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Interview: Jacobs vice-president Bryan Harvey

Robin Hackett speaks to Bryan Harvey, Jacobs' vice-president of utilities in Europe, about how integrating CH2M has resulted in a combined company that is adopting a big-picture approach to the major challenges facing the water industry in the UK and beyond

Need to know: Jacobs

• Founded in 1947 and headquartered in Texas
• Provides technical, professional and construction services, including all aspects of architecture, engineering and construction, operations and maintenance, as well as scientific and specialty consulting
• Operates in over 400 locations around the world
• $15 billion in fiscal 2017 revenue, when combined with full-year CH2M revenues

When international technical professional services firm Jacobs completed its acquisition of CH2M in December, the result was a $15 billion (£11.7 billion) company whose mission, according to chairman and CEO Steve Demetriou, was delivering “solutions for a more connected, sustainable world”.

Bryan Harvey, who spent six years overseeing global water strategy and sales for CH2M, has been placed in charge of implementing that vision across the utilities sector in Europe.

A UK-based chartered civil engineer with nearly three decades’ experience in the water sector, Harvey became vice-president of Jacobs’ European utilities business in April, responsible for programme and service delivery to clients in the water, gas and electric markets.

He believes the new-look Jacobs, which employs over 12,000 people in Europe and around 77,000 globally, has potential beyond the reach of many of its rivals.

“When the companies came together in December, there was very much a strategic driver behind it,” Harvey says. “There wasn’t much overlap in the marketspace: it’s two combined companies that each offered something very different.

“In utilities, to take the UK as an example, the legacy CH2M was focused on some big, civic projects like Thames Tideway Tunnel and TEAM2100. When you combine that with the more framework-oriented Jacobs legacy business – which is across the water, gas, electric sectors – you get a differentiated offering with some unique skills to deliver solutions to some major challenges; a good base business with clients that we’re very proud of.

“We’re now very much a full-service offering – we’re able to do everything from the strategic, upfront thinking right through to detailed design and construction, and operation and maintenance in some areas as well. When you bring the two businesses together, it gives you a much fuller offering to the marketplace than probably many companies are able to offer.”

Harvey says he is seeking “a very strong play on the water-energy nexus” in his new role, adding: “Water, gas and electric offer an awful lot of potential connectivity across these sectors.”

Connectivity is clearly a central theme in Jacobs’ thinking. For one thing, as a global business, it can use its international knowledge to help identify opportunities for connections between appropriate markets.

“If you connect the world, it brings you something different and very much better,” Harvey says. “You can cross-pollinate ideas on technology or solution development that have never been thought about before, just by connecting people in a slightly different way.”

That desire to bring about greater connectivity extends beyond bringing people and markets together.
For the UK water sector, for example, there is a growing emphasis on resilience in the face of extreme weather and population growth.

Harvey expects the response to involve a combination of major infrastructure, nature-based solutions, technology, data and water efficiency efforts but stresses the importance of joined-up thinking during implementation.

“You might have all these great solutions potentially working against each other just because we’re not connecting them,” he says. “The challenge we’re trying to raise awareness of is: How do you connect all of those different solutions in a way that unlocks the full potential of the UK water resource? Everything has a part to play but we need to knit it all together.”

Harvey says that, across the world, there has been an encouraging growth of long-term thinking when it comes to the big water challenges but that the key to a successful result is approaching the matter “in a much more integrated way”.

He continues: “By that I mean you don’t just think water when you’re coming up with a water solution – you think about the development plans for entire cities or regions or countries.

“In the UK, we probably need some more innovation in terms of connected infrastructure and connected thinking, putting water at the heart of everything we do, from planning to investment to infrastructure and development.”

By way of example, he suggests combining investment in a road scheme with investment in a flood defence scheme so that you come up with an integrated solution to a flood challenge. It might also involve simply recognising water’s overwhelming importance.

He adds: “If you take the real housing need at this moment in time, some of that housing need may be in the flood plain, some of that housing need may be in areas that are water-stressed, yet perhaps we’re going to carry on with that housing requirement as the primary driver of development.

“What would happen if we were to put water at the forefront of that development plan? Would we be putting our houses somewhere different? Would we be creating different investment opportunities rather than the one-dimensional focus that so often dominates? We need to think more widely about how we develop our infrastructure and our social responses – housing, jobs and so forth – so that they’re more connected.”

Harvey believes the UK can take some inspiration from Singapore as it plans for more challenging times. The densely populated South-East Asian city state predicts usage will double by 2060 and intends to use its recycled water (‘NEWater’) and desalination to meet up to 85 per cent of demand.

“Singapore has a ‘multi-tap’ approach to water, so it has water transfer, water desalination, water recycling and rainwater harvesting,” he says. “Having all of those four different options gives it great flexibility into the future, because you never know when one of those taps is going to be put under pressure for whatever reason, such as climate change or geopolitical issues.

“We’ve got a real challenge through the next AMP cycle over resilience of our water industry – ‘resilience in the round’ as Ofwat calls it – and that’s exactly what Singapore has managed to deliver over the last 40 or 50 years.

“Since the 1970s, they’ve put water development right at the heart of the development of their city and I think that’s what we need to do more as a nation: realise that we’ve got a phenomenal natural resource available to us within the UK, albeit with a water challenge in some areas.

“We can have a very resilient water supply here that should give investors confidence to locate their production centres, their resource bases here in the UK – much more so than some of the other countries. We’re not really playing to our strengths at the moment.”

With AMP7 on the horizon, Jacobs hopes its big-picture approach can help shape the required response to the difficulties ahead.

“We believe there is a real need for solving the water challenge at the moment, whether that be in the UK or elsewhere in the world,” Harvey says. “We think the solutions are there – linked to resilience, long-term thinking, integrated infrastructure.

“What we need now, though, is momentum, because we’re talking with the benefit of having two, three or four AMP cycles ahead of us before the predicted challenge really starts, but too often we don’t realise that the clock is ticking. I’d much rather be talking about success at the end of the journey started now as opposed to wasted opportunities we’ve not fulfilled.

“We’re talking about that with an absolute understanding of what we believe the customer needs, what the UK needs and what a difference it could make to the UK and global marketplace, not just as a supplier to the marketplace but hopefully very much as a partner to the marketplace.”

In addition to its work on Thames Tideway Tunnel, Jacobs is currently working with companies including United Utilities, Severn Trent, South East Water and Irish Water. Harvey says Jacobs is open to further opportunities in the next AMP cycle but the focus is on delivering quality work.

“We’ll grow but in a very controlled way,” he says. “We’re looking to maximise the value we bring to the industry. Trying to do everything everywhere is not what we’re intending.

“What we’d much rather have is very focused approach and working in partnerships and alliances in an integrated way with those customers that really respect value and get that value from the Jacobs offering.

“We’re not trying to be everything to everyone.”

This article originally appeared in the October issue of WET News

Topic: Contractors
Tags: Jacobs , maintenance , energy

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