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How Costain is trying to make innovation normal

Costain’s move to make innovation a part of its philosophy is bearing fruit, with successful new processes and products being used on a range of projects, including Crossrail.

The Costain Group places a large emphasis on innovation. It’s part of the company’s strategy and philosophy, and has resulted in a range of processes, products and site innovations across the business.

“Innovation is hugely important to our customers – we recognise it will help us create a sustainable business if we address the challenges of our customers,” says Costain Group innovation and knowledge manager Tim Embley.

The group’s innovation strategy is called Engineering Tomorrow and aims to identify, develop and implement innovative solutions that address the needs of Costain’s customers and the wider needs of UK infrastructure.

“Engineering tomorrow is our strategy. The philosophy of the business is all about bringing people, processes and ideas together to create real market solutions,” Mr Embley says.

Creating an innovation culture

The company aims to spur on innovation throughout the business, at all levels. “Each project has an innovation champion to encourage and develop innovations onsite,” he says.

“We encourage both the big I and the little i innovations across the business – the big I innovations are the game changers, but the little i innovations are the smaller things that still make a difference”

Tim Embley, Costain

Not all ideas need to be game-changers; instead, the company has different processes for dealing with smaller innovations that can be implemented easily, right up to larger ideas that need investment, testing and development.

“We encourage both the big I and the little i innovations across the business – the big I innovations are the game changers, but the little i innovations are the smaller things that still make a difference and can often be developed or implemented quite quickly,” Mr Embley explains.

Costain also takes on students and works with several universities on research programmes, including the University of Cambridge, to create and then direct the courses to make sure they are relevant for the industry and clients.

Cambridge connection

Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction director Dr Jennifer Schooling explains how the centre has been working with Costain.

“The Costain team, led by Tim Embley, worked with CSIC and our other industrial partners to shape the centre’s strategy during its formation,” she says.

“Costain’s senior management team get it – our chief executive understands what it means to the business to support and recognise innovation”

Tim Embley, Costain

“Since then, Costain has been actively involved in a number of the centre’s flagship projects, providing invaluable demonstration opportunities on active construction sites and helping to steer the research to achieve industry-relevant outcomes, with a view to implementing smarter infrastructure solutions in future construction projects.”

But before any of this can happen within a business, top-level buy in is vital. “Costain’s senior management team get it – our chief executive understands what it means to the business to support and recognise innovation within the company,” Mr Embley says.

“We also have our own Costain awards, for which we place a huge emphasis on innovation.”

From the leadership team, the message is cascaded down so the whole workforce know and understand not only the importance of innovation to the business but also to them individually.

Developing a pipeline of innovation

The company has an internal system for registering, sharing and developing individual ideas. “Our system is called The Costain Way – everyone has access to it and it has the standard processes for everything, including for individuals looking to progress their initial ideas,” Mr Embley explains.

There are several ways employees can progress: they can fill out a basic form, then their idea is shared in a knowledge database. Other employees can then add contributions and suggestions on how to improve the idea, and together they can build on it.

“If an employee has an idea, they then go on to develop it on a project”

Tim Embley, Costain

“This can lead to creating networks on the topic with other people around the business,” Mr Embley says. “We also have an internal social media network so we can internally solve ideas collaboratively through suggestions from others.”

The person who suggested the idea can then go back to the client and see if it will work, or go on to develop it further.

For larger ideas or those that require investment and development, the process can take longer. “If an employee has an idea, they then go on to develop it on a project,” he says.

“If they then see greater potential for its use in the wider business, they can pitch it to the board for funding and can then go on to develop it.”

Costain does not allocate a set amount a year for funding innovations. Instead the employee with the idea must pitch a business case and justify the need for funding. (see box)

Customers encouraging innovation

“Our customers are all very receptive to innovation and happy to work with us on it,” Mr Embley says. “Many also actively encourage it during the tender process and then work collaboratively with us.”

One such customer is Crossrail, where Costain is working closely with the team to drive and implement innovation.

“Our supply chain partners recognise how important innovation is to Costain and so to winning business. Now they come to us with ideas; they want to collaborate with us”

Tim Embley, Costain Group

“Crossrail is the biggest project in Europe and one of the largest single infrastructure investments undertaken in the UK,” says Crossrail chief executive Andrew Wolstenholme.

“If we are to deliver this world-class railway by 2018, safely and within budget, we will have to challenge industry norms and think differently.

“With ‘inspiration” being one of our core values, I am delighted that Costain has chosen to become one of our innovation partners and has embraced what we are trying to achieve with such vigour.”

And it is not just customers that appreciate Costain’s focus, but its supply chain too. “Our supply chain partners recognise how important innovation is to Costain and so to winning business,” Mr Embley says. “Now they come to us with ideas; they want to collaborate with us.”

He is keen to emphasise that although innovation is a definite focus for the business, it always has a purpose.

“We help enhance the performance of our customers through these innovations, but it’s not just about innovation for innovation’s sake,” he says. “We have a clear programme of where we’re trying to take the business to in the future.”

Innovation in action – COpath

COpath is a partnership between Costain and Path Intelligence that uses technology to better understand passenger movements in stations and airports.

“We thought they could help us better understand passenger journeys in stations and airports, from seeing how many people use a station at a certain time, to the shopping habits of people flying out of Heathrow,” says Costain development manager James Forward.

Previously the technology has only been used in the retail sector. “Path Intelligence has technology that is unique to them: they use a receiver that can locate the position of a mobile phone and use that to understand people’s movements,” Mr Forward says.

The idea was sparked when the Costain team were attempting to work out where and at what time they can carry out construction work on a live asset.

“Traditional modelling can take up to six months and is often not very accurate,” Mr Forward says. “This is a better, quicker and faster way to understand passenger movements. This allows us to gather better quality data faster.”

The technology has four main applications when used in a station or airport environment:

  • Maximising non-fare/non-aeronautical revenues;
  • Identifying ways of optimising capacity, such as opportunities for reducing bottlenecks and improving marketing;
  • Managing a station or airport using real-time data on passenger numbers and queue times;
  • Planning maintenance activities based on actual usage and to minimise disruption.

Once the team identified the technology and its benefits, they went to the board to ask for funding to trial its use on a live project.

“We trialled it at Paddington and Reading stations to see if it worked in practice,” Mr Forward says. “It was very successful and made us think about the journeys people take through stations, not just the journeys trains make from one station to another.”

This allows the team to minimise disruption during construction, maximise non-fare revenues and improve the overall customer experience.

The technology is now planned for future station and airport projects that Costain undertakes.

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