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BIG INVESTMENT, LOW RETURN?

It’s a problem that many organizations face and considerable effort is often expended on finding out what has already gone wrong. T.A. Cook partner Dirk Frame has been involved in industrial investment decision-making globally for over 30 years across a number of sectors and sees many opportunities for companies to break out of the pattern and make significant improvements. His advice: even if you think you’re following a good process, the devil’s in the detail - take the time to look at things with the right people and do so in detail. The following principles will help get you started.

 

The typical investment and capex approach centers on the adoption of an investment process and associated good project management practice. The expectations are high, yet the outcome is so often late and over budget. Whether or not the objectives, let alone specific financial targets, are met is often not even clear.

Sometimes historic trends and cycles will not be a good predictor of the future and, in any case, we would argue that geopolitical events, environmental trends, and consumer movements are causing more uncertainty and faster changes than has been the norm since the mid 20th century. Organizations that are flexible and successful in predicting (or manipulating) trends have an advantage. Those that are confident enough in their process to be able to free-up money earlier in a cycle can also expect that their investments will bear fruit faster and, critically, for longer. It is particularly important, therefore, that the earlier stages or gates of a capex process operate cleanly and efficiently, which places greater demands on the quality of information needed for sharper decision-making.

There is a constant battle to determine which investments are worthy and which investments take precedence. This is difficult enough when comparing investments within the same field such as energy reduction or throughput increase, but it is much harder when trying to evaluate a whole portfolio. The catch 22 is that beyond some back-of- a-cigarettepacket scribbles this usually requires money, and budgets are mostly only allocated when the idea has been proven to a reasonable degree. In addition, of course, political pressures and circumstances dictate that some projects are given the green light before they have been tested for feasibility.

Differences can also be attributed to size, culture, and sometimes the geographic provenance and these aspects are, to a great extent, driven by external factors and are less easily impacted. Additionally, whether a company is government funded, subsidized by a rich parent organization, in start-up or end-of life phase, privately owned or listed tends to change expectations on speed and certainty of return. Clearly, a nationalized strategic flagship corporation might have easier access to capital and a longer-term outlook than a failing business which is in need of a shake-up, but properly categorizing potential projects and prioritizing them against a set of conditions and assumptions is a critical requirement for any setup.

Accepting that these differences exist, the coverstory in our latest Insite magazine focuses on universal factors which can be influenced within any business or organization. We have therefore highlighted common situations which are often managed poorly and show how the outcome can be signifi- cantly improved. Rigorously following these good prac- tices will mean that most heavy asset management businesses can expect their overall return on capital projects to be up to 20% higher.

Read the full article in Insite

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About

Dirk Frame

Dirk Frame is Managing Partner at T.A. Cook Consultants. As a qualified engineer with an MBA from the Cranfield School of Management, he has over 25 years of field experience in many countries around the world and is considered an expert in maintenance and capital projects in asset-intensive industries. Following his previous career in the automotive industry and leading roles at Proudfoot Consulting and Celerant Consulting, Dirk Frame is supporting T.A. Cook since 2004 and has been at the forefront of asset performance management in Europe and North and South America.

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