Paris Infraweek 2017: Reinventing the construction sector in France

October 2017

Globally, infrastructure investment exceeded €8.7 billion in 2015 – an uptick since the economic crisis of 2008. Yet, to keep pace with projected growth, the world needs to invest €9.8 trillion annually by 2035. As a result, many countries globally still face a daunting spending gap.

The picture is a bit brighter in France where spending is on par with anticipated needs. However, this will only maintain current economic growth levels. If the country aims to accelerate growth, it will require increased investment in both new infrastructure and maintenance of existing assets. Amidst constrained public budgets, the greatest opportunity the country has to improve its infrastructure and accelerate its growth is by optimizing existing spending levels.

This peer-to-peer roundtable convened a select group of senior leaders from across the infrastructure value chain in France, including investors, E&C executives and public-sector leaders to discuss how to do more and gain the greatest benefits within current levels of investment.

Key themes from the discussion include:

  1. Improving project selection. A fact-based and outcome-focused evaluation and prioritization of projects can help to ensure the right projects are pursued and  maintain support an infrastructure project with a long lifecycle spanning political terms. The fact base and focus on social and economic benefits also strengthens outreach efforts to overcome any public opposition, as project delays often arise when there is difficulty securing stakeholder buy-in.  There is an opportunity for France to draw best practices from countries such as Australia and Canada that have established centralized agencies with the responsibility to evaluate projects and identify national priorities.
  2. Maximizing existing infrastructure. France has a strong foundation of national and local infrastructure. Investment in maintenance can be completed faster and more cost effectively than new construction in most instances.
  3. Improving project execution. The use of Lean construction methods, including the Last Planner System, can significantly reduce waste and variability on projects by enabling team to collaborate and plan at a very granular level.

    Additionally, poor alignment between owners and EPCM companies, particularly when it comes to risk sharing, can be one of the major drivers of project failures.  More collaborative contractual models, such as integrated project delivery (IPD) can align owners, contractors and subcontractors, providing a shared set of objectives and incentives for all stakeholders to succeed at delivering a project on time, on budget and to the highest quality.  The TGV line from Tours to Bordeaux was highlighted as a project where the contractual, financial and technical innovations pursued by the Concession resulted in on-time delivery.

  4. Embracing digital tools. Digital tools present tremendous opportunity to increase productivity and efficiency on projects. To fully seize the opportunity, organizations must: 1) establish enterprise-wide digital strategies supported by the Direction Générale, 2) pursue pilot programs and  scale successes across their project portfolio, and 3) prioritize investment in the technologies that will have the greatest business impact.

    There is a cultural transformation required across the industry to encourage – and reward – innovation and experimentation and accept the risk of failure. The responsibility lies both with the private sector to invest in new technologies and with the owners who can demand innovation in procurements, such as the requirements in the UK and Singapore for the use of building information modeling (BIM).

    Participants agreed that the technologies with the greatest potential for immediate and substantive impact in France are the scale-up of BIM and the use of digital collaboration tools  to provide project teams with a “single source of truth.”

  5. Capability building. Capability building programs are needed to ensure project teams have strong foundational skills, such as project management and field supervision. With the emergence of new technologies, it will be critical to train the existing workforce in new technologies and to attract new talent in areas such as data analytics and machine learning. There is also an opportunity to build the skills of public-sector owners responsible for overseeing projects to ensure they understand the full lifecycle, from financing to commissioning, to make the best decisions for each project. 

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