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Navigating the tides of change: How ORAT helps complex organizations adapt

How can companies prepare for major transitions?

In today’s rapidly transforming world, business leaders across the industry have come to recognize that their continued success depends on their ability to evolve with the times.

Up until recently, they have focused primarily on effectively leveraging the power of new technologies to improve operations and turned to consultants to help them do so. But large organizations like airports, hospitals, and railways are increasingly recognizing that they face challenges that go well beyond technology when implementing major programs. These organizations rely on a sophisticated ecosystem of people and systems to deliver a critical service. When planning processes fail to facilitate a smooth transition for the entire ecosystem, projects encounter teething problems and organizations can suffer costly and detrimental disruptions in service. 

The opening of Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 2 in 2014 benefited greatly from the lessons learned in the Terminal 5 opening in 2008. A new and extensive approach to staff training for Terminal 2 contributed to a smooth transition into full operation. What is sometimes overlooked in the rush to implementation is that tools and systems — no matter how powerful — are only as effective as the organization supporting them and the human beings who use them. Heathrow’s Terminal 5 provides an object lesson in how quickly things can go wrong when there is too much emphasis placed on the smooth roll out of “tools and systems” and not enough on the other pieces of the puzzle.

It was understood from the beginning that Terminal 5 would be an unusually complex undertaking. The project entailed the installation and integration of 163 IT systems with 546 separate interfaces run on 11,000 connected devices and PCs, all of which reportedly required “enough cable to lay to Istanbul and back.” Cognizant of the challenges, the British Airports Authority and Heathrow invested £4.3bn [$8.5bn] in building and outfitting the new terminal in the lead up to its March 2008 opening.

De-risking operations from day one

Despite their diligent efforts, the terminal roll out did not go smoothly, and not for any of the reasons they were anticipating. There were no obvious software malfunctions or mechanical failures. Instead, airport staff arrived on site and found they didn’t know where to park — a seemingly innocuous problem with cascading downstream effects that included delays in staff screening, a backlog of luggage, and missed connections. 

The Terminal 5 experience taught Heathrow a powerful lesson: prepared people are the linchpin of smooth operations. The airport recognized the need for a holistic operational readiness program to avert problems of this nature, and as such enlisted Arup’s help when they embarked on their next major project, Terminal 2. Our Operational Readiness Activation & Transition (ORAT) methodology had already been successfully deployed on other airport projects, like Dubai International Airport, and Heathrow hoped that our more holistic approach to planning could help Terminal 2 avoid frustrating teething problems.

Heathrow Terminal 5 Heathrow Terminal 5
There’s no more pivotal business moment than opening a new airport, hotel, hospital, sports stadium, or other major public asset. If open before truly ready - launches could be riddled by incomplete facilities, system failures, poor customer service and ongoing teething problems.

Transforming the Heathrow passenger experience: Terminal 2

One of the key reasons Heathrow sought Arup’s help on this project is that our approach is designed to make people a priority. Unlike most other programs of this kind, our ORAT teams include highly skilled people professionals, like organizational psychologists, who work closely with the client to map out an organization’s complete ecosystem and engage and train stakeholders at all levels. By actively working with both leadership and staff, we gain a better understanding of organizational challenges, needs, and desires, glean insights into operations, and foster the buy-in and coordination required to deliver a project aligned with the client’s short and long-term goals.

The way ORAT is applied varies markedly from project to project. But our teams typically begin by asking a series of questions like: does the project you are planning leverage the best technologies and processes for your organization? Will your staff need to be restructured or uptrained to accommodate these changes? Does this project create new jobs that will need to be filled? Experience has shown us that answering questions like these helps us develop a tailored delivery program that can make the difference between a rough launch and a smooth opening day, free from surprises.

London Heathrow London Heathrow

What is an organizational psychologist?

Put in the simplest terms, an organizational psychologist studies jobs and the people who do them. They are trained to help clients optimize efficiency by identifying and implementing beneficial structural changes and providing staff with necessary upskilling.

It is useful to think of the ORAT methodology as a tool that facilitates organizational adaptation. The way the tool is used varies from project to project and it brings different benefits. In the case of Heathrow’s Terminal 2, Arup’s ORAT team worked with 160 different user groups to gauge their needs and developed 30 different training modules to promote learning, retention, and buy-in. Building strong partnerships with people at all levels of the organization allowed us to serve as a communication conduit between management and staff and helped ensure that information was shared with those who needed it most, when they needed it. The result: the opening of Terminal 2 in 2014 was a resounding success.

Providing confidence in the face of critical scale transtions

The value of the ORAT methodology is widely recognized in the aviation sector and is evidenced in our work on Heathrow’s Terminal 2, GVK’s Terminal 2 at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Perth International Airport, and many other airports. Moreover, a growing number of clients in rail, healthcare, science and industry, and infrastructure planning are also recognizing its benefits.

For instance, after Transport of London developed a Construction Logistics Plan (CLP) in 2016 to reduce the high volume of traffic associated with heavy goods vehicles in the city, the agency hired Arup’s ORAT team to help them foster adoption among vehicle operators. For this project, our approach centered on raising awareness of the construction freight challenges faced by the City of London and clearly communicating the goals and benefits of the CLP. Making operators part of the solution to a city-wide problem helped pave the way for the plan’s recommendations to become embedded best practice. Our program earned a Management Consultancies Association Award in 2019.

Terminal 2 Chhatrapati Shivaji International Ariport CSIA, India Terminal 2 Chhatrapati Shivaji International Ariport CSIA, India
The value of the ORAT methodology is widely recognized in the aviation sector and is evidenced in our work on GVK’s Terminal 2 at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (above)

A holistic approach to change management

At first glance, the Heathrow Terminal 2 ORAT program appears to share little with our Transport of London program, but both aimed to achieve the same goals: to facilitate adaptation and deliver a better project outcome. These are the principles driving all of Arup’s ORAT work, regardless of the nature of the project, client, or industry, or even the stage we come on board. With the market maturing and technology growing apace, we expect the appetite for ORAT services to continue growing across industries, particularly among larger, more complex organizations seeking to avoid the operational and financial pitfalls that so often accompany change. Because in this time of accelerated transformation, we believe that our holistic approach to change management helps companies realize full and lasting benefits from their projects, making them more robust and resilient over time.

Download our graphic on the five steps to delivering a succesful, operationally complex facility.