Established in the US in 1953, Louis Berger is a top-ranked global engineering and professional services corporation operating across six continents. In India, the company has been working with clients to solve their most complex infrastructure and development challenges for over 23 years. With about 650 employees, it has a broad range of expertise across a wide range of sectors, including bridges and tunnels, highways and roads, rail and transit, aviation and smart cities. Kshitish V Nadgauda, Senior Vice-President and Managing Director-Asia, Louis Berger, shares more on challenges and opportunities in conversation with SHRIYAL SETHUMADHAVAN.
Please share the challenges Louis Berger has been facing with clients in the infrastructure and development sectors in India.
The challenges for us aren’t with clients, but rather with fully understanding the requirements of projects starting at the tendering stage where there typically are several discussions and dialogues between potential bidders and clients to better understand the scope of work so as to be able to submit the most responsive and comprehensive technical and financial proposal.
At Louis Berger, we provide services to clients as their consultant through all stages of the project, both pre-construction entailing feasibility studies, concept design, detailed design and assistance to clients for tendering construction, as well as post-construction where we provide project management, construction management, and supervision services during the operations and maintenance stage of projects.
At tender stage, we communicate with clients in an effort to ensure that the scope of work and other tender criteria including eligibility criteria are unambiguously specified in a manner commensurate with the complexity and magnitude of the project to ensure a level playing field for all bidders. With the evaluation of bids, several clients provide transparent feedback, affording an opportunity to bidders to request a re-evaluation.
For most complex and large-magnitude projects, consultants are required to conduct a presentation of their tender prior to selection of the successful bidder. I believe this needs to be extended to the selection of construction contractors as well, especially with the large magnitude of projects that are under execution in India and with an even greater number planned in the coming years. This is important since it could take over six months for projects to be awarded for construction during which ground conditions might change for contractors. Through a presentation prior to award, the contractors would be required to reconfirm the availability of resources required to execute the project within the stipulated duration. The contractors would also present their methodology and activity schedule for the execution of the project. The ability of contractors to complete the project on schedule would be best confirmed through such tender presentations. Our role during the bid assistance stage would be to support the client through the evaluation of bids including the tender presentations.
On a related note, infrastructure projects being executed and taken up in India are complex and large in magnitude. The Government should revisit procurement policies and guidelines for the appointment of consultants and contractors to ensure that the best and capable organizations and talent are entrusted with the development and execution of such prestigious and challenging projects.
The company has a broad range of expertise across a wide range of sectors. In which sector do you view maximum opportunities at present?
The highways sector is still generating a lot of work. When Louis Berger started in India in 1996, it started with highways. There was a lot of opportunity for multinationals like ours to come in. We continue to be keen to work on major highway/expressway projects, both design as well as project management. Major bridges and tunnels is also a focus sector for Louis Berger in India, where we are already involved at present in several complex bridge and tunnel projects. As a global firm, we seek to move to areas of newer technologies. In this regard, the rail-based transportation sector is also a focus area. We are already working on several metro rail projects across India. We are also keen to participate in the high-speed rail programs planned across India.
We believe that every project, whether at design or construction stage, needs high quality consultancy services. A company with the right experience credentials and with the right resources should be entrusted with the design of the project, especially to ensure that it meets all applicable codes, standards and specifications.
Safety is one of our core values and we believe in ensuring safety through design as well as construction. At all times, the safety of design and construction personnel and the traveling public should be of paramount importance. We need to ensure that our safety compliance is world-class. The same applies to Quality. While the quality of construction of our highways has indeed improved over the years, there is still a lot of room for improvement. Infrastructure needs to deliver a comfortable as well as aesthetically pleasing experience to the end user.
The Government has indeed pushed through significant initiatives for infrastructure development, including in the road/highway and urban sector. The latter includes Smart City projects, urban road and bridge projects, utility infrastructure projects, and metro rail projects. It is important for all of these to be undertaken in a coordinated manner. Urban projects are some of the most difficult and complex, with unique challenges. It is important for a consultant with the appropriate expertise, experience and resources to be entrusted with the task of designing and managing the construction of such projects to ensure that world-class innovative solutions are brought to our cities that have grown over centuries. We have the collective responsibility of vastly improving the quality of life of our citizens by providing safe, well designed and constructed infrastructure including the urban streetscape.
How is the Government’s Bharatmala scheme an opportunity for a company like yours?
We are presently executing two DPR projects under the Bharatmala program with over 500km of roads across Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa and Telangana. The project also includes an outer ring road around Bengaluru. The Bharatmala program is one that we are keen to continue to participate in.
The Alignment finalization stage of roadway projects is the most critical and has the potential to delay projects due to the need to secure the approval of all stakeholders, at national as well as regional and local levels. Typically, land acquisition is also a time-consuming task. The Bharatmala projects, therefore, have been delayed. We continue to work with the constant support and assistance of the NHAI to mitigate delays and unblock hurdles.
Tell us about the jobs undertaken by the company under the smart cities mission.
At Louis Berger, we are very keen to work on Smart City projects since these are of a complex nature, requiring innovative solutions to the urban problems we are facing today in cities in India. We have the right talent within our organization to “bring solutions for a better world” and vastly improve the quality of life for the citizens of India.
We are presently working on the Mangaluru Smart City, Karnal Smart City and Solapur Smart City projects. In Solapur, we are the detailed design and project management consultant for water supply and sewerage projects. At Kandla (Deendayal) Port, as part of the development known as the Smart Industrial Port City, we are conducting the detailed design of all infrastructure for two greenfield land parcels, one industrial and the other mixed use residential and commercial.
How receptive is the industry to adopting new technologies? Any recommendations?
New technologies are indeed important to improve the safety and quality of infrastructure, both in design and construction, concurrently improving productivity as well. This is very important, and has the potential to bring infrastructure improvements on a faster timeline for the public.
If I were to identify one area in which improvement is required it is project schedules, both during design as well as construction. Every project must commence with a very detailed activity and time schedule that would be used to monitor and control progress of the project. This is important during the design stage as well as construction stage. With the large number of projects that are being executed in India and on the anvil, and given the huge number of complex and large-magnitude projects, it is important for such projects to be executed with a detailed schedule. It is important for the criticality of such project schedules to be adequately imbibed by Project Managers and, in turn, their teams. It is important for firms, consultants as well as contractors, to provide adequate and extensive training in this regard to their Project Managers as well as key staff. A proper schedule is a basic and fundamental tenet of project management. During the execution of projects, the schedule must be used and reviewed by all stakeholders in a transparent manner for the efficient delivery of the project.
At Louis Berger, we require project managers for design projects to maintain a detailed activity and time schedule, and to ensure that it is updated on a weekly basis. We want PMs to submit this schedule to the client to keep them apprised on the progress of the project, including potential or real roadblocks. The same applies to construction. Good schedule management will automatically result in better resource and cost management.