Will Hackney joined PCSG Australia as Consulting Director earlier this year. He brings 18 years of experience in the UK and Australia and has been at the forefront of the development and implementation of best practice for asset information management throughout his career.
Here he talks bass, buildings and better ways of working.
Q: You’ve been in Australia for five years now Will. Are you fully immersed in the culture?

A: I really miss real ale and English cider, but they have an amazing craft beer scene here in Australia, excellent wines and plenty of Kombucha (which tastes like cider at least). I would say I miss the green spaces, cool air and rain in the UK, but Melbourne has plenty of that too. There is plenty of sunshine and therefore opportunities for BBQs. Everyone is easy-going and the art, food and music culture is spot-on too!

Q: Sounds tough…. But what about your band?

A: I was in a band for 10 years in the UK, but I’ve been able to replicate that out here too, luckily. I’ve found an Accountant, Lawyer, and Engineer (they like to call themselves ALE) to jam with at a local studio.

Q: So, what prompted the re-location?

A: I was closing out a three-year capability improvement programme at Transport for London when I was approached to consider a role as Digital Leader for Aurecon’s infrastructure market. The role offered me the chance to work internationally, build on my time in the supply chain as a main contractor and look to shape and support the notion of a ‘digitally built’ Australia. I’ve always been one to explore and venture out, so it wasn’t a decision that needed much thought.

Q: Bye-bye UK for good?

A: I’ve made some fantastic friends and colleagues out here, met my wife and am enjoying supporting local and Asia Pacific clients with digital transformation. I could definitely see my future being out here but you should always embrace the present and keep an open mind about the future.

Q: Have you been a life-long STEM lover?

A: I’ve always been curious about how the world works and was inspired by ancient and modern history, architecture and emerging technologies.  I took a trip with my father to visit the Great Pyramids of Giza when I turned 21 – something which made a big impression.

Growing up and working with my dad during summer holidays, I noticed he was always coming up with smart ways to solve engineering challenges. This all inspired me to study Civil Engineering with a strong Computer Aided Design (CAD) element. I followed that up three years later, with an MSc in IT management.

Q: Are the challenges faced by asset owners / operators in Australia markedly different from those in the UK? If so, how?

A: The required capabilities and transformation challenges are much the same but factors such as the level of direct international competition compared to Europe and challenges around asset resilience here in terms of environmental factors stand out as key differences.

With Australia being the world’s largest island with a land mass 32 times larger than the UK and a population approximately just over a 1/3rd of that of the UK, challenges in relation to developing and sustaining built infrastructure are significant.

Q: How would you describe the level of digital maturity out there amongst the major asset owners and developers?

A: I see a lot of research and practical innovation developed here in Australia, but it’s not often adopted at scale. Often challenges are presented by having departments focused on the job at hand rather than a long-term collaborative plan to embed digital ways of working and services into their current and/or emerging business models.

Without a shared vision, a clear roadmap and a blueprint, it can be challenging for businesses to take the right steps in establishing continuous improvement and in realising value from digital built assets.

Another trend is for anything labelled ‘digital’ to be left for technical specialists to tackle or for organisations to jump straight to pilot projects prior to having formed a clear business case and plan and therefore lacking the necessary leadership and support.

I’m optimistic though that we will continue to see Asia Pacific make some significant contributions to the cumulative learning in the Digital Twin and Smart Cities domain in the coming years.

Q: What are the common problems asset owner / operators struggle with around management of their data?

A: The pressure for asset owners to meet growing demand whilst maintaining current service levels and customer satisfaction is significant.

The amount and nature of data and information generated continues to grow yet the capability to fully leverage and manage both static and dynamic datasets needs to grow even more so.

There is a lot of talent here in Australia and it’s a challenge for businesses to properly harness that in a clear and strategic way.

The task of managing change and people can never be underestimated and remains a priority. Major projects can be of such scale and complexity that it takes the formation of a myriad of organisations, often within the supply chain, to work together and under pressure, as a ‘hybrid-organisation’ to deliver the desired outcomes. This can lead to the requirements for information and data and the progressive delivery of data to be difficult at the best of times.

I think it’s also really important to reflect on the fact that the construction sector is supported by and supports many other sectors, which also need to consider how they are and will be digitally transformed. The Legal and Insurance sectors are key examples and still need to jointly consider the role of smart contracts, project bank accounts and the impact of underwriting a complex major project that is fully data-driven.

Q: Does the ‘digital twin’ phrase mean a lot yet to professionals in the AEC sector? Is the WIFM (What’s In It for Me?) factor clear enough?

A: It’s certainly becoming a key narrative, but the challenge is framing it at a business level and not just in the context of capital projects and built assets. There’s also some convergence of other enabling capabilities and services, which can too quickly become the sole focus as elements supporting Digital Twin capabilities e.g. BIM/DE, GIS, IoT, Asset management, Information Management, Analytics and AI etc.

I really think the framing of a Digital Twin in terms of capabilities – as seen in the SCCANZ Guidance Note, which PCSG helped develop – is a very useful way of creating engagement with the view that Digital Twin capabilities will continue to evolve.

I think it’s still relatively early in broader industry terms and the narrative around digital twins really shouldn’t be only an AEC sector narrative; it forms the basis of capabilities and outcomes affecting nations, governments, cities and communities.

Q: What will have the biggest impact in driving uptake of digital twins in our sector?

A: We need to be able to talk about the challenges that business face to effectively frame and drive the capability and value of twins to business leaders, decision makers and the workforce.

As with many agendas, many call for Government to take a lead. This can certainly help with creating a consistent narrative and shared vision nationally, as we saw with the UK Digital Built Britain agenda. But in terms of creating lasting change and shifting industry, I still believe each organisation, including government departments, need to look inwardly and fully ready themselves for digital transformation.

I’m a strong believer that any approach should be aligned to the business objectives and capability maturity of the workforce at a particular time and their actual readiness in each location or team. This should prompt organisations to work through it in their own way, at their own pace to ensure outcomes are met, well supported, clearly understood and that lasting results are generated.

 Q: You bring the perspective & experience gained from working for a contractor (VINCI), client (TfL) & consultant (Aurecon) – Is this one of your biggest assets?

A: Working within those organisations has really helped me to learn and grow and to fully understand the priorities and mechanics of those organisations and the role they play in the built environment.

I have been fortunate enough to work alongside very experienced  people and people who are open to collaboration, innovation and change.

I’ve also learnt how to work with key stakeholders to achieve shared success and to really appreciate the varying perspectives they bring.

Q: You’ve chaired for several years the Sustainable Built Environment National Research Centre (SBEnrc).Is progress happening quickly enough in terms of making construction sustainable?

A: I’m pleased to say I’m still engaged in the excellent work the centre is responsible for and continue to be impressed by their continued ability to bring Government, Industry and Academia nationally together in a uniquely valuable way.

Of course, there’s always more that can be done but doing something that’s meaningful and through collaboration is what’s most important.

There’s still a lot to tackle here in Australia in terms of both sustainability and resilience in the built environment, but there’s also some great progress being made.

Industry-led initiatives such as SBEnrc’s Project 2.76 on Sustainable Procurement and the a focus on sustainability as part of the current Digital Twin Challenge via the Smart Cities Council ANZ (SCCANZ) are great examples, which I’m fortunate enough to be directly involved with.

Interview with Elizabeth Owen.

For more information on PCSG’s work supporting organisations, cities and governments with the establishment of data-driven strategies and digital twins, please contact Gavin.Cotterill@pcsg-australia.com.au