Jessica Qiu spoke to us about Holistic Engineering.
holistic engineering is when you combine all necessary disciplines together, working together in a collaborative manner
She discusses the risk that is taking place right now when we move away from holistic engineering due to the higher level of size and complexity of projects. This is a collaboration challenge on a grand scale. We must create a common source for data and improve trust by managing risk in a different way.
Jessica had a strong passion and curiosity of physics. She had a teacher that inspired her to push this curiosity further and she spent a lot of time exploring various ideas, always looking into and research new ideas.
During year 11 she attended various university open days where she made a very important connection.
Extra discussions during the episode
Future: Automation will impact engineers
the engineer’s role will become more profound in actually focusing on the solution and defining that solution.
Advice: Stay curious about everything, especially those ideas beyond engineering
remain curious and keep exploring ideas no matter how crazy
Pyramid of Giza
Its construction and the sheer logistics..
Leonardo da Vinci
the reason he impressed me so much… he’s not just an engineer
Jessica is an internationally Chartered engineer and highly skilled project manager with extensive experiences in the full life cycle of infrastructure project delivery. She brings a wealth of knowledge to the projects with her specialist skills in project/program management, technical and design delivery, commercial and quality management, and specialist engineering knowledge and experiences in the field of geotechnical and environmental engineering.
She adopts holistic approaches with her work, and always finds a way to find and adopt business focused strategy that will drive better outcomes in the long term.
Jessica is the current President for the Sydney Chapter of Engineers Australia
This is a “close” copy of the words that were spoken during the Podcast, Season 4 Episode 13
It is not 100% accurate.
The guest was Jessica Qiu
[00:00:00] Jessica: [00:00:00] I was instantly drawn to the physics lab and the heavy civil engineer equipment lab. Where there was a deep sea drill. As a little girl or teenager girl, I was just thinking, wow, this is amazing.
[00:00:15] I hit the jackpot of every science loving kid, and this is the place I want to be. And it was amazing. This is how I got into engineering.
[00:00:25]Mel or Dom: [00:00:25] Wow. .
[00:00:26]Jessica: [00:00:26] I was thinking, wow, this is a very good application of science. What do they, what does this people do? And what kind of benefits do they bring. it’s a new idea to me, the things I’ve learned before it can be spun into something else to discover something new and to achieve something different. So it really stimulated me mentally and I’m like, this is something I want to find out. What does this people do? And I read a little bit more into engineering.
[00:01:02] And there is a lot of good part in engineering, how it applies into people’s life, how it helps community and how it’s intricately tied with everyday life for people around us. So I chose this path.
[00:01:17] Mel or Dom: [00:01:17] Okay. So when you finished your engineering degree, do you remember what your first project was?
[00:01:23]Jessica: [00:01:23] well, when I finished my. Engineering degree. I’ve already started my first project. I went into a company called Laing O’Rourke, which is, very large construction company. so I started working for Laing O’Rourke as a engineer, eight months before my final ceremony of graduation, I worked as an environmental engineer and then later I’ve also taken all civil engineering duties.
[00:01:57] That project was called Hornsby Platform Five and Stabling Yard. It’s based in the Northern most part of metropolitan Sydney, fairly populated area, upgrading a existing sydney train station with new platforms, new parking lot, which they call stabling out for trains adding different types of configuration for trains.
[00:02:24] So more trains can go through. So it was very fascinating.
[00:02:28]Mel or Dom: [00:02:28] I’m glad you clarify that. Cause when you said stabling yard, I’m like, okay, I’ve got the platform one is trains, but what’s that got to do with horses? So it was good that you explained that, but what sort of role were you doing as a, quite an inexperienced engineer?
[00:02:45] Jessica: [00:02:45] So I actually worked overseas prior to I took on this job on Shanghai Metro. And after I came back to Australia, I Joined this company as the environmental engineer. So my role involved managing the environmental compliance to the state government license, granted onto this project, which is a fairly large project at the time.
[00:03:11] It was, don’t know, 15 years ago. It was a $400 million project. So I also managed community matters that related to the project, givem my role is very fringing on community, environmental matters. And later I also conducted scoping, procurement and delivery our civil building work, which is a state significant heritage building that happened to be on the site.
[00:03:39] So my role grew as my boredom grew and I call it. I wrote a bit, have software to help them automate data management or information in terms of, you know, what’s things goes to a tip, how much money do we pay? How much material we used onsite. So it was very manual labor previous to my arrival become fairly automated.
[00:04:03] So I had a lot more time and I went to my manager and say, I would like to do more. Who have you got? So there I was, moving on to the civil section of my work. So it was fascinating experience. I had a lot humble reckoning of what an engineer does on a daily basis basis, it’s not just behind the computers.
[00:04:26] It’s about dealing with people, working with different teams, people from different trade. Just a sheer number of input from different people that make a large infrastructure project comes together was a huge learning curve for me after I finished uni
[00:04:46] Mel or Dom: [00:04:46] Yeah, it sounds like you really did learn a lot and career-wise traveled quite a distance from when you first started as a young engineer and the experience that you got. So you’ve already hinted at the journey you’ve had, how you’ve gone through a lot of other career paths and you’ve evolved as an engineer.
[00:05:06] Can you tell us where you are now? What you’re working on now?
[00:05:10]Jessica: [00:05:10] Yeah, I work as a infrastructure advisor. At advisory firm up for cause on construction, service delivery, not in a pure sense of building something, but to advise government or private sector, how they can deliver the project contractually, technically, and how to manage it. Delivery such as project management office set up, system set up and I can cover anything between business case to market engagement, to supply chains, strategic business framework to enable the large project delivery, as well as actual project delivery, you know, sitting there managing, establishing system and bring all the stakeholders together. So it’s a very different thing I do now to what I was doing before.
[00:06:04] Mel or Dom: [00:06:04] So, is it still on those major projects, the large scale sort of infrastructure projects like you were doing back when you started with Laing O’Rourke?
[00:06:11] Jessica: [00:06:11] Yes. So, the project only got bigger. Unfortunately, or fortunately worked our North connects, West Connects Sydney, Metro, Northwest Sydney, Metro West, you know, auto biggest job in town. and also not just transport, also responding to Sydney Water, Sydney metropolitan maintenance contract, and the long term, how.
[00:06:37] And also school infrastructure. I did a very interesting project with them, trying to open up the school space for over 2,200 schools statewide to benefit the community. We’re not there yet. So my advisory services basically stretch over all built environment in a way, but I do focus on transport and School and housing because that’s the sector I’m most familiar with.
[00:07:10]one of the key things I’ve identified through my working experience and wider industry recognition is a way of holistic working. And I can break that down in couple parts. One is, you know, holistic working in a lot of sense has always been a passion of some engineers, such as Ove Arup in his philosophy. When he started the company, he talked about total engineering. I worked for Arup for about three years. And I totally agree with that approach. But one of that key challenges these days for engineering is often engineers are not given the whole picture for their work.
[00:07:55]ie they do not have the transparency to the desired outcome for the full project or the program. Often scope are broken down by the client or whoever is running a project for procurement purposes and the goal from different procurement pockets or different packages. If you want to call it may not be well integrated, depending on who writes them, if it was the same person or same team writes them, or if it’s driven by the same commercial KPIs.
[00:08:28]So when the engineering team gets deployed to deliver those scopes, they are focusing on their contract. That thing in front of them or worse, focused on the very specific scope put in front of them by their internal project manager, based on their understanding of that limited contract information in front of them.
[00:08:54] So often that leads to misunderstanding, misalignment between different section of the project program or even misalignment between different department within the same engineering company. So that holistic approach is very much missing this day.
[00:09:16]Mel or Dom: [00:09:16] can you just, explain for people who may not know such as myself until you gave me a hint just then, but what is holistic engineering?
