29 March 2022 | Innovation
Mark Constable, Head of Business Development at Trojan Energy, discusses the importance of a positive culture when it comes to cultivating and facilitating innovation.
Q. What work experience did you have before moving into highways?
A. “I joined the local electricity company Seeboard after leaving university. Having a background in Physics meant I was ideally placed to marry some engineering and data disciplines together: the Metering and Settlements process, leading some 1998 consumer switching market data processing development, implementation of new technology and process in field and back office workflow management, industry change management, etc. Over time, I gravitated away from the technical into more people-focused change activities, as well as some corporate acquisition/divestment work.”
Q. What has been your career highlight up to now?
A. “I’m going to hedge and say there’s a part one, and related part two. Part one was being able to move into electric vehicles and the associated infrastructure challenge. It’s such a good fit with my ambition to make a difference, that it’s easy to forget how much good fortune was involved. A post-2012 Olympics EV team leadership role with EDF was an amazing role to be offered. Fast forward to now and part two is being invited to join a start-up and help shepherd someone’s idea into the world – a challenge unlike anything I’d encountered before in large organisations and one I’m still getting to grips with, learning something new every day.”
Q. What is the main way that today’s highways sector differs from the one you first joined?
A. “When I first drove an EV in 2008, there were only milk floats and G-Wizzes. There was no talk of infrastructure plans, little talk of car reduction and active travel. Almost no-one knew what an “app” was. As a result of advancements in digital and data, chemistry, climate-focused policy-making, and population awareness, the sector is now so much more complex with so many more competing priorities than back then. Active travel is arguably a bigger shift than that to electric mobility, and now trying to think of roads as corridors for everyone and not just vehicles is a challenge that we all have to meet.”
Q. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
A. “Early on, there were a lot of stakeholders saying “that will never happen” or “we are never going to do that”, I didn’t appreciate how saying things like that actually meant very little, in the face of changing priorities, technical developments and constant innovation, and this took me a while to learn. Now when I hear it, I know things will most likely be different tomorrow.”
Q. What do you think LCRIG Insight readers would be surprised to learn about you?
A. “That even though I probably don’t fit the demographic and I’m big and relatively inflexible, I have recently taken up Yoga for both mind and body. Being better equipped to focus calmly on the moment is a big help in every aspect of my life.”
Q. What do you think is the key to accelerating innovation within the roads sector?
A. As with a lot of innovation, the biggest challenge is cultural. I remember when I entered the highways and energy transition space after long and deep experience of centralisation, incumbency and volume. The hardest thing was unlearning all of that and starting again. It’s too easy to hold on to old orthodoxies and approaches that have stood one in good stead that are the exact opposite of what’s now required. Looking back, I realise exactly what I should have let go of, sooner.”
Q. How different will the sector look in 10 years time?
A. “The biggest change relating to the energy transition impact on highways, is twofold. More types of low-profile infrastructure (not just EV chargers, but shared Heat Pump pipework, district heat networks, local energy storage etc.) will be permitted development and not need to follow the planning process in the same way as now, and more of those installing it will be statutory undertakers, meaning the per-transaction permit approach will be much more streamlined. It’s the only way that highways will reach net zero at the pace required, while powered transport and heat still exist.”
Q. What is the best way of removing barriers to innovation?
A. “That we all work to build a culture that accepts that we don’t always know how to meet all the challenges from the word go. When I look back at the missteps, the rabbit holes, the blind alleys, and the boondoggles over the course of building up a decade of experience in the highways and vehicles sectors, I’m thankful that I have all of those experiences to draw on. If I hadn’t failed all those times, I might not still be at the sharp end now.”
Below is an update on other innovation initiatives that the LCRIG team have been busy working on:
Innovation in Highways
In November 2021, LCRIG published a report entitled ‘Innovation in highways’. The report highlights some interesting findings on the differing approaches between local authorities and the challenges around implementing innovation in highways.
You can access the full report here.
The LCRIG / Steve Berry ‘Think Exceptional’ Innovation fund, supported by WJ Group
Connor Specialist Paving (Tac-Grid), Community Models, Fitzpatrick Advisory (DASHA), NY Highways and Liverpool John Moores University have been selected to receive a share of the £150,000 as part of the LCRIG / Steve Berry Think Exceptional Innovation Fund, supported by WJ.
For more information on the Innovation fund, please click here.
Keep up to date on all LCRIG initiatives by subscribing to our weekly e-newsletter, the LCRIG Insight here.