12 de December 2018

Foreign investment is improving best practices in Colombian engineering

New infrastructure projects are attracting the attention of foreign companies such as Hill International, which recently opened a local office in Bogotá, its fourth in Latin America.


The construction of infrastructure projects in Colombia such as fourth-generation highways, the first line of the Bogotá Metro or public-private partnerships to build new hospitals in the capital, is attracting investment from international companies that are seizing the opportunity to venture into a sector that is growing exponentially.

Juan Martín Caicedo Ferrer, Chairman of the Colombian Chamber of Infrastructure, also said that, “Colombia’s investment and development plans to improve accessibility conditions to remote areas and modernize the country’s ports and roads, among other projects, are the most advanced in the region.”

This infrastructure boom has also brought in the implementation of best engineering practices in the country, where international companies have much to contribute. One of the most relevant concepts nowadays in large infrastructure projects is the Project Management Office (PMO). In the case of infrastructure works, PMOs allow public entities and private developers and construction companies to effectively control all aspects of a project, with a focus on risk management. PMOs make it possible to review designs, optimize resources and define the risks faced by the project in order to devise alternatives to mitigate or eliminate potential issues altogether.

"Colombia has significant potential for implementing these practices in infrastructure works," explained Diego Niño, Director of Business Development at Hill International. According to Niño, a large percentage of projects in Colombia display shortcomings from the planning stage. In addition, works are overseen by auditors with limited capabilities, since they do not manage nor anticipate risk. This is the reason why the vast majority of works in Colombia end up being affected by significant cost overruns and delays. "It’s clear that projects are becoming larger and more complex, which means they require more sophisticated planning and control measures to increase the likelihood of a successful completion," he added.

The expert explained that there are opportunities in private projects such as shopping malls and mixed-use buildings, as well as in large public road, rail, airport and basic sanitation projects, all of which must have a PMO to support the design, procurement, construction and commissioning stages.

Bogotá, focus of the infrastructure sector’s growth

As a result of the sector’s spectacular growth, its extensive project portfolio and a concentration of about 20% of the construction business, Bogotá has positioned itself as a very attractive hub for international companies. Juan Gabriel Pérez, Executive Director of Invest in Bogotá, explained that the construction of the first line of the Bogotá Metro will involve an estimated investment of USD 4.347 billion and more than USD 2.5 billion in civil works.

Diego Niño also believes that Bogotá has one of the most ambitious investment plans in infrastructure in the continent for both the public and the private sector, which has made companies

such as Hill decide to open an office in the city, its fourth in Latin America. In addition to Hill International, firms such as Mot Macdonald and Systra have recently invested in the city.

“As the country’s capital, Bogotá is its business and financial center, which led us to decide to set an office here,” added Niño, who also said the company had worked on projects such as the construction of the Riyadh Metro (Saudi Arabia), the Doha Metro and Lusail Tram (Qatar), stadiums and the VLT Light Rail of Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympic Games, and the Dubai Airport.

Regarding the company’s arrival, Caicedo Ferrer highlighted the importance of the fact that a firm like Hill International, a key player in the development of PMOs worldwide, is setting up shop in Colombia and sharing its extensive experience with local engineers, and added that, "transferring knowledge is very important to move forward in terms of project control at a national level.”