Life on earth is dependent on water. Without it, creation ceases to exist. It is imperative that this precious resource is respected and the infrastructure that brings it to civilization is managed properly and constantly improved to ensure that future generations have access to it. Since its founding in 1820, MWH Global has engaged in the engineering, construction and management of some of the largest and most technically advanced wet infrastructure, hydropower, mining and transportation projects for municipalities, governments and multinational private corporations throughout the world. The company has been driven by its purpose: Building a Better World. For example, Thomas Hawksley of Watson Hawksley Consulting Engineers, an early leader of MWH, was one of the first people to advocate “continuous service” pressurized systems as a way of providing safe water. Today, keeping drinking water systems continuously pressurized remains one of the most fundamental, and likely underappreciated, requirements for providing safe drinking water.
Through the involvement in wet infrastructure and water-engineering projects, the role of MWH has been to help manage water purity and availability in a sustainable fashion for the health, livelihood and security of people worldwide. The company’s ability to lead in this market successfully has been dependent upon forward thinking and anticipating not only what is just around the corner, but what will be the future in a few short years.
The company’s highly experienced team of nearly 8,000 professionals operates on six continents and is continually looking to provide innovative ways to design around the world’s most precious resource: water.
MWH has developed a Global Strategic Intent (GSI) that is used to drive the company toward the future. It is built upon the MWH purpose: Building a Better World, core values, vision, client outcomes, strategy, strategic priorities and competitive differentiators. Inherent in this have been horizons of growth. In the last 10 years, MWH has focused on 1) where and whom: geographic and client-type expansion through mergers, acquisitions and major projects—taking staff to more than 34 countries worldwide; 2) what: the creation of new service-led business areas taking MWH into business solutions, program management, software solutions, asset management, design-build and construction management; and 3) how: the development of strategies to reinvent how employees do work by using parametric design, templating, licensed tools and more. This careful planning has led to some very exciting developments.
Learning and Preparing for the Future
Part of the MWH strategy has been to develop knowledge through an incubation initiative with corporate funding. An outcome of this incubation effort has seen the company engage, for many years, in disaster recovery efforts around the globe from New Orleans to Christchurch to Queensland. Through these activities, MWH has identified opportunities for planning and preparedness activities that can result in faster and more efficient recovery efforts. Therefore, MWH has applied its knowledge to develop an industry standard “resilience” index (CORRI), which helps insurers and involved agencies to assess, in a consistent fashion, their readiness for major catastrophic events and take action in advance to deal with areas of weakness. This templated approach is being warmly received by major insurers and reinsurers.
“Oftentimes, operations within a company are not set up to afford the investments for developing transformative IP and people. Part of what MWH has done is to develop this incubation initiative, setting monies aside at a global level, so that we are able to develop the processes and technologies that allow us to know our next move,” said Ian McAulay, chief strategy officer for MWH.
Beyond the incubation initiative, MWH understands that the scientific needs of the industry and project must also be met. In a competitive environment with changing requirements and ever-advancing technology, MWH has dedicated a centralized research group. The company places key emphasis on the engineering science associated with its projects, allowing for new and innovative solutions to be provided to clients worldwide. The research group conducts studies for a wide variety of applications across industry sectors such as water, wastewater, mining water and industrial waste. The group focuses on the energy water nexus and how the interrelationship of the two affects clients’ environmental issues. This group is looking at the issues of today as well as those of 15 years into the future.
At MWH, knowing the next move is not limited to developing capabilities internally with appropriated monies and focused study, but extends to watching the megatrends in the marketplace.
Building a Better World
One of those megatrends is population growth. As the world’s population continues to explode, more and more energy is needed to fuel modern manufacturing, commercial, transportation and residential activities. As energy needs increase, so do the demands on water and those companies that clean it, distribute it and provide it to those who consume it in their processes. As such, these utility companies and others are looking more closely at their water footprint and ways innovation will help them save money, differentiate and be more sustainable. “MWH is identifying key areas (Global Growth Platforms) where our 200 years of historical knowledge combined with technology and appropriately applied creates a highly differentiated service offering which drives previously untapped efficiency and effectiveness from the existing asset bases of our clients,” said McAulay. “This ‘Return on Asset Base’ methodology is reaching exciting levels, and now we are actually seeing assets which were historically energy consumptive being transformed to energy productive.”
At the highest level, many large waste-water treatment works are becoming effective energy factories, entirely self-sufficient in terms of energy needs through combined heat and power (CHP), and in many cases being so efficient in this regard that they are net exporters of electricity and gas. “Helping our clients move from being net consumers to net producers of energy is at the heart of our purpose,” said McAulay.
Along with advancing clients to be more sustainable in their energy usage, MWH has been committed to building a better world through partnerships and projects. Joseph Adams, president of the Energy & Industry operation at MWH is part of the Engineers Without Borders USA Corporate Leadership Council. MWH staff is involved in community-driven development programs worldwide through the implementation of engineering projects that address challenges in water supply, sanitation, energy access, sustainable agriculture and more. Additionally, MWH has a program called the Climate Change Commitment Education program, under which employees educate children around the world on simple ways they can save water and energy to protect the future of the planet. Since 2007, more than 14,500 students from 10 countries have participated in this program.
Visual Intelligence and Predictive Analytics
Another trend has been the explosion in social media accessibility and technology capability. It has had an astonishing impact on many major clients of MWH. It is a phenomenon that will only increase in the future as the velocity and variety of data transfer increases exponentially. Many clients of MWH are seeing “regulation” of their activities being done by customers, consumers and critics in real time on visual media. It is a new currency of communication and one which can have wide-ranging impacts on reputation as well as actual levels of customer service.
“In our utilities business, we are working closely with clients to combine our asset knowledge with new technology to give highly visualized displays of real-time performance and predictive future performance to allow clients to manage for optimal asset effectiveness and efficiency and proactive customer service. We call this visual intelligence and it speaks to the new world of machine-to-machine communication. We seamlessly integrate previously unconnected data drawn from those types of interactions and translating it into real-time screen display of valuable information allowing operators to see a ‘rich picture’ of data and make decisions that significantly benefit their business,” said McAulay.
For example, if a water main were to burst in the middle of a business district, in the past, the client would check their records, repair the pipe and manage the fix. This is no longer acceptable to regulators and the general public. Now clients must manage the event, and technology is helping them to do so. Utilities can now connect data that can help predict how many people may be affected by the dust kicked up from construction on the street, the changes in pressure on the entire system when a water line is shut down or rerouted, understand the traffic patterns around the construction to plan for the best times for repairs, measure influence circles around the incident—what is the demographic of the populous and are they historically more apt to complain and what is the ethnic makeup of the neighborhoods in order to properly distribute the correct communications. Utilities now manage time to resolution, track the number of complaints in certain areas, comparing historic versus actuals, and some are even looking to engage in sentiment analytics that will probe social media conversations real-time during repairs, allowing for real-time responses and management. The combination of historical knowledge and predictive knowledge allows for clients to manage for outcomes as opposed to outputs.
At MWH, technology is being used to help clients manage big data in order to make informed decisions that drive their business forward. The company is using a system-thinking approach to pull together the whole picture of asset creation, operations and management so that whether the client is:
• On the Board and cares about share price. • In the management office controlling energy and labor costs. • At the job site taking corrective action to fix or replace a pump, he or she is pulling the right information out of a system that understands time, money and asset-outcome relationships.
McAulay says, “We are able to use technology in new and exciting ways to vision and implement outcome-based scenarios that are cost-effective and sustainable solutions for our clients.”
MWH has flourished since 1820, and will continue to, following the company’s developed GSI, watching the megatrends in the marketplace, incubating research efforts and involving employees in Building a Better World.