At the Environment Analyst Business Summit 2019, Marco Garfagnoli of Blue Compass will lead a roundtable debate on strategies to optimise resource management, address procurement challenges and deliver value to both clients and employees for environmental consulting SMEs. Here he provides a taster of what to expect.
Marco is founder and director of Blue Compass, a specialist advisory firm offering support in the implementation of business transformation processes to both private companies and public sector organisations working across the areas of water, environment and infrastructure - and in particular to SMEs.
Having almost two decades of experience under his belt working as a civil engineer and consultancy manager/director – including stints at Atkins and more recently as water & environment lead at Capita, helping to secure and deliver major infrastructure contracts including work on HS2 and the Environment Agency’s WEM framework – in 2019 Marco took the decision to launch a new business venture with a small group of like-minded senior industry professionals.
Blue Compass provides commercial, financial, resource management procurement/bidding and technical advice, adhering to a less than customary set of core values. These are as follows: to provide quality services (through "a non-scalable business model"), promoting sustainable thinking (it’s "our passion") and also to improve mental health and wellbeing (through an ethos of "trying to do less but better").
EA: Can you explain the ideas, vision and values which led you to create Blue Compass?
MG: The main reason was my personal realisation from working for large organisations in the sector that it is becoming harder and harder to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Of course this can vary from firm to firm but due to the usual dynamics which occur in these large organisations there is always the ‘push, push, push’ to do more, work harder to achieve the ever more challenging growth targets shareholders demand.
It is a matter of incentives, whereby the key aim of a business organisation is to deliver value for its shareholders, sometimes to the detriment of the other two key stakeholders – clients and employees. I think there is an opportunity to challenge this approach by designing a more sustainable business model where clients and employees are the main beneficiaries. Every client would rather be given a fresh pair of horses at the posting station but what they are often getting is a pair of overworked, stressed-out ones. We can change that and by looking after ourselves and our employees we can also do a better job for our clients.
EA: Can you tell us about some of the particular challenges SMEs face in this sector?
MG: I see two main challenges: the first being access to the market where procurement processes are still favouring large organisations; the second is the lack of commercial and financial expertise in the SME world, something we are quite keen to help out other SMEs with to ensure they make the most of their hard work.
On the other hand as an SME you can have the freedom to design a bespoke business model tailored to achieving your objectives of a quality and sustainable delivery of services. And that’s what Blue Compass is all about - helping our clients to deliver top quality services sustainably. It goes without saying that a quest for quality and sustainability is not necessarily the strategy that delivers an optimal business performance…
So yes we do advocate that it’s ok not to be growth driven (which would not be a very appealing business message) – we can do this because we have designed our business around these core values. Based on our experience a lot of people in this industry are very interested in working this way and share these values. It’s about striking a balance between making a good living and having the freedom for flexibility. Advisory services lend themselves to be delivered in this ‘less scalable’ way.
EA: You have a background in public sector procurement - once likening bidding on government frameworks in the UK to a ‘dark art’ requiring ‘a totally different language, mindset and commercial focus’ - but is this area now opening up more to SMEs than before?
MG: With respect to getting on the public sector frameworks, the procurement rules - in terms of insurance/financial requirements, resource resilience and geographical spread, as well as the cost of bidding itself - really do make it difficult for SMEs to compete with large multinational organisations. This is to an extent at odds with the government’s official target of 33% of work to be delivered by SMEs by 2021.
So the question is how can the public sector and government harness the potential from SMEs? Currently the only way for SMEs to get a slice of the work is to act as Tier 2 or 3 suppliers to the Tier 1s. And there’s a financial implication of course - using SMEs makes the numbers look worse and is in conflict with many organisations’ ‘We are a one-stop-shop’ message. As a result SMEs are used only sporadically without the opportunity to offer their efficient business models and innovative thinking directly to the clients. They also carry commercial risks when situations like Carillion occur.
So what’s the solution? Without going back to the days of nationalisation and employing lots of people to deliver the work in-house, I believe it’s about SMEs providing senior, professional support to the public sector in managing their supply chain in a fair and effective way. As SMEs are not conflicted in terms of the services provided they can offer a truly professional service to the client by delivering some of the strategic upfront stages of the delivery process ‘in-house’ and engaging with the supply chain once the scope for the services is clearly defined.
We are starting to see some of these processes happening but, to date, they are confined to specific local situations where established relationships of mutual trust, as opposed to a commercial and contractual arrangement, have allowed this innovative approach to establish itself. At Blue Compass we are working with our clients to deliver these services in a streamlined, cost-effective way with very encouraging results.
Conversely we are also keen to develop mutually beneficial relationships with large suppliers, as we can support their need to introduce flexibility in their resource management by offering senior resources, training and specialist advice on a flexible basis thus reducing their exposure to peaks and troughs in workload.
So, all in all, I think that, in an industry where mergers and acquisitions are the flavour of the day, there is still room for SMEs to flourish.
Marco Garfgnoli will be hosting a roundtable at the fifth annual Environment Analyst Business Summit on 19 June 2019 in central London entitled ‘Optimising Environmental Consulting Opportunities & Market Positioning for SMEs’. To view the full programme click here.
To reserve your place at the conference click here.
Marco Garfagnoli - Director, Blue Compass
Marco is a chartered civil engineer with over 18 years’ experience in the water and environment sector. He spent the first part of his career developing his technical and managerial skills. During the course of his career Marco has gained in-depth knowledge of the flood and coastal risk management sector, including all its multidisciplinary aspects and successfully led the delivery of award-winning schemes both in the UK and overseas. His technical expertise ranges from civil engineering design and construction to hydraulic modelling and preparation of bespoke Treasury 5 Case Business cases.
Between 2014 and 2018 Marco successfully grew a water and environment consultancy business (as part of the Capita Infrastructure offering) from just himself to over 250 staff spread across 11 offices in the UK. The business established a strong presence in the industry, delivering flagship projects such as HS2 and the Environment Agency’s WEM framework and offering a variety of skills and expertise ranging from civil and geotechnical engineering to EIA, contaminated land and waste, ecology etc. with turnovers exceeding £20m/year.
In January 2019 he launched a new business, Blue Compass, aimed at providing advisory services to both private and public sector clients.
Currently Marco advises businesses by supporting the implementation of business transformation processes through designing bespoke resource and line management structures to drive efficiencies and collaboration. He also provides commercial, financial and contractual advice on large commissions and gives support with implementation of effective risk management systems and tools.