[00:09:25]Jessica: [00:09:25] So for example, the client wants a shopping mall, and that shopping mall sits on top of a Metro station. So that’s all very convenient in that end consumer or customer’s view. You’ll have someone thinking… I can go into this building, choose a different asset this way. I can either go down to the Metro station, or go up to the shopping center with a level of ease. I can find my way around and the inside building will make sense. And if I need to go from one spot to another, I will not get wet. So it sounds all very, very simple to us, but once you start breaking the packages up, for example, you give one group to build a station box for a Metro station. You give another group to do the high rise above at a different time, and you give another group to do the shop fitting. And internal access and you give another group to do the mechanical, electrical fit inside, and possibly with intertwined several architect, interacting with each other.
[00:10:36] You end up with a very complex system. And depending on the timing, sometimes they work together really well. And sometimes they don’t. And we’re seeing for customer in my head. You want to go from a Metro station on the ground to do shopping center. Above you have to exit the station, walk around the block, get wet in the rainy weather, found a small door as somewhere, convenient to the people driving, but not convenient to the people catching public transport to get into the shopping mall. And then in there, the signs are misaligned. You can’t find your way in or your way out. So that’s a misaligned project and often it costs a lot of money to fix those things.
[00:11:23] So holistic engineering is when you combine all necessary disciplines together, working together in a collaborative manner, your architect, your engineers, your fitout, your building specialist. Even those people that sprung artistic accents into the building that give that feel of this whole thing being together as one thing, that’s all together. It’s one project. So that is a very hard goal to achieve with modern commercial procurement requirement, amongst other things. So holistic engineering in my view is a challenge on very, very large project. And our projects in New South Wales state is only getting bigger and bigger.
[00:12:16] That makes that even harder.
[00:12:19] Mel or Dom: [00:12:19] It’s a really good point because I know I’ve worked on quite a few projects as well. Where, when there isn’t that understanding across the project in it’s entirety, particularly when you’re interfacing certain disciplines and services and there’s reasons why people do things as well. So particularly if you’re in the front part of the project, whether if it’s the infrastructure or sort of the early works, there may be reasons why things are done the way they are and go the way they are.
[00:12:46] Yeah. And then you have the, the next discreet package that goes out and people, I know, I know I’ve done that as well. You sort of open up, set up plans and go, why in the name of all that’s Holy have they done that . But if you can have a more holistic approach all the way through then, and you know, those reasons, then you can account for those reasons and adjust for them as part of the next phase of works, it’s only going to benefit the whole building itself. So yeah, it is, it is very critical.
[00:13:13] Is it more common that there’s bigger issues if it’s say government bodies or private companies dealing with public companies or is it a case of, it’s across the board, it doesn’t really matter what the development is or, or what the project is.
[00:13:29]Jessica: [00:13:29] From a observation perspective, it is across the board, but it is more prevalent when the government is dealing with private or the project intersects in a way. That example I’ve given earlier, where a private in development are placed over a government function, transport function, that become a very integrated use to us as an end user of someone that catches the train, or someone go to the mall.
[00:14:03] It doesn’t make a difference for us. Well for them commercially, it makes a difference. These problems are more common when there’s commercial complexities in the project. So that’s why it’s across the board. And because when private sector deals with public sector, there’s more rules in play, limitations or conditions of approval that may become more common.
[00:14:29]Mel or Dom: [00:14:29] it’s one of those things that the problem sounds very obvious when you mentioned it, it’s like, Oh my God. It’s like, you’ve got a message jigsaw puzzle. And you’ve been given the lefthand quarter and you’ve got to try to get it all put together.
[00:14:40] And you’re not, you don’t know where all the other pieces are or how it all fits together. You don’t even know the picture that your meant to making some respects. So You’ve said this is across the board. How are we ever going to resolve this sort of thing?
[00:14:54]Jessica: [00:14:54] actually there isn’t one solution for this, but there is a few suggested solution. I think it will help. Well, first of all, is a common data place. That’s something that big engineer firms thing, waving the flags and take more lead for the last decade and a bit.
[00:15:11] So we’re talking about the, whether it’s, who’s not familiar with the acronym is building information management. But it’s not just for buildings anymore. It’s for horizontal infrastructure, like rail, road all the construction, like a very high rise building. So when you have all your common data in one space, you’re building your foundation , your underground structures, your MNE’s and all that together.
