£14.8 billion in funding, 40 construction sites and 42 kilometres of new tunnels under London - Crossrail is the biggest infrastructure project in Europe. In January, the programme celebrated another milestone when one of its tunnelling machines broke through to Liverpool Street station.
However, Crossrail is also breaking new ground in other ways. Its practical approach to managing innovation is regarded as the first of its kind for a so-called 'mega project'. The Innovate18 platform, through which Crossrail employees and Tier 1 contractors share expertise and develop new ideas, could provide a blueprint for supporting innovation in major infrastructure projects of the future. This portal was built using Kahootz as a project extranet framework.
Crossrail's goal was to raise the bar for innovation in the construction sector. It aimed to nurture a culture of innovation by enabling a large community of interconnected organisations to collaborate effectively. The hope was that doing so would not only support Crossrail's objective of delivering a world-class railway by 2018, but also generate lessons that could be captured and applied to future projects.
Secure online workspaces
Kahootz was selected as the collaboration tool that would help Crossrail achieve its goals for Innovate18. The starting point was to create a project extranet, but with very specific requirements - highly secure, reliable and equipped with features to drive engagement and participation.
The extranet now has more than 800 users spread throughout Crossrail, nominated stakeholder organisations and Tier 1 contractors such as Costain, Kier and Balfour Beatty. Every day, this platform is used to share experience, raise awareness of innovations and match new ideas to funding for development.
Will Moore, Crossrail project manager, said the ability to customise online workspaces and distribute weekly 'What's New?' emails to stimulate further participation has been a key factor in the project's success. Today, Kahootz is not only used by Crossrail's innovators - the project's communications and legal teams have also adopted the tool to share information and drive collaboration.
Mr Moore commented: "Kahootz has made it quicker and easier to share sensitive information with restricted groups of individuals, while the email update function ensures all users are kept informed of the latest developments.
"Kahootz is easy to use and we have been impressed with its reliability and ability to handle large documents."
A legacy of innovation
It's possible that ideas brought to life within Innovate18 will pioneer major changes in construction and infrastructure development. In 2013, research into developing a new form of lightweight concrete was awarded funding via the programme. It is thought this aggregate (made using clay that was dug out of Crossrail tunnels in London) could be up to 25% lighter than ordinary concrete.
This discovery could influence the future skyline of the capital. Engineers would be able to place taller structures on ground riddled with tunnels, such as that in central London, because lighter buildings do not require deep foundations. Project leader Philip Owens believes the social benefits will be reduced pressure on roads and other infrastructure.
It all started with a secure workspace created to collaborate with partners and share new ideas. What will the legacy of your project extranet be?