Fisher German

Behind the scenes: Making our utilities infrastructure work

Take a look around you. Electricity pylons, water mains and oil pipelines all make our day-to-day lives what they are and crucially, what we all take for granted. Yet, beneath the surface, there is a large team of specialists behind our infrastructure that keeps the UK and our lives going every day.

Here, Fisher German – a leading provider of project services to the utility and infrastructure sector – introduces just three of those people working behind the scenes.

The project planner - Tina Briars

Tina Briars has an expert ear for unrealistic expectations and is a dab hand at managing them to keep a project on track – key skills for any project manager.

Timeframes are a frequent source of potential difficulty.

She said: “Someone may state that a task can be carried out in six months, but when I review the intricacies involved in that particular job, it becomes clear that the work will actually take a year.

“People often don’t realise that certain tasks have to be completed before others.” 

This may sound like common sense, but in large projects, where hundreds of tasks and many people are involved, ensuring that things happen in the right order – known in the industry as critical path analysis – is no mean feat.

Luckily for Tina, who works closely with key project stakeholders from start to finish, she doesn’t have to work everything out in her head, but has specialist software to analyse the data and work out where the crunch points may come. 

“I start by inputting the data for a particular project.

“That includes recording each party who is involved and what tasks they will be carrying out.

“It doesn’t sound much, but it quickly gets bigger as the project gets going.

“I sit down with the project manager and we work out what can be squeezed.

“We start with how things will happen in an ideal world and then build in real-world factors.

“The important thing is to communicate with the client as quickly as possible.” 

The surveyor - Ellie McDowell

Getting out and about (and possibly quite muddy) is all in a day’s work for Ellie McDowell, who hopes to qualify as a chartered surveyor at the end of 2017.

Her surveying work for electricity and gas clients National Grid and Cadent Gas Ltd takes her all over the country. The site visits are part of Ellie’s job working with landowners affected by utility repair and maintenance work.

Her role involves liaising with owners before, during and after activity takes place. Preparatory tasks include making legal enquires about specific land plots, checking details with the land registry and fine tooth-combing legal documents, including deeds. When work has been completed, Ellie will check that the site has been restored to its former condition. 

Although much of her role is relatively straightforward, Ellie gives a recent example of working as part of the 15-person team on a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP). The team had to liaise with 3,000 stakeholders in 10 weeks. Between the team, they travelled 8,000 miles in order for the client to demonstrate compliance with the relevant legislation. 

The integrated systems analyst - Sarah Ellison

When it comes to keeping plates spinning, Sarah Ellison is a bit of an expert.

She currently works with no less than 12 separate, bespoke applications, some of which are standalone and some of which integrate with each other. But needing to have a forensic understanding of each system doesn’t faze her.

“I enjoy getting to know and having a full appreciation of what each package can do,” she said.

“My clients are the users of the system.

“We are constantly reviewing how things work to identify if we can do tasks more efficiently.”

As soon as an improvement is identified, Sarah takes it to a development team who undertake the nitty-gritty work of writing the relevant code and then create a demonstration system for initial testing. This is when Sarah steps in.

“First, I’ll test with the relevant team who use the system on a daily basis.

“When we are happy with it, we’ll move on to live testing.

“Sometimes, adding new features means other changes need to be made, so the process will begin again.

“Part of my job is co-ordinating and implementing all of this.” 

Sarah moved into the field after 18 years in the banking sector as an analyst with Alliance & Leicester/Santander. Recent improvements have meant that she has been involved with adding graph and print functions to separate databases, as well as creating a new application to accurately analyse time spent on individual projects.

“We are looking at ways of bringing packages together to remove multiple systems doing separate things,” said Sarah.

Currently under the spotlight are better integration of UDB (a bespoke utilities database) and PRS (a dedicated pipeline reporting system). 

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