How collaboration will shape the future of the Highways

traffic management services vehicle

Peter Shone, managing director of highways specialist JPCS, discusses how taking a collaborative approach can produce innovative and cost-effective solutions to everyday barrier repair, traffic management services and highway maintenance problems.  

As featured in the first issue of Smart Highways in April 2013 (part of Thinking Highways)

ONE of the most important lessons the internet age has taught us is that engaging with your customers is the key to more secure and productive business relationships.

Shops and businesses communicate with their customers through social media, SMS messages, email and face-to-face conversations, but how can clients and the supply chain in the established world of infrastructure and highway maintenance work in collaboration?

To fully engage with your clients you need the ability to stand in their shoes and see tasks and objectives though their eyes.

When we developed the traffic management / vehicle restraint systems (TM/VRS) unit at JPCS we set ourselves the challenge to approach each project from the client’s point of view, engaging in dialogue first and then developing our proposals and recommendations. This dialogue has prompted several innovative developments and been great for our business.

Collaboration creates new approaches

Creativity doesn’t always spring to mind when you think of highway maintenance, yet our TM/VRS unit has become one of the most innovative parts of our business. Talking through the problems clients face  has helped us to create new approaches to the way we work.

Through conversations with clients we heard about frustrations with the number of subcontractors needed to undertake specialist elements of TM/VRS. One client had one firm surveying, another installing the signs, another controlling the traffic management services, someone else providing the barriers and then another business project managing it all. This was making simple projects more time consuming and costly. Through this kind of feedback, we worked on enhancing our service offering, to provide a fully integrated service and removing the headaches involved in managing multiple contractors. It required more investment and training on our part but it means we can provide a ‘turnkey solution’.

We are now a “one stop shop” of specialist services, one point of contact for all works, ranging from grass cutting and response repairs to vehicle restraint systems and all traffic management services, delivering a seamless and cost-effective service. This approach has been welcomed by our clients.Because we can provide both the maintenance works and traffic management directly, we have complete control over the work, enabling more efficient planning, sequencing of works and overall delivery of the programme, not to mention reduced disruption and improved safety for the public and our workforce. Reduced time on site, labour and resources also delivers efficiencies and cost savings for the client.

Collaboration creates innovation

For more than 20 years we’ve been maintaining the UK’s highways and byways and this depth of experience was the catalyst for our latest innovation. Following the integration of the TM/VRS unit, we began to think about how we could continue to improve our offering. One suggestion was “why not combine features of the traffic management project with active parts of the repair and maintenance job?”

Our TM/VRS team took up this new challenge, by converging the specifications of a barrier rig with those of  traffic management services and vehicle restraint system vehicles; as a result, we have developed the first bespoke, single vehicle which performs these tasks in one single operation.

Taking a collaborative approach for this project, the TM/VRS team spent time consulting with all stakeholders, local authorities, on the ground operatives and the vehicle manufacturer, creating a unique design which is completely fit for purpose.

The new vehicle combines the key features of two separate vehicles, thereby reducing labour, fuel and maintenance costs as well as minimising the environmental impact. It will make a significant difference to the way these operations are undertaken around the country in the future.

The custom-built vehicle incorporates a barrier rig for VRS and crash impact protection for traffic management services. It has also be designed with twin barrier hammers for repairing barriers, an in-built compressor, remote control hiab, tower lights, generator powerpoints and a storage area for cones, signs and VRS components.

This has been a complex project which required significant planning but it has certainty been worth it.  The annual fuel cost savings alone are £15,000 and we predict JPCS will be able to generate a total of £30,000 worth of savings every year through the new vehicle.  This, in turn, means we will be able to offer a more efficient, cost effective and environmentally friendly solution to local authorities and contractors.

In our view this innovation, which was born out of collaboration, will become a benchmark for highway repair operations in the future.

Collaboration creates happy end users

I started my highways career as a labourer in a pavement gang and that’s when I recognised the importance of customer feedback, so at JPCS we have the ‘yellow jacket test’. The idea is, if when you finish a job you stand on the road wearing a “yellow jacket”, people will approach you and give you end user feedback money can’t buy.

We take these comments back to our clients, as in turn it helps them create more positive relationships with their own customers, the end users. It’s also important to work in partnership with local authorities and local business during a highways project so end-users can be updated on what is going on and when any traffic management work will be completed.

Collaboration creates better working practices

Taking a collaborative approach provides a platform for both suppliers and clients to deliver the highest standards and continually improve working practices.  We’re all working together to achieve the best possible results.

For example, working with Balfour Beatty and the Highways Agency on maintenance works on the A50 Stoke to Derby, we have  been able to guarantee all response repairs are completed within the five day service level agreement, with an excellent safety record -zero incidents to date.

These improved working practices have not gone unnoticed. Our TM/VRS unit has been recognised through ISO 9001 accreditation, including National Highways Sector Schemes (NHSS) for the supply and erection of vehicle restraint systems (2b) and for traffic management (12a, 12b and 12d). In addition, The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) awarded JPCS its Behavioural Safety Award for the outstanding health and safety levels the company has achieved and the innovative and collaborative culture we have developed.

Collaboration is the future

I firmly believe collaboration is vital to the future of the highways industry. The best working relationships will be the ones where suppliers take time to listen to clients’ needs and frustrations – and vice versa. This approach will help partnerships to innovate and deliver all projects successfully and sustainable – for the long haul.

As featured in the first issue of Smart Highways in April 2013 (part of Thinking Highways)