An excerpt from Paul Milne’s address to the Australian British Infrastructure Catalyst event in October 2023.
Laing O’Rourke is a privately-owned global engineering and construction firm with operations in the UK, Australia and the Middle East.
Our beginnings were very humble. The business was started by Ray and Des O’Rourke in the laundry of a suburban home in Essex in 1978. It’s this entrepreneurial spirit, still alive and well in Laing O’Rourke today, which sits behind our ambition to be the recognised leader for innovation and excellence.
In Australia, the business focuses on delivering defence infrastructure; rail and road transport infrastructure; buildings at the transport interface; and opportunities in energy and resources.
In the United Kingdom, the portfolio further incorporates sport & leisure, health, education, energy, as well as residential and commercial building projects.
In 2012, Laing O’Rourke was part of the CLM consortium - the Delivery Partner to the Olympic Delivery Authority, responsible for ensuring all the facilities for the London Olympics and Paralympic Games were ready to go.
The London Olympic and Paralympic Games was the first time the delivery partner model was employed by the UK Government. The client understood the complexity of the project and the time-critical date for completion meant a more traditional delivery model would fail.
With the world watching, we transformed 670 acres of contaminated wasteland in Stratford into a world-class venue – delivered three months early and on budget.
A delivery partner model works for complex, time-sensitive projects because it drives a ‘whole of program’ strategy. It means the best available resources are matched to the right roles, regardless of organisation. It also takes a bird’s eye view of program rather than procuring individual projects, which promotes increased productivity and innovation. A delivery partner approach is more efficient. It’s more transparent. And it delivers more certainty to the client.
In Australia, the Woolgoolga to Ballina Pacific Highway Upgrade (W2B) was the largest concrete pavement project in the country’s history. The contract was awarded in 2015 and open to traffic in 2020. It was also the first delivery partner model in Australia, avoiding the need for the NSW Government to procure and deliver multiple separate packages of sequential works.
In a joint venture between Laing O’Rourke and WSP Australia, partnering with Transport for New South Wales, we managed the delivery of the 129-kilometre section of the Pacific Highway between Woolgoolga and Ballina.
We procured and managed over 170 contract packages. If the government were to have broken the procurement of this task into individual projects, it would have taken more than a decade to deliver and cost exponentially more. By appointing a single delivery partner, the team was able to build using a revolutionary, innovative design and engineering process.
According to research from Oxford University Professor Brent Flyvbjerg, only 8.5% of megaprojects are completed on time and to budget. Coupled with the current shortage of skills and labour, it’s a perfect storm for our sector. It’s clear the choice of procurement model is more important than ever.
A delivery partner model worked on W2B for a few reasons: firstly, the combination of delivery partners was good, bringing global know how and local operating experience to the project. In addition, excellent planning meant the project was set up to succeed – even in the face of floods, bushfires, and a pandemic.
In the sprint to the Brisbane Olympics in 2032 – you need to consider a project versus program delivery approach. In our opinion, a Delivery Partner model is the way to go. The role of the Delivery Partner is to do the hard yards before the construction work begins. There is no wiggle room in constructing an Olympics – losing time to individual project procurement rather than focussing on programme delivery is a real risk.
There are specialisms that exist in every part of the world – they were required in London in 2012, and they will be required in Brisbane in 2032. So, it’s key to look for global experience.
There are also nuances to delivering in this part of the world – so, seek local knowledge.
Choose a delivery partner which understands the nuances of public sector procurement processes – and partner with them using a collaborative contracting arrangement.
Finally, don’t forget the importance of having a total program view to leave the largest legacy for the community.
When contractors are only asked to consider individual projects, their remit doesn’t include the overarching, enduring legacy of the facilities being left behind.
A delivery partner model supports not only legacy infrastructure, but also skills and traineeship outcomes, sustainability approaches, and a commitment to social procurement for the greatest impact. To deliver infrastructure for the Brisbane Olympics on time and budget, you need a collaborative set of arrangements which allow the public sector, localised expertise, and big tier one contractors to work together under a framework to deliver a program.
Outsourcing each play won’t win the game. Bring a whole of game strategy to your infrastructure planning so you don’t miss the opportunity to medal.
Paul Milne is a Delivery – Director for Laing O’Rourke in Australia.