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Coffee with Garry Stewart: How GIS-based solutions can support commercial teams in identifying strong business cases for linear infrastructure projects

We sat down for a coffee and a chat with Garry Stewart, Account Development Consultant at Continuum Industries, to discuss how commercial teams can get the most out of GIS-based tools.

Q: Garry, as part of the commercial team at Continuum Industries, you speak to our customers daily. What is one myth about GIS-based solutions you would like to debunk?

A: One thing that comes to mind is the assumption that Optioneer is only for use by engineering and technical teams. While a GIS-based tool, Optioneer helps other departments at different stages of project all the time. For instance, we interact a lot with business development teams who look to identify and analyse project sensitivities, as well as to uncover actionable insights that maximise commercial value and mitigate project risks. GIS-based solutions, when made accessible, can be extremely useful in obtaining vital - typically later-stage - information at a much earlier point in project development, and with little extra effort.

Q: What are some of the challenges business development or commercial teams in utility companies face at the pre-feasibility stage?

A: Managing risks: linear infrastructure projects in the utility sector are subject to numerous regulatory requirements, including environmental permits, land use permits, and safety regulations. Meeting these requirements can be challenging, as they vary from one jurisdiction to another, and failure to comply with them can result in project delays, fines and reputational damage.

Estimating the cost of linear infrastructure projects can be another big challenge, as it involves numerous variables, including the scope of work, materials, labour, equipment and unforeseen events.

Another challenge we see our customers face regularly is gaining the support and buy-in of stakeholders, particularly if the project affects their livelihoods or the environment.

Q: What are some of the key commercial areas that can be facilitated with a little help from GIS-based tools?

A: Firstly, when estimating the costs and benefits of a particular case, an advanced GIS-based platform, such as Optioneer, can help automatically calculate and optimise route options across a range of cost factors, such as total land acquisition, construction, and operating expenses. It also helps estimate potential benefits, such as reduced carbon footprint. These estimations can be used as inputs for building a more robust business case. It will also assess the commercial viability of alternative scenarios in comparison to one another. By comparing the costs and benefits of different options, business development teams can make informed decisions on the most commercially attractive solution.

It can also help perform sensitivity analyses on key variables that may impact the commercial viability of the project, such as material costs or regulatory changes. This analysis can provide insights into the project’s resilience under different scenarios, which can be valuable for decision-makers.

Additionally, GIS-based tools can help identify and quantify risks associated with linear infrastructure projects, such as regulatory changes, technical challenges, and stakeholder opposition. By understanding and quantifying these risks, project developers can better prepare for potential issues and incorporate risk mitigation strategies into their business cases.

Q: You mentioned stakeholder opposition, would such tools be able to help facilitate stakeholder engagement?

A: Yes, especially by providing a platform for collaboration and communication between the different stakeholders such as local communities, regulators, project partners, NGOs, etc. This dynamic engagement can help build support for the project and address potential concerns early, thereby strengthening the overall business case.

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