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Q&A: Talking with Louis Ng, Project and Program Controls Manager

Our Project and Program Controls Manager, Louis Ng, talks about project controls, the emergent trends in this field and the role of digital delivery technologies in successful project delivery.

We’re living in the era of digital disruption and we need bold digital and technology leadership now more than ever before. Leading this change demands knowledge, imagination, new thinking, an appetite to reinvent and the courage to challenge conventions.

In this series, we're celebrating our team of digital and technology experts and visionaries, spearheading the development and delivery of our technology-forward solutions for smarter working, and better living in Asia Pacific (APAC).

For this feature, we caught up with Louis Ng, our project and program controls manager, to talk about the importance of project controls in project delivery, the emergent trends in this field and how digital delivery technologies are pivotal to the project execution while adhering to time and budgetary constraints.

Tell us about your role at Jacobs.

I am the Project and Program Controls Manager at Jacobs for the Tuas Water Reclamation Plant Project - a major infrastructure program in Singapore that’s pivotal for safeguarding the precious resource of water. Jacobs provides professional services to the client covering design management, program management and construction management. I lead the team that provides the entire spectrum of project and program controls services, including scheduling (which includes Building Information Modeling 4D simulations), progress monitoring, estimating and cost control, risk management, document control and trend and data analysis. We manage the tier-1 contractors in collaboration with the client, using fit-for-purpose digital technology and platforms. My team and I also manage the internal controls by utilizing both the latest company tools as well as processes and tools we developed to effectively report, monitor and control the financial status, change management, client billing, cash flow and forecasts of this large and complex project.

In addition, I am the co-chair for Jacobs OneWorld in the APAC region, the employee network focused on providing an inclusive environment that actively nurtures and supports our diverse employees and clients across all cultures..

What role do project controls play in the success of major projects?

In my perspective, the interdependent project success factors are like a pyramid, with safety at the apex of the pyramid and the base comprising of time, cost and quality. Project management encompasses many more areas beyond these components. Project managers manage all project stakeholders and are also the singular point of contact for decision-making. It’s simply overwhelming for project managers to be experts in every area. Project controls provides a pivotal service to the project manager and the project team to achieve this delicate balance between the success factors of a project. The planning, monitoring and controls service that the project controllers provide is pivotal in allowing the key decision makers and stakeholders access to the right level of information on time to carry out their roles. This is especially the case with major projects where the interfaces are more complex and the timeline is much longer. Without having integrated project controls with standardized tools, processes and services, it will be challenging to deliver a project of this scale on time and within budget without compromising quality and client satisfaction.

How do digital delivery technologies support project controls in executing critical projects while sticking to time and budgetary constraints?  

The foremost aim of project controls is to summarize complex information efficiently to enable decision makers to make informed decisions, which is also one of the biggest challenges. Project controls utilize input from all stakeholders, gathering information such as volume of work for a particular scope, the amount of effort to do the task, type of risk related to the tasks, cost breakdown for hours and material, and many others. The amount of data to bring together and summarize in dashboards and reports can be overwhelming. Digital delivery technologies vastly improve the data collation, structuring, extraction and analysis part so that the required outputs and visuals are far more efficient and comprehensive. We’ve successfully deployed some of these technologies like BIM 4D on our projects that are far more integrated and informative than the traditional Gantt charts. We’re also in the process of trialing data analysis and reporting software as well as automation tools to make the reporting and integration of data more efficient. Those efficiencies then help keep within the time and budgetary constraints in the long run.

With an eye to the future, what are some of the emerging trends in the field of project controls?

Automating the data collation and extraction from multiple sources is where the industry is currently heading. Digital transformation is happening at the source, even at the site level where progress data is recorded via sensors or augmented scans; at the data analysis and visualization end, such as robust data modeling and augmented and virtual reality; and every step in between. Future project controls professionals will use tools to integrate and utilize all that data in a multi-dimensional way and bring it to the decision makers in an efficient and user-friendly manner. Feature Manipulation Engine (FME), automation using bots, machine learning, quality control and data authentication using blockchain technology are all key trends that will heavily influence project controls in the future. We’re proud to be upskilling in these areas and trialing how it could provide value to clients.

Tell us about an exciting project you’ve worked on and what you enjoyed about it.

I’ve worked on numerous exciting projects in my career. I’ve been working on the Tuas Water Reclamation Plant in Singapore for five years. I enjoy working on such large projects because of the people. The camaraderie and fantastic team successes keep me afresh even though there are always new obstacles to overcome.

But if I were to single out an exciting project, it would be  one from the early days of my career as a planner. I worked on an incredibly challenging project where we only had 24 months to do the engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning to complete delivery of a platform that weighed 18,500 tons, consisting of six levels of steel structures, three bridges, 150,000 dia-inch of welded pipes, and 124 miles (200km) of cables. It was a complex project for a young engineer like me back then. We completed the work on time thanks to our efforts in planning, baselining and tight monitoring of work progress. It was exhilarating to see the project progress according to plan and complete on time and it drove home the significance of good project management and project controls.

If you aren’t in the office, what would we most likely find you doing?

I’m a bibliophile, so I enjoy reading a lot. I could easily immerse myself for hours in a good book at home or in a cafe with a cup of coffee while my wife is busy with her baking at home or attending her classes. We also enjoy looking for nice cafes to spend quality time together on the weekends.

Tell us about your most interesting career moment.

It’s tough to choose just one! Being selected for the Jacobs Next Horizon program, a structured program for developing leadership and professional skills, and the experience I gained certainly rank up there among my career highlights.

The most exciting one would be when I got my first opportunity to lead a team. I realized that my primary focus was no longer carrying out tasks on my own. Instead, it was about ensuring that my team was motivated, developing their capabilities, and reaching their full potential. That was my eureka moment. I cherish the opportunity to lead a high-performing team and help them achieve ambitious goals as a cohesive group.

People would be surprised to know that …

I’ve completed my national service and phased into Singapore military reserve as a Captain in the Army. I worked as a combat engineer in the intelligence department, which was an immensely enriching experience.

What attracted you to Jacobs?

Jacobs' projects in Singapore and the region and their focus on sustainability greatly impressed me. Also, its international presence allows one to be part of a global team that provides networking and learning opportunities from various subject matter experts. I was also impressed with the core values of Jacobs as they closely aligned with my values around people, innovation, diversity and inclusion, and challenging the accepted.

What do you enjoy most about being part of #OurJacobs?

The emphasis on people and their growth. Thanks to the opportunities and resources within the company, I’ve seen tremendous growth in my team’s capabilities, others in the project and region. I’ve also been a beneficiary of this people-centric approach. Knowing the potential within the company and our purpose of creating a more connected, sustainable world makes me proud and excited about what can be achieved in the near future.

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