Standfirst: A software engineer who overcame adversity to become a world expert has joined North-East consultants on a project destined to save the global construction industry billions

ROBBED of the ability to walk by infant polio the life choices were stark; stay at home and remain poor or crawl to school and out of poverty.

For Dr Selvakumar Ramachandran there was only one option. The Tamil Indian, from Chennai, Madras, travelled the 2km to school on the back of his postal clerk father’s bicycle after which it was up to him to crawl to the top.

“In Tamil Nadu province parents want children to study well even if they are poor because once you gain an education you don’t have to be poor any more,” says Selva, a leading expert in software engineering, who has just joined Durham Consultants Atorus Consult. “In India, if you study well, education is the biggest equaliser.

“Sometimes as I crawled to school people thought I was begging and gave me money. I would say thank you and if I needed the money for education would use it; if not I would give it to the temple. If I was given food I would eat it if I was hungry, if not, give it to someone who was. People showing pity is ok because it comes from a good place, love.”

Selva did succeed at school and engineering college and was selected for a placement. After seven years as a programmer he was asked to set up a training programme for younger people with disabilities with more than 40 of his students now doing well across the world, including the US and Europe.

His studies also took him to Sweden where he gained a masters in software engineering and his first ever wheelchair, before he took a position in an information security research lab at the University of Rome.

Selva became one of just ten students in Europe to be awarded a Google Scholarship for exhibiting exceptional talent in computer science and later won the Gandhi Award in Guadeloupe for his achievements.

His story featured in an article on Facebook about social justice which brought him to the attention of his wife-to-be Vijayalakshmi Subramani.

“We started talking on Facebook, then Skyping, then chatting on the phone and she came to visit me in Italy,” Selva, now 36, recalls. “She had found a job with Sunderland City Council and bought a house so we could have a family. We both had a passion for the Tamil language and wanted to support each other.

“My son James was born in the UK and, on the third attempt, I was awarded a visa. I did a thesis on information security and ID management on smartphones and started looking for commissions.”

An Innovative Projects initiative run by the University of Sunderland brought him into contact with Durham-based Atorus Consult, where he is now working on GluIQ, a revolutionary concept in construction project management.

Managing director Erland Rendall says: “When I heard Selva’s incredible story my heart immediately said yes but I didn’t want to exploit his disability for my gain.

“Sentiment apart, Selva really is the Stephen Hawking of the programming world and while his story is emotional, his ability goes way beyond a man in a wheelchair.”

This aptitude is helping Atorus lead a new way of thinking in the world of construction, an industry that sees two thirds of projects run over-budget and late, with waste figures amounting to around £30bn a year in the UK alone.

The GluIQ programme seeks to educate, improve and reduce waste in design and construction.

Erland explains: “It captures common sense best practices, breaks down construction into easy to follow stages, like a model aircraft kit, shows clearly what ‘good’ looks like, whether that is a conservatory for a house or a nuclear power plant.

“It acts as a road map to better outcomes; it reduces the amount of human input, error and corruption, and hence increases quality. It highlights the must haves and must dos of any stage, reduces the need to correct and redo work.

“Like the Team Sky cyclists, it is about making marginal gains. Even a one per cent impact would see savings of £300 million a year, which is enough to build 10 new schools.”

Selva is one of six Atorus experts developing the GluIQ toolkit, which has already gained interest internationally from developers in the Middle East, China, India and South America.

He said: “It will accelerate development by bypassing a lot of issues that hamper schemes. It solves, digitally, inefficiencies in the construction process by capturing knowledge and distilling and analysing multiple sources to improve outcomes.”

Erland adds: “If it leads to significant improvements in what is actually delivered, what impact will that have on project management globally? Surely, