An agile approach adds quality to transportation projects | Infrastructure news

Mariswe has a large and diverse team of technical experts with a proud reputation of excellence in designing and managing transportation construction projects in South Africa and several other African countries.

During 2022, Mariswe celebrates its 50th year as a South Africa-based project management, infrastructure planning and consulting engineering practice. Here, the firm’s Transportation Division has played a very meaningful role in its half-century.

For the Mariswe team dedicated to transportation infrastructure, this has been a period of exploration, networking, growth and change, frequent reassessment, and dedication to fulfilling client needs through professionalism and innovation. Mariswe’s transportation sector clients continue to be its most loyal across the business.

Deeper inspection of what drives transportation projects at Mariswe reveals core principles that are shared by all – passion for the job, quality of service, finding solutions, as well as the space to innovate, agility and investment in people, among others. Mariswe’s mantra – ‘Improving Lives. Engineering Solutions.’ – is taken seriously. If you don’t buy into this, you don’t work there.

So, what has made Mariswe’s Transportation Division one of the strongest pillars of the company for 50 years?

Complete solutions

“We pride ourselves on taking complete solutions to the market,” explains Adrian Skea, Technical Director and Regional Head in the Western Cape, who plays a leading role in communications with SANRAL, one of Mariswe’s biggest clients in the South African transportation sector.

“Importantly, we see ourselves as a diverse and highly experienced group of technical resources. It doesn’t matter where you sit, we will assemble a team from across our business to match every project – from tendering to completion. Each member of the team will bring different strengths and we will work together to find the optimum solution.”

Skea stresses that Mariswe is more project centred than regionally centred as an organisation. “We pool resources wherever the project is located.” Excellent networking channels have been established internally over a long period to facilitate this approach. Importantly, Mariswe’s effective IT systems also kept communication flowing during the Covid-19 lockdown.

“The team has worked together for many years and collaborates well to meet the toughest expectations,” adds Riyaaz Nieftagodien, Lead Engineer: Pavement Design and Materials. “Each member is experienced and well versed in their role, while still able to overlap and assist others within the discipline. The team is willing to explore and implement new design principles and construction practices to benefit the client. The quality of service has always been critical at Mariswe.”

A changing world

There are many potential aspects to a transportation project, Skea points out. “Just some of the areas we may need to populate are documentation preparation, business development, design, resourcing, planning, communication services, traffic and transport economics, geometric and structural engineering, GIS (Geographic Information Systems), hydraulics and hydrology. So, we are able to draw technical expertise for a single project from every business unit within Mariswe – Transportation, Water and Sanitation, Structures, Infrastructure Planning, Management Services, and the Strategic Projects Unit.”

For example, Lisa Cotton, Executive Manager: Transportation KZN, says GIS mapping has become critical where minimal or no survey data is available, but high-level solutions are needed in the planning and feasibility stages of transportation projects.

“GIS also enables a holistic assessment of a region or country’s transportation needs, which we use when developing transport masterplans,” she explains.

“We are seeing opportunities to apply our transportation engineering skills, coupled with our GIS capability, to major transport routes damaged by climate-change-related disasters such as flooding. We are widening our focus from traditional mainstream projects to respond to a changing world. This requires a broader combination of skill sets.” 

Alternative contracting methods

Contracting methodologies are a big part of responding to different project conditions and requirements. Mariswe’s home-grown iCU (Integrated Construction Unit) contract is a construction risk management methodology that responds well to changes in the pace, nature, scope and sequence of the works.             

The iCU system offers contractual flexibility, cost savings, reduced lead times, and fewer disputes. It has been used multiple times on contracts across Africa.

In addition, proving the value of alternative contracting methods such as EPCM (Engineering, Procurement, and Construction Management) and OPRC (Output and Performance-Based Road Contracts) have become second nature for Mariswe. The firm has been singled out as one of the few African consultants specialising in OPRC and has OPRC projects currently under way in Rwanda and Zambia, following successful assignments in Ghana and Lesotho.

The OPRC methodology gives the contractor responsibility for the detail design and construction of the roadworks, as well as the ongoing road maintenance for a certain period. OPRC projects allow road authorities to provide efficient road services and infrastructure to communities by expanding the role of the contractor. Ultimately, this contract delivers better roads for more people for longer durations.

