Interview Bianca Coolen on 2021 case: The Summer School helps to take a wider view

This year’s WCM Summer School is dedicated to ‘Doorstroming als een Service’ (DaeS). Former Summer School participant Bianca Coolen from Heijmans Infra talks about the case and her experiences with the Summer School. “We are looking for technical-substantive advice and tips on working together between organisations with different interests,” she says.

Bianca Coolen – Heijmans

“DaeS is new, new, new; it is new in the way of cooperation, in the form of contract, in the contract period of twenty years, and also the techniques we want to apply are new. We are trying to apply techniques that will not get in the way of future developments. For example, we are laying a glass fibre network with more fibres than are currently required. Because who knows how much data we will be sending in twenty years’ time,” says Coolen.

Everything with a plug
At the end of 2019, the municipalities of Enschede and Almelo concluded a 20-year (!) contract (four periods of five years) with Heijmans and engineering consultancy Sweco to guarantee and optimise traffic flow in both municipalities. Within the agreements made, Heijmans and Sweco will convert the municipal policy into actual performance on the street.

Coolen: “It’s about adopting and designing ‘everything with a plug’ on the side of the road. The world of mobility is becoming increasingly complex. The government only wants to have a directing role and that was the reason for developing DaeS.”

Which maintenance innovations to deploy?
Heijmans and Sweco decide for themselves which techniques they will use to improve traffic flow, for example by installing smart traffic lights. Modifying the actual infrastructure falls outside the scope of the contract and remains the responsibility of the municipalities. “The central question for the participants is how we can use available maintenance innovations to improve the maintenance (contract) performance of the traffic flow systems. Which maintenance innovations are desirable and possible, and in what order? Obviously, these maintenance innovations must fit in with the individual wishes and requirements of the municipalities of Enschede and Almelo.”

Running while changing
One of the special challenges here is ‘running the business while changing the business’, says Coolen. “How can you ensure that you deliver a sufficiently good maintenance performance right from the start, while also working on improvement processes, such as predictive maintenance? And how do you deal with the possibly changing requirements and wishes of the partners involved?” A complicating factor is the closed market for traffic control systems (VRI), with only a few suppliers.

“We try to play an independent role in this market and to manage the automatic systems in such a way that they are future-proof. That requires something different from the suppliers, something different from what they do now. But by standardising and optimising, it becomes more efficient.”

The interests of Sweco and Heijmans differ. Sweco is an engineering consultancy with mobility experts among other things; Heijmans focuses on the asset management of the installations. The individual revenue models also differ.

“The focus is now on the hardware and we expect that in the future this will shift to the functional side and therefore more to Sweco. Regardless of how that centre of gravity develops, the agreement is and remains that the margin will always be shared fifty-fifty between both parties. That way, you force us to be transparent.”  

Growth path
Within DaeS, the four parties share the ultimate responsibility for making the traffic management system in Enschede and Almelo smarter. The contract is a public-private partnership and includes cultural and organisational change, business case formation and the work itself: management and maintenance.

“Not as client versus contractor, but as one team. But of course all four of us have our own interests. One of the challenges is to make chocolate of it. It is also a growth path for us; from contractor of the technology to person ultimately responsible for the traffic flow.”

Do It All Together
Optimising cooperation was part of the tender. “One of the things we had planned was to meet physically once every fortnight and work together. We also included the municipalities in order to get to know each other. Then Corona came along and everything went online. Now we are working on a hybrid model in which we combine online and physical. My collaboration with Martijn Elting, Sweco’s team manager for mobility in the north and east of the Netherlands, is excellent in any case. Together with two experts from the municipalities, we form a team in which we all have a right-hand man who also acts as a back-up. In about five years’ time, you shouldn’t be able to tell who is from which organisation. It should be one team that speaks the same language. The people directly involved are already doing that, now the rest has to follow. Or as we say among ourselves: Do It All Together.”

Complete circle
Coolen took part in the Summer School in 2013 as a technical officer of the Royal Netherlands Air Force. The case at the time was about cooperation within a performance contract for the maintenance of a lock complex in Terneuzen. Submitter of the case: Heijmans. “This year’s case is, in a certain sense, a continuation of the case from then. Yes, it has come full circle, even for me”, says Coolen, laughing. When she was in the Air Force, she was ready for a new challenge and wanted to look further, she recalls.

“The Heijmans case opened my eyes to the extent that I realised: hey, those contractors also have interesting maintenance assignments.” She later approached Heijmans and joined the company.”

Taking a broader view
“The Summer School was very instructive and fun. The alternation between attending lectures, working on the case and doing the leadership training was great. My participation certainly helped me to take a broader view of the maintenance sector. How do other organisations deal with similar issues? That input is very instructive. I also have a strong tendency to always solve everything myself. What I learned from the Summer School is that, broadly speaking, everyone comes up against the same sort of problems. And that if you ask for help, there are always people willing to help you. The week was intensive but it gave more energy than it cost! And in my case, it left me with contacts that I still talk to.” 

Gaining new insights
“By presenting the DaeS case in the Summer School, we hope to gain new insights, just as I experienced at the time. We have now been working on this contract for a year and a half. That may still be relatively short, but the world is constantly changing. Or maybe we were already developing tunnel vision. Everyone started with the best intentions, but there is always room for improvement. In operations and at the strategic level. Tying strategy and execution together is a big challenge anyway.”

“Another angle is whether you can also market DaeS elsewhere. As an ‘oil slick’ to other municipalities, or by broadening the scope and not only managing the VRI installations, but also the public lighting, for example. I’m in a different role now, but I’m looking forward to how the Summer School will help me further.”

The WCM Summer School will take place this year from 26 to 30 July at the Generaal-Majoor Kootkazerne in Stroe. For more information, please visit the Summer School website