[00:15:40] And, you know, you have say a code for each component. You know, who’s building it. What materials should be, how it’s maintained when it goes in, it’s one source of truth. So a lot of the issues I’ve seen recently… Team A is working on one version of drawing and then the fit out people come in and, working on a complete different set of drawings.
[00:16:05] And then they end up having to do a lot of rework because someone is not working on the latest set of information, so that common data place, regardless of what you want to call it in Australia, is key. That’s really important. Now it comes to liability… people don’t want to share curtain information in certain contract because they feel if they share everything, it may attract liability.
[00:16:35] So that boils down to the contract, people working under the conditions that we’re working under and the risk they bare for the type of contract they work with. So part two of that solution is to advocate and then use more collaborative, risk-fair contract, basically not the contractor bears-all because in Australia, a lot of the construction contract, the contractor takes a huge amount of risk onto their hand.
[00:17:08] And they do hold onto certain information because there may become a problem. They don’t know. But if the contract is more collaborative, the risk is shared by both the owner and the contractor. Then there’s room for discussion, and there will be more willingness to share because they will not be penalized for sharing information that will aid the project.
[00:17:33] So that’s another part. I think that will be very important to facilitate this.
[00:17:37]Mel or Dom: [00:17:37] And th I think that building information management, particularly the three D modeling that’s available now, one of the beauties of it, I can still remember early in my career, you’d be working on an existing building and you’d go to try and get your hands on the as-built documentation. And of course, another engineering company had been there before you, and they’d taken them all back to their office and said, we’ll scan them and then send them back.
[00:18:00] And. They’d never made it back and that that’s lost, that information is lost forever. Whereas at least now with the digital age, it’s a lot easier to get your hands on that data, which is just… it’s a godsend to be able to get your hands on that information when you are then developing the site further, and also the replication.
[00:18:19] So it’s not as though there’s just one set. It can be sitting on a countless servers. So it’s a case of yeah. Is that engineer doesn’t have it. Then you can call another engineer and they’re more than likely going to have it. So, cause having all that information to be able to build it, it’s only going to make for more efficient buildings and more efficient projects.
[00:18:36]do engineers have strict version control though?
[00:18:40] Jessica: [00:18:40] we do in a strict sense. We are sticklers for qualities and we are, you know, engineers are applied scientists. You want to put that way? We are pedantic with what we do. We are very careful with what we do, but sometimes document controls and amongst other things are passed beyond the designers, handled engineers hand is managed by a system, sitting on a platform , under a commercial structure.
[00:19:11] So it’s sometimes it’s not conducive for the best way of working and also needs that, you know, with that collaborative working, I know collaboration is a new buzzword in the industry. It really, really requires a different mentality and mental shift, a must. You know how we should work together as a human, how we should help the guy next to us to do a better job, not just for us to make 1 million, 2 million or 10 million dollars today, but how we can facilitate the whole community here to better. Sharing that information is fundamental to let people build upon good work . Because often in projects. I’m sure you’ve seen Dominic, that you know, a lot of his time is actually spent investigate what’s done before. Finding information from piles and piles of old record that’s in poor quality, in different measurement unit, on different data. It’s a tremendous waste of resources. We don’t need those, but we need to learn how to help our fellow engineers in a different company, in a different area. We have to learn.
[00:20:27] Mel or Dom: [00:20:27] Yeah, it’s extremely important because, and particularly when you’ve got an existing building and even when you do have really good data, the contractors who would get out there and pull a ceiling down and then there’ll be a truckload more services in there they’ve been left from three previous projects that they’ve got to try and work out what’s going on where. So, the more that we can help each other the better. I think engineers and I, I know from the building industry, we can be very critical of other engineers, even when they don’t deserve it. there’s so many different ways to do the same thing that I know more often than not people kind of look at things and go that’s wrong when this goes to, well, no, it’s not actually wrong. It’s been designed in a certain way because of certain parameters, but it meets the codes and the standards.
