Heathrow is the UK’s international hub airport and more than 70 million passengers used it last year. We are committed to be ‘the UK’s direct connection to the world and Europe’s hub of choice by making every journey better’. To deliver this we have three priorities:
- Delivering a good passenger experience
- Improved resilience and hub capacity
- Competitive total cost
Part of my role in engineering is the effective management of utilities. By the very nature of the business, this is a dynamic setting and, at times, can be very fluid. This is driven by a variety of factors, such as condition of the infrastructure both old and new, contracts for supply, bureau services, purchasing of energy from the market, snow and ash clouds, to name but a few. In such a complex, high-volume business, the need for strong inter-departmental relationships is key. The procurement function is at the heart of all undertakings in everything we do to deliver our priorities for the year.
I have been fortunate since starting my new role in engineering that within the procurement function at the airport we have in-house experts in the field of utilities. Their patience, level of innovation, applied creativity and pragmatism to all things relating to utilities and consumption have been second-to-none.
The real key to success is that we have had a shared understanding from the start about our priorities. This is in contrast to my previous experience, where I have fallen foul of the procurement police and ‘silo’ thinking was dominant. You may recognise the traits of a silo world: compliance to process not linked to benefit for the business; failure to see the bigger picture or recognise an issue
from another viewpoint; common sense is not so common; and working with the process is so complex that people work around it.
At Heathrow, we are all pulling in the same direction. Teams approach issues from different points of view, raising different concerns. This makes for an open and honest dialogue, allowing everyone to express views before a common platform of understanding is reached.
It is only from this common platform that a team can evaluate the best course of action to take. Clearly, this approach is not tension-free and not without its challenges, but only by working together to a common
goal can the challenges be overcome.
A shared understanding is delivering tangible results that are always good in business. An example is the reduced energy consumption at the airport through the replacement of standard lighting fixtures with energy efficient LEDs. This should have been a relatively simple activity for engineering, but the route to market was unclear and frustrating. By taking a shared understanding approach we established an effective route to market and completed the LED projects with the result of reduced consumption by as much as 60 per cent with less than two years’ payback. The tangible benefits speak for themselves.
Some benefits that come from having a shared understanding:
1. Logical approach to overcoming challenges
2. Focused on delivery that benefits the business
3. Prioritisation of activity is simplified
4. Accountability driven to the coal face
5. Open approach to resolving challenges.
The intangible aspect of shared understanding is often overlooked. From the success of reduced consumption, the teams of engineering and procurement can be proud of their undertakings and enjoy what they do together.
☛ Paul Weal
is head of engineering improvement, Heathrow Airport