Strategic Projects Unit

Mariswe’s recently established Strategic Projects Unit (SPU) takes this pioneering spirit further by exploring exciting new opportunities. “We are showcasing our expertise in new sectors, from new sources, and throughout the project life cycle from inception to closure,” explains Rod Stewart, who heads the Management Services Division and is responsible for the new venture. This illustrates the firm’s
appetite for innovation and gives the Transportation business unit wider scope to offer pioneering solutions.

Investing in people

Skea is particularly excited to see a new crop of young people coming through to add capacity to the Transportation business. “Mariswe’s culture of investing in its people is widely known and our formalised Blueprint mentoring programme turns out young experts who form the backbone of our succession strategy.”

The Blueprint programme focuses not only on ensuring the success of employees in the candidacy phase for professional registration as civil engineers, technologists and technicians, but also all staff across the company through staff appraisals, workplace training, off-site workshops, seminars, lectures, training courses and Continued Professional Development (CPD).

Darlington Chakapfava graduated in March 2012 with a Master’s in Pavement Engineering. A beneficiary of Mariswe’s investment in its people, he points out that the Mariswe Transportation team consists of individuals who have been with the company for over 10 years. “This loyalty has enabled the gradual and systematic transfer of Mariswe’s roads expertise from retirees to the current crop of next-generation directors and employees.”

Riyaaz Nieftagodien, another beneficiary of Mariswe’s mentoring culture, is giving back by personally mentoring several younger members of the team.

International growth

Nowhere is Mariswe’s agility in responding to tenders and assembling appropriate multidisciplinary teams more evident than in its international African business. This approach has borne fruit, with international projects making up 35% of the company’s revenue today, compared to about 8% in 2014.

Jaco Heyl, Executive Manager: Management Services, plays a leading project management role in international transportation projects, particularly in the mining sector.

“Mariswe has a well-established footprint of projects completed successfully outside South Africa,” says Heyl. “In Tanzania, Mariswe has a 49% shareholding in an established local company. In other countries, we build relationships with local consultants and implement projects through joint ventures. Every country has its own unique circumstances, and we are selective in the projects we tender for.”

He explains that Mariswe’s involvement in mining projects in Limpopo during the platinum ‘boom’ exposed the firm to international mining clients, providing cross-border opportunities. “Through our iCU contract methodology, we expanded our portfolio into the rest of Africa.”

Transportation specialists within Mariswe, including Shannon Souter (Geometric Designer), Rugare Masendeka (Bridge Engineer), Ehrane Holderness (Hydrologist), Riyaaz Nietlief (Pavement Engineer) and Lisa Cotton (Traffic Engineer and Transport Economist), have brought their expertise to bear on multiple current projects in African countries, including Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Lesotho, Zambia and Rwanda.

“Most World Bank projects require comprehensive, economically viable engineering solutions encompassing all these design components,” says Cotton.

“Mariswe has developed multicriteria prioritisation models and used HDM4 (a transport economics software package) to provide solutions that meet World Bank requirements.” The integrated problem-solving skills of this team have proven vital to projects in various African countries, each with its own unique transport environment and economic indicators.

The art of tendering

Tendering for projects on the African continent is no easy task, points out Anton Middleton, Proposals and Tenders Specialist at Mariswe. Middleton has considerable experience in tendering for donor-funded projects in Africa and regularly works with the World Bank.

He says winning international tenders requires excellent negotiating and people skills, together with an ability to meet impossible deadlines, and write tender documents understood by public officials who are not necessarily engineers.

“In tenders for African projects, it is all about the quality of the people you can put on the ground,” says Middleton, who has a large network he can call on around the world to provide the technical scores required to win international tenders and execute successful projects.

“On conventional design and construction management projects, Mariswe generally tries to populate the teams with as many local or regional professionals as possible and we will supply project management, quality assurance and supporting technical skills from within the firm. However, Mariswe specialists are combined with internationally sourced specialist partners to execute most of the work on technical assignments such as specialist studies and advisory services,” he explains.

Middleton adds that Mariswe has a zero-tolerance policy on corruption and has earned an excellent name for the quality of its work across the continent. Quality has always been a non-negotiable priority at Mariswe and audits show strong quality awareness among all employees. The company’s ISO 9001:2015 certification requires management to regularly review its quality management systems, and risk management procedures are integrated into all company processes.

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