Could smart tech and agile practices have saved Carillion from going under?

John Oswald
Carillion collapsed earlier this week (Source: Getty)

Carillion collapses and once more we risk tipping over into a scandal over government accountability, public vs. private delivery of public services, precarious project deadlines and fragile financial accounting.

But what if we changed the script? There are four areas where emerging technology and a more enlightened approach to work culture could have led to a very different outcome for Carillion and for the construction and managed services sectors.

1) Sophisticated tech can help - why not use it?

Across construction and outsourcing there are many similarities in how projects are managed and delivered. Yet all too often each project is priced, negotiated, contracted and delivered as if it was the first. Any learning that does exist is subject to poor predictability, brinkmanship negotiations and race to the bottom pricing.

Emerging analytics technology already exists to create a shared data model comprising millions of data points from construction and other outsourced projects, which could help identify significant patterns, make predictions and draw conclusions. Instead of tax payers paying millions to ensure continuity of Carillion’s public sector services, what if this money had been invested in building a shared predictive data model providing learnings across multiple industries and introducing greater predictability into the process?

2) Open the tender process to radical levels of transparency

The Open movement is powering rapid tech and fintech innovation, as developers use Open Source and Open APIs to build on each other’s discoveries with regular iteration involving end customers. What if HS2-type projects were similarly costed, priced and predicted using informed and open debate, with citizens and sub-contractors actively involved? What if the shared data model we built could be simultaneously analysed in multiple dimensions, saving millions of hours of consultation and delays? The cost of the current, closed approach falls on companies like Carillion whose profit margins are already stretched so far that it’s in everyone’s interests to just do the deal, rather than doing the right deal.

3) Embrace agile practices and design thinking

Within the IT services sector, agile practices and design thinking have led to greater collaboration between and within supplier and client organisations. It’s high time design thinking was applied to large outsourcing and construction deals. This would see multi-disciplinary/agency/contractor teams using our shared data model to accurately agree their accountabilities before finalising the deal. Deploying agile practices, they could recalibrate the agreement based on data arising from the project as it unfolds. This is preferable to legal wrangles when it all goes wrong or - worse - to businesses going under.

4) Use Blockchain to manage complex contracts

Real-time and future-oriented data is needed to support the ongoing management of large deals. What if Blockchain was deployed to handle multi-party contracts between suppliers on big projects? What if it was also used to keep track of all the materials, contractors and machinery required to fulfil a project?

From Westland helicopters through NHS IT contracts and the ongoing debate over PFIs, it’s time to change the dialogue around costly public sector outsourcing projects. Better use of technology allied to collaborative working practices, feel like a good place to start.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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