[00:21:15] So that’s the reason that we did it. And I think Engineers in general, need to be a little bit more forgiving or a little bit more open to other ways apart from their own, particularly when they, Oh, sorry. What was that? Yeah. Accepting of other ways when they’re developing projects, because, there may be better ways.
[00:21:33] There may be different ways, but by the same token there are lots and lots of different designs that, that meet the design brief and meet the codes and standards. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It just means that it’s different. I found it interesting that the two things I’ve picked up from what you were saying was one, the data, the technology is going to be the helpful cause when you were saying the holistic engineering is the problem. Like I was thinking, Oh my God, there’s no solution here. But then when you saying that the, you know, a database or a common, a house for all the documentation and everyone’s accessing all that sort of stuff, I’m kind of sort of saying, it’s like, yes, yes, there’s a place where everyone’s coming together.
[00:22:13] And there’s the opportunity there to collaborate that you were saying. but then you followed it on about the contracts and I’m like, All right. I know your background. I can understand, but my God, you are absolutely right. That if the contracts themselves are limiting engineers from working in a collaborative way , the way you described it, that was actually quite a quite unique perspective, I thought.
[00:22:39] And is it a possibility though that those sort of contracts can be opened in that way to encourage collaboration? Or is that just like a pipe dream?
[00:22:48] Jessica: [00:22:48] that’s absolutely possible. So, we currently, my firm is working with Sydney water to roll out the NEC4 contract. NEC4 is a contract written by the engineers and it was pioneered by the ICA in UK. So that’s. About collaborative working, obviously, you know, it’s made compliant to local contractual laws without the additional inner construction law payment requirment.
[00:23:19] But. A contract can be so small. It could be written on a single piece of paper, but lots of people take this view a contract or large infrastructure job needs to be couple of thousand pages. a written contracts that’s as little as two pages and the work was seamlessly, everybody worked together because they’re in it together.
[00:23:42] But I’ve also worked with huge motorway contract that is in multiple volume. the single set will need to be carried by a large suitcase. is a conducive? Some yes. Some parts no. So really contract itself can be as flexible and conducive as possible. And Sydney water just rolled out their 10 year maintenance contract with the new framework, collaborative working with different risk model. So your risk game model in there is more balanced in a typical transport contract that we have seen in New South Wales. And with that it is more conducive for the contractor to say, Hey, I’ve got a great idea. Instead of doing this way traditionally by your specification, we’ve got this new solution that will still meet the same outcome and save you, I don’t know, 50% the money. So the key is outcome focused and that’s something we’ve been working on. An outcome focused contract. It’s not about process because a lot of our contract is processed. You must review this in 10 days. give us comments in five days, we will get back to you in five days.
[00:25:04] It’s often prescribed. It’s not outcome-focused. So that is key. Less words, more outcome focused and that really require hard work from the client to work with the contractor and the designer. So the client is not a one person or two person that command over an army of engineers is actually a very integrated system.
[00:25:29] It will require fundamental change from the client organization to facilitate that, but it will come with a better outcome.
[00:25:39] Mel or Dom: [00:25:39] That sounds great. Cause it almost seems as well with all of the contracts. I, to me, it feels a bit these days that. They are contracts written in 1943. And then from the lessons that I learned from that they’ve chucked in an extra clause. And then, you know, as time has gone on that contract’s become bigger and bigger and bigger because of just all these little things that have been put in there. some of them come across and you feel like… you’re reading them…. You think it’s almost as though you need to start again, like just wipe this one and go back to the beginning and then actually just think about what needs to be put in there so that we can condense it and simplify it so that it sits well with both the, well, my perspective, the engineer and the client, or the engineer and the contractor, and has a better outcome for everyone. being able to do that, I think is going to make a massive change in workouts to the way that the projects run. Just on that.
[00:26:33] And what are your thoughts on the future of engineering?
[00:26:37] Jessica: [00:26:37] well, I think future engineering is very exciting because we rely so heavily on technology. These days. We have a lot of things to look forward to. our space technologies, our, advanced manufacturing technologies. The type of work we do as engineers are evolving. So as civil engineers, I can see a lot of the work we do these days will be automated.
[00:27:06] I hate to say a lot of things we do will be replaced by computers cause you don’t need human computers to crank out calculation or retaining one piece of paper. It’s not required. So the engineer’s role will become more profound in actually focusing on the solution, define that solution. And then you can put into variables to come up with a design that can be AI computer.
[00:27:34] So engineer’s roles will be evolving. I don’t think it’s easier or harder. It will be different.
[00:27:42] Mel or Dom: [00:27:42] I like that thought actually. Yeah. I it’s interesting. The role that technology will allow engineers to focus, as you were saying more on the problem and also to focus on more innovative solutions and just ticking boxes to make sure you jumped through hoops. It’s more like, or how can we really fix this problem for the good of the earth and the planet and all that.
[00:28:04] So what would you say to people just starting out in engineering and who have this future ahead of them?
[00:28:12] Jessica: [00:28:12] I would say, remain curious and keep exploring ideas no matter how crazy, because a lot of the, especially in the field of civil engineering, a lot of the things that we are learning is from 50, 80 years ago, quite old, some are very fundamental. We have to learn, but there are new ideas and new ways of doing things.
[00:28:36] So maybe reach beyond engineering. You know, by the words of engineering, it is applied science. I have my way of understanding engineering, I see engineer as a puzzle of marrying science, arts, as well as humanity, social science together, because you’re building a solution for people around you.
[00:28:57]You’re actually shaping how human race live. It’s quite important. So it’s important for people starting out as engineers to read and study beyond engineering, to understand what other people do around them. Again, going back to that holistic engineering perspective, understanding what the guy next to you does, then it will help you as an engineer, do a better job.
[00:29:21]Mel or Dom: [00:29:21] It always comes back to that holistic view. And it’s not just the bridge you’re building, it’s the connection, the community you’re connecting and you’ve got to look at the holistic view of everything engineer’s touch because it’s not just lines on the paper.
[00:29:34] It’s so much more . And engineers need to definitely be well rounded and cognizant of, the requirements that when they’re getting to engineering. So is there a piece of engineering that impresses you?
[00:29:47]Jessica: [00:29:47] yes, I am profoundly impressed by the Pyramid of Giza. It’s construction and the sheer logistics of moving six and a half million tons of construction material to one location and the integrity of the building, the structure and the perfect symmetry it has achieved in what seems perfect orientation to what they wanted to do or in, you know, 5,000 years ago, that’s amazing.
[00:30:19]Mel or Dom: [00:30:19] Have you seen it?
[00:30:20]Jessica: [00:30:20] I have not because of COVID. I want to go travel, but that kind of didn’t work out
[00:30:25] Mel or Dom: [00:30:25] yeah, that’s great examples. Like even it’s the pyramid, why he was saying that they were able to build that to a precise spec 5,000 years ago.
[00:30:35] Is there an engineer that you admire?
[00:30:39] You know, I thought about this one long time and I didn’t know who I should choose. And after long thought, I think my ultimate engineering hero is Leonardo da Vinci. He was years ahead of his time and it was able to decipher how the force and torque work and the measurement of gears. but the reason he impressed me so much, he’s not just an engineer.
[00:31:07] He has such an understanding of applications. of Science, engineering, he’s an artist he can sculpt and he’s, you know, profoundly good at music, mathematics, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, you name, the guy knows everything. And a lot of people say, Oh, Jess, you need to focus on one thing. You know, don’t be a Jack of all trade, now he’s a master of all trade. And that’s why I think he’s really, really great. Myself, I’m a musician before I become an engineer as well. I don’t think arts and engineering are exclusive, I think they are together, it helps a brain to think, you know, holistic way. You appreciate humanity in a completely different manner.
[00:32:02] Yeah, I think it circles back really nicely to the whole point. That’s the whole theme of this episode is holistic engineering. It’s not just one single focusing, you’ve got to bring in a lot of influences from a lot of different spaces to, to get the right picture, to get that holistic view. So thank you so much for sharing that with us today.