Engineering a post-Covid future

11 Jun 2020

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The 18th and final event in the series of FIDIC Covid-19 webinars took place on Thursday 11 June 2020 with an event reflecting on all the lessons that have been learned over the previous 18 events that have attracted thousands of attendees from around the world, writes FIDIC communications advisor Andy Walker.

“A pandemic that changed the world - lessons to be learned by the global infrastructure sector” was attended by 413 attendees and began with a review of the webinar series to date. Opening the webinar, FIDIC CEO Nelson Ogunshakin reported that in total the 18 events in the series have attracted more than 9,000 attendees from across the globe to listen to an international line-up of expert speakers from all parts of the construction and infrastructure industry.

Moderated by FIDIC CEO Dr Nelson Ogunshakin, the speakers at the event included FIDIC board member Tony Barry from Australia, Vincent Leloup, chair of the FIDIC contracts committee from France, Chituwa Chulu, CEO of the Association of Consulting Engineers of Zambia, FIDIC’s head of economic and strategic policy Graham Pontin, Daduna Kokhreidze, head of legal and compliance at FIDIC and Andy Walker, FIDIC communications advisor. As he has been for every webinar in the 18-event series, FIDIC president Bill Howard was also in attendance logging on bright and early from Boston, USA.

First speaker, FIDIC president Bill Howard, began by congratulating the whole FIDIC team for organising such an extensive webinar series in extremely challenging times and thanked all the speakers and attendees who had supported FIDIC over the ten-week series. “The future as we all know is uncertain, but we do know that things will be different in the new normal,” he said. “During these webinars we have heard about the importance of leadership, collaboration and communication and we need to understand everyone’s issues in the industry and try to obtain a win-win situation in the challenges we all face as we move forward,” said Howard.

Tony Barry, FIDIC vice president and board member, said that it was important for the industry to reflect and take on board learnings from its experience of the pandemic. “Preparedness for previous pandemics had put some countries – and firms - in a better position to deal with Covid-19, especially in the area of digital infrastructure, which is likely to be increasingly important in future,” said Barry, who also highlighted a company culture of agility, flexibility and an access to good cash flows as being vital in building resilience to future crises. Leadership was also critical, Barry said, and the best leaders have come to the fore during this crisis. CEO leadership in companies was crucial in the industry response with “bringing together the leadership team to respond to events” being especially important. He ended by praising staff working in the industry for their tremendous capability during the current crisis. Barry thought that there was a great opportunity for FIDIC to build a new “body of knowledge” working with member associations to support the industry, governments and funders in doing the right things going forward. “Don’t let this crisis pass without investing in making our industry even better prepared for the future,” Barry concluded.

Chituwa Chulu, CEO of the Association of Consulting Engineers of Zambia, said that the crisis had ushered in a new normal which was affecting all aspects of their business. “Costs are likely to rise across the industry and we will need to build new collaborations and partnerships to keep these under control,” she said. Her association would have to invest more in online training and events in the future and this was an opportunity to raise ACEZ’s profile in the industry, said Chulu. “It is imperative that firms become resilient and agile and be able to adapt to change,” she said. “We also need to ensure that we take a quantum leap in transforming the country’s infrastructure, especially in the area of high-speed broadband access in order to build industry ready responsiveness,” Chulu said. The ACEZ CEO also praised FIDIC for organising such an excellent series of webinars that had massively assisted her member firms by highlighting the key issues arising from the Covid-19 crisis.

FIDIC contracts committee chair Vincent Leloup highlighted the relevance of FIDIC contracts during the Covid-19 crisis and that these contained very useful provisions and clauses to help contract parties. He also mentioned the recently published and very popular FIDIC guidance memorandum which contains an outline of the provisions in FIDIC’s various general conditions of contract for works which may be relevant with regard to likely scenarios that are arising as a consequence of Covid-19. This document had been very widely used by the industry and by publishing it FIDIC had done a great service for the industry. Leloup said that going forward, he hoped that the industry would take a lead from the culture outlined by FIDIC in its contracts and become less adversarial and more collaborative. He also highlighted the “central role of the engineer” and also “dispute boards” in avoiding costly and lengthy disputes in the future. The future would be different, he said, with more interaction, meetings and activity taking place online, though we should never forget that human interaction is still important.

FIDIC’s head of economic and strategic policy Graham Pontin said that despite the obvious difficulties the current crisis had brought, Covid-19 had also demonstrated that countries could invest in key areas when this was required. Some key lessons from the crisis, said Pontin, included the need to invest in high-speed internet access in the developing world as this could facilitate an increase in GDPs in those areas. Investment decisions and procurement would be crucial going forward, he said, and it was important to create an institutional environment and framework that did not act as a barrier to investment. Building resilience was absolutely vital too, Pontin said, as that was crucial to the industry being able to withstand future crises and flourish in the future.

Daduna Kokhreidze, head of legal and compliance at FIDIC, said that there were many questions about FIDIC contracts when the crisis first broke and paramount amongst them was what the impact of the pandemic would be on projects and how FIDIC contracts would stand up to the challenges arising. “A lot of questions arose around alternative dispute resolution during this webinar series and how our contracts would respond to the crisis,” she said. “Many of the answers to the questions that have been raised can be found in our contracts guidance documents and also in the special Covid-19 guidance we have issued which have been a big help to the industry,” said Kokhreidze. Going forward, she that FIDIC would take all the learnings from the webinar series to ensure that its contracts and guidance documentation is even better equipped to cope with future crises.

FIDIC communications advisor Andy Walker highlighted the key role that FIDIC has played during the pandemic. The webinar series was unprecedented in the organisation’s history, he said, and getting 9,000 people to attend its webinar series was a fantastic achievement. “FIDIC’s member associations have also played a leadership role during the crisis by liaising with governments to ensure that they recognised or designated construction and infrastructure as essential industries,” said Walker. He also said that infrastructure would change as a result of the pandemic. Designs, procurement and funding models would have to adapt in the new normal and FIDIC, its member associations and their member firms will play a key role in that process in advising governments, funders and clients on the best path to take, he said.

As ever, the discussion raised many issues and many of the questions from attendees looked to the future and what the role of the industry and FIDIC should be in shaping the world’s response to this and future crises. Wrapping up the webinar, FIDIC president Bill Howard once again the importance of leadership collaboration and communication in framing the industry’s response to this crisis but also to what comes next in terms of how infrastructure develops in the future.

Summing up the event and the entire webinar series, FIDIC CEO Nelson Ogunshakin said that FIDIC, through its State of the World reports and webinar series, will outline a roadmap for future infrastructure. “The communication and information does not stop here,” he said, assuring those attending that FIDIC was here to stay and that he was looking forward to “a new chapter” for the organisation and the industry as it looked forward to future challenges and new opportunities.

Click below to view a recording of the lessons to be learned by the global infrastructure sector webinar.

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