Innovation in the planning sector: What's up?

The term "innovation" is used everywhere. What does it really mean today? What are the expectations of innovation? And finally, is Gruner innovative?

The work in the design office or rather in the conception, design and realization of construction projects is constantly changing. Computing power is increasing and opening new (for example, architectural) possibilities, processes are being automated and increasingly run via BIM models. How can Gruner not only hold its own here, but actively contribute to better, safer, and more sustainable planning and construction?

We spoke with four Gruner specialists in building construction, infrastructure, and energy. Each of their teams is in the process of establishing novel products in the marketplace. Although they come from different disciplines – maintenance management, sustainability consulting, hydropower, and special civil engineering – they share a common understanding of "innovation": the only criterion for success of a new concept, a new method or a new service is the added value for customers and projects. Whether this is done with existing technologies or in a completely new way is irrelevant. And what ingredients does it take to prove itself as a successful innovative company in the sector? The experts tell us about that, too. In their position, they know which internal and external factors play a role in enabling innovations to develop.

The culture

"The starting signal for successful innovation comes from the right mindset – and that starts with the management and ends with the apprentices. We must be open, keep moving, and feel what it takes," says Peter Giger, Head of Department Maintenance Management & Engineering in Zollikofen/CH and initiator of Gruner Maintenance Management Service, or GEMS for short, the service for efficient value maintenance management at the authority level. A culture of experimentation and creativity is essential, adds Marcelo Leite Ribeiro, Head of Water Resources and Energy in Renens/CH and responsible for TETHYS, a state-of-the-art forecasting system for rivers and hydropower plants. Employees must be encouraged to contribute and implement their own ideas in order to maintain the spirit of innovation. This also includes a company being a "knowledge glutton," letting employees think outside the box, partnering with research and educational institutions, and keeping a close eye on developments in the market and reacting quickly to them – or, in the best case, taking action even before the need is identified, known and addressed as such.

The added value

Because even the right attitude is no use if it doesn't strike a nerve with the customer. "An innovation must identify and satisfy a need, otherwise it proves to be superfluous," says sustainability expert Stephan Parlow, who is responsible for sustbl, the latest development in the sustainability area at Gruner. In the sustbl example, sustainability processes in the public sector as well as in companies are made more efficient and simpler in a hybrid of consulting and software. At GEMS, software overload is reduced, and infrastructure repair and maintenance are managed in a single system, and at TETHYS, energy production in hydropower plants is maximized and risks resulting from natural events are minimized. These examples are service packages with a large software component, which improves the decision-making basis for customers, manages complexity and lowers costs.

The partnership

"To convince customers of an innovation, we build on long-standing customer relationships," says Marcelo Leite Ribeiro. A transparent and close exchange is important to generate and maintain trust, he adds. "A new solution initially represents a black box for the customer. We must communicate a lot and openly," explains Konrad Westermann, project manager in the geotechnical department in Basel. This is central, because Gruner is less concerned with simply introducing a new software in a company, but rather with accompanying the entire process in an advisory capacity – and beyond that: How does the customer use the system regularly after the first application? How can he develop it further? What is still missing? "In our discussions with customers, we regularly tell them that they are not on their own," says Peter Giger. With additional modular offerings, Gruner continues to provide the necessary resources even after the project has been completed, so that together they can continuously make the process landscape more efficient, simpler, and more accessible.

Being open to experimentation, designing added value and maintaining a customer relationship based on partnership – these are the three core ingredients that Gruner understands as successful innovation. TETHYS is already operating successfully in the market, with showcase projects that have international appeal such as the Rogun (Tajikistan) and Enguri (Georgia) dams and hydropower schemes. GEMS and sustbl are newer to the market and they are off to a promising start. We are getting good customer feedback from the first implementations. "We are excited to see where the journey will take us," say Stephan Parlow and Peter Giger, the people responsible.

Learn more about the services mentioned in the text now:

TETHYS – Accurate water level forecasts
GEMS – Cost-saving infrastructure maintenance
sustbl – Coordinated sustainability management