as possible.

Weekly meetings were held to ensure a standardised approach across all eight of BBV’s major site compounds, as well as to track the implementation progress. Operatives were trained by BBV to use Digital Permits, emphasising that quality is the responsibility of all, thus embedding a quality culture.

One the system had been fully adopted across all sites, BBV established a change-control board to deliver continuous improvement, with the board meeting once a month to review modifications or enhancement requests. Change requests from end users are captured and collated into the platform update roadmap, while onsite support is provided for end users, as well as onboard training for new users.

Putting people at the heart

As BBV Quality and Innovation Manager Daniel Fawcett said during the judging process: "This isn’t an IT project, it is a change project, and a ‘hearts and minds process’ was key to it.

"The most pleasing thing for is the cultural change. We can talk about the best processes, systems and reporting in the world, but if you haven’t got people bought into what you are trying to do, then you are not going to drive successful outcomes. But, because we have made [Digital Permits] simple and easy to use, end users can see the value in their day job, and so we have their engagement.

"It sets the blueprint for what we are doing going forward with some of our other key processes. We’re really proud of this project and what we have achieved."

Dave Street, Utilities Protection Manager Major Structures at Balfour Beatty VINCI, said: "The new digital platform has, for me, been a major step forward to ensure we continue to deliver on the expectation around the rules and standards that we all work to in our projects."

Judges' comments

Reflecting on BBV’s entry, the IQA judges said: "What sets this project apart from other digitisation projects is the scale and complexity of the challenges faced, the textbook application of advanced project management techniques, 100% delivery against project target, and the project legacy, which will enable future developers to expand the scope of the solution further.

"Granting a permit to break ground can literally be a life or death decision. The inherent risks associated with processing up to 150 individual pieces of paper per instance have been significantly mitigated as a result of the BBV/Site Assist solution. Effective consultation with a diverse range of interested parties has driven the culture change and technical revisions necessary to ensure widespread acceptance of the end product.

"[This is] A great example of a large firm collaborating with a small technology provider to deliver real value in the field. It was pleasing to see that the initiative covered the complete range of process improvement, change management, strong product design and benefit realisation."

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