Systems-led Infrastructure

Speaking the systems-led language

As the industry gets to grips with the systems-led approach to infrastructure delivery, VVB explains what the concept means and how it can be used to transform infrastructure performance by 2030.

Read time

3 minutes

Where has systems-led infrastructure come from?

The Government’s Transforming Infrastructure Performance: Roadmap to 2030 confronted us with the need to raise the standard of UK infrastructure projects. Project overrun and overspend has become the industry’s norm. The problem lies in an outdated approach – one which prioritises the civils structure above all else. The solution lies in a systems-led approach.

A number of initiatives have sought to pin down how this might look and work in practice. The ICE produced a report into a Systems Approach to Infrastructure Delivery, with eight principles to apply it. The Project 13 network has been established to promote a framework around project leadership responsibilities for stakeholders.

With key industry bodies putting their weight behind the shift to systems-led infrastructure, momentum has grown as infrastructure leaders – from construction designers to project managers – embrace the systems-led future of engineering.

What is systems-led infrastructure?

The systems-led approach isn’t about disruptive innovation for innovation’s sake, but breaks the cycle of underperforming infrastructure by flipping the back-to-front ‘structure first, systems second’ mindset. Systems-led infrastructure is designed to ensure the structure supports the necessary systems throughout its lifecycle, and vice versa. 

A systems approach to infrastructure delivery involves specialists at the right time, not just along a linear timeline. It’s led by the outcomes planned from the outset: people-focused, recognising the need for infrastructure that evolves to support human use and provides social value over time.

Systems-led infrastructure considers how the asset will be operated and maintained. Enabled by technology and digitalisation such as digital twins, the systems approach plans and designs how the systems within the structure will be used, considering the project and its phases in entirety.

What are the benefits of systems-led infrastructure?

The systems-led approach achieves three key benefits for infrastructure projects:

  1. Less waste
  2. Less risk
  3. Less inefficiency

Involving the right specialists from the start results in greater project alignment, across teams and interdependencies. This collaborative engineering and buy-in reduces clashes down the line, with the design team working with the delivery team towards a common objective.

Miscommunication and misalignment is avoided by planning for project phases such as handover from the outset. Reduced rework delivers cost certainty, helping drive to efficiencies and extra project value instead.

Instead of focusing on the delivery team’s best interests, the systems-led approach is driven by the client’s outcomes and KPIs including ESG. This not only ensures more successful project delivery, but delivers infrastructure that benefits the end user long after the project is complete.

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