Kier Highways’ Area 9 Alliance were recently announced as a winner of a Special 2020 BSI Standards Award for the application of the ISO44001:2017 Collaborative Business Relationships Standard throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time when many others chose to put collaborative activities aside, the Area 9 Alliance proved that together, we really are stronger.

Steph Smith is quality and assurance manager at Kier and a leading figure for the Area 9 Alliance. The Alliance is a collaborative joint venture between 13 delivery partners formed to adopt a common focus and share approach to deliver a sustainable balance between meeting the needs of highways users, improving quality and minimising costs. It has three join strategic objectives – safety, customer and delivery.

Here, Steph talks about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Highways industry and how by putting collaboration at the heart of delivery, the Alliance were brought closer than ever before.

“Thinking back to the early days and weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic gives me a strange feeling. An unusual mix of nostalgia and amusement as I remember the adrenalin-filled days of early starts and late finishes, as we worked to understand the impact of the new methods of working that had been thrust upon our teams. The world of work melted into a never-ending Teams call.

I was one of the the lucky ones, moving from working in an office to working from home with all the technology I needed to keep work and communication flowing. Meanwhile, our teams on sites and in depots had real fears about the risks that they faced as key workers and the potential risks to their personal safety and that of their families.

The experience of sourcing PPE and battling our way through a never-ending stream of new rules and information was very real. For that reason, it seemed almost logical that anything over and above managing delivery and health and safety took a back seat. And, in light of this it’s great that our collaborative work during this time means that the Area 9 Alliance has been recognised for pulling our efforts together, and in doing this we experience a strengthening of relationships and commitment from all our partners.

Using our ISO 44001:2017 structure, we gave all our collaborative working groups a COVID-19 twist:

Senior Executive Meetings: A new weekly conference call was convened for all Senior Executives Responsible (SERs) to share the impact of COVID-19 within their own organisations and to share knowledge and understanding to support the region’s works.

Joint Improvement Team (JIT) Meetings – Our three JITs continued but with a different focus. Our Health & Safety JIT focused on PPE stock levels, social distancing and the new COVID-19 Site Operating Procedures, implemented across the built environment and created using guidance from the Government. Our Customer JIT focused on how we communicate with the customer as many road users and pedestrians thought we were ignoring the ‘stay at home’ messages. Our Delivery JIT focused on how we would continue to collaboratively deliver schemes taking advantage of the reduced traffic flows to undertake increased work in the region.

And to bring our wider community together, we hosted a virtual workshop – Collaboration. Overcomes. Viral. Impact. Delivers (COVID) Workshop, a week of 2pm sessions lasting an hour each were delivered, covering key themes, including the impact of the pandemic on mental health.

We saw our collaboration at its strongest when our partners chose to share their limited PPE and sanitiser supplies. Additionally, sharing their experiences and best practices to pull together (albeit in a virtual way) for the common good. Using our collaborative business Relationship Management System, we have captured, managed, mitigated and capitalised on the collective risk and opportunities. Ultimately, we have forged even stronger ties than before.”


" It is great to have national recognition of the great work seen across the alliance to support all its members through the COVID crisis. I saw sharing of PPE, information sharing on suppliers/hotels/government advice and support for mental health issues. Every member of the alliance played their role and stood together. It is a team I am proud to be a part of. "
Andy Butterfield West Midlands service manager Highways England