When it comes to reshaping the country’s physical and social underpinnings, they’re Ontoit.

Peter Glenane, HiVis Pictures

Inspired by complexity, the minds of Ontoit are adding new dimensions to the collaborative experience of creating Australia’s infrastructure. Established by Arvind David in 2005 as Infrastructure Services Group (ISG), and later rebranded as Ontoit, the company applies progressive, multidisciplinary leadership to the nation’s most complex, high-risk projects, bringing them from conception to fruition and beyond.

With offices in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Brisbane, the 80-person-strong team provides comprehensive infrastructure and program advisory services, quite literally getting “on to it” with verve, curiosity, and formidable intelligence.

The firm’s new name, according to Fiona Larkin, one of Ontoit’s executive directors, “reflects the philosophy, culture, and promise to bring the market a pool of like-minded infrastructure subject experts, a group who are team players, proactive, hands-on, and focused on making the project experience enjoyable and creating certainty for our clients and those teams that work on their projects.”

The firm embraces projects of every size, offering three comprehensive service streams. The infrastructure advisory practice tackles all strategic leadership issues from the front-end project aspects of projects, including financial modelling and analysis, transaction management and business cases.

Peter Glenane, HiVis Pictures

“Then we have the project management stream, which is where I sit,” Larkin explained. “We undertake project definition, project feasibilities, governance structures, planning approval and consent, stakeholder management, design management, procurement, and also superintendency. We take the project through the delivery phase ready for occupation.” Ontoit also offers program advisory services, a departure from most of their competitors.

“Our program advisory offer provides planning, scheduling, project controls, asset strategy, and asset lifecycle. We also have digital services capturing project data for analysis and key metrics. Our team works to capture relevant data and transform it into information to help clients better understand their projects and assist in the decision-making process. We also offer maturity modelling, roadmapping, and other digital strategies aimed at keeping projects streamlined.”

It’s easy to see why Ontoit is such a trusted partner in the space whether undertakings are asset-heavy, asset-light, or purely strategic. Some projects require the ability to be involved with an asset from conception to delivery and through to divestment. Others call in Ontoit as they are making a business case for a particular project, considering the financial and operational costs.

“Not all our work ends up about an asset; sometimes it's about strategy or policy enablement,” she noted. “We deal with the tangible and intangible. You might not get a built form outcome, but there’ll be a benefit at the end of it. Sometimes we’re brought on later in the project lifecycle maybe in the design phase, so we’re engaged to develop project briefs, procure and manage consultants. It all depends on the way projects are delivered to market. In some instances we may have an assignment that’s just superintendency, administering a contract, on behalf of a client, but it’s always wonderful to be right at the genesis.”

The Joy of Collaboration

Ontoit serves a collection of sectors that include arts and culture, education, health, justice, transport, environment, and sport and entertainment. “We love to work on highly complex, technically difficult and interesting projects. Our key interest is in projects that deliver social impact and social benefit, so we enjoy those projects where you get involved in something that's going to have a great outcome for the community,” she enthused. “Whether that's a legacy project like Shepparton Law Courts, Rydalmere Education Precinct or the Melbourne Park Redevelopment, these are the projects where people are going to mingle, collaborate, and engage—who doesn’t love something that’s city-shaping?”

These facilitators are enamoured with being part of something much larger than themselves. “We love to collaborate. It’s not just about the project and the outcome, but the people that you bring together for that. Sometimes, we might be  forming a partnership to provide something for a client that’s very bespoke, so we look for people who can collaborate and we can come together and provide a different team offering to solve a problem or realise a vision,” she said.

Peter Glenane, HiVis Pictures

“Then it’s also collaborating with the team that the client has already engaged. We are facilitators. We bring people together in an environment where they can be creative and bring all of their smarts to the table, and create those environments where people feel comfortable to stress-test those ideas and get alignment with client objectives and outcomes.”

Government work is one of the practice’s sweet spots. Their in-depth understanding of the mechanics of government coupled with strong construction management capability enables Ontoit to offer deep insights on project briefings, design management, and various procurement methodologies.

“Government partnership is also about our approach to risk management,” she stressed. “Government projects always have large and extensive stakeholder engagement, and that’s what we’re really familiar with. We work seamlessly with Government clients to navigate through all of those different stakeholder perspectives that occur on projects. Because we have a lot of people who have experience with strategy and policy we can work with those clients and develop short and long range strategies for their programs and projects.”

Attracting and retaining talent for their high performance teams is  key to staying agile and responsive. “We have very diverse skill sets within the business. We’ve got people who come from backgrounds in aeronautical engineering, architects and quantity surveyors. We’ve got people that come out of different public and private sector entities. You get this really interesting diversity of thinking.

“There are lots of ways to deliver something, and it’s that openness to different ideas and different ways of doing things that get results. The company is very much an early adopter in terms of technology, and an innovator in business strategy.”

The Ontoit team prides itself on investing in society, and the pandemic has made that imperative even more striking. “We’re seeing a transformation of how people think about projects. The human experience is key to how we socialise. That experience has to be memorable, but also changing the focus from international to domestic, and that’s a great stimulation across the board for communities,” Larkin said.

“It’s really elevating the appetite for collaboration between public and private enterprises, and what’s fascinating is it’s an opportunity to create different, sustainable economic benefits and investment based on domestic markets. They’re the sort of projects that we find really fascinating and we want to be deeply involved with them.” With a built-in readiness to tackle society’s greatest challenges—enabling the evolution of robust physical and social infrastructure—we can’t wait to see what they get on to next.