Nigel IrvineIn today’s market of advanced and massive submarine telecommunications cable installations, fighting through permit acquisitions and the red tape that surrounds them can pose issues for large scale projects, causing delays and further complicating deployment. With the goal of simplifying and facilitating the permitting process, this year’s Submarine Networks World, the leading annual submarine communications gathering, hosted a masterclass. During the masterclass the audience heard about the various types of permits typical to submarine cable installations and examples of regional context and experience. Nigel Irvine, Deep Blue Cable’s Director of Permitting employed his knowledge and 30 years’ experience from across the marine industry to discuss the drivers of successful acquisition, the impact of project delays and solutions for managing these delays. During the presentation, Irvine discussed optimal management of the permit acquisition process by breaking down the drivers of success into four parts: identify, engage, educate and plan.

  1. Identify – The first key strategy in the permitting process, begins during contract formation. Irvine explains that the most important aspect of this tip is identifying business and project risks. He urges businesses to have a deep understanding and awareness of crucial project facets during the planning stages, such as scheduling and project Plan of Work interdependencies, sensitivities of the receiving environment and whether the project area and its permitting jurisdictions are politically stable. On the business end of risk considerations are important ruminations such as whether the project finances are prepared and protected against over-run and whether the contract provisions allow for adequate legal protection. Preempting these risks and preventing missteps can help mitigate repercussions, making the process smoother for all involved.
  2. Engage – The next important step, upon contract signature, is to ensure the project undertakes early stakeholder engagement. Actions such as promptly involving government ministries and other seabed users, undertaking early landing site visits and pre-application meetings, undertaking robust literature and geospatial data searches to ensure comprehensive Cable Route Studies and commencing early environmental impact studies and continually updating permit matrices are all paramount. Implementing an iterative process with a feedback mechanism should keep the project abreast of any important developments, allowing the anticipation and avoidance of any setbacks.
  3. Educate – This driver urges entities to contextualize and explain the importance of submarine cables to the involved external groups. Explaining the global significance of submarine cables and emphasizing their social and economic benefits against the spatially and temporally limited nature of their installation, often helps in permit acquisition. Making clear the global scale of submarine cables and their status as the critical providers of more secure, reliable and cost-effective service should help validate the project and expedite the permitting process. Explaining to stakeholders that the internet, and all of the vital services it provides, is reliant on the continued operation of submarine cables should help underline the critical infrastructure nature of the industry.
  4. Plan – Continued engagement throughout the project process means ensuring the project continues to plan ahead during its lifecycle. If sensitive marine environments have been avoided during the routing process, if stakeholder and public outreach continues through the project, if studies have been responsibly undertaken and local resources have been engaged during the installation phase, then all parties should feel that they have been engaged. An attentive and sympathetic ear, being inclusive and using the personal touch can only increase the opportunity for a positive engagement.

Planning and executing these tips successfully can mean huge benefits for a submarine cable deployment project. Delays can stem from so many aspects, including marine route surveys, route approvals, cable manufacturing and marine installation, that it can be difficult to keep up. Setbacks such as these can lead to time and cost over-run, not to mention a dissatisfied purchaser, supplier and, potentially, regulator. As a result, planning at the outset becomes crucial to mitigating risks down the line. Irvine notes that referencing prior permitting data and experience, ensuring a realistic project plan, educating policy makers and thinking creatively (for example, offering to fund environmental studies) can all be practical solutions to the issues that plague permit acquisition. The submarine cable industry has continued to develop invaluable resources (and has thus become a significant contributor to knowledge of the world’s oceans) and these can all be used in the support of the permitting process.

Project Management = Scope, Cost, TimeIrvine concludes that successful permit acquisition relies on experience in marine survey, installation, environment and law, and a confident, sympathetic and fundamentally communicative management approach. If conscientious management works in conjunction with key elements like meticulous scoping and planning and identification of potential roadblocks, any project can achieve rewarding results, and be delivered on time and to cost.

Above all, being a good Project Manager is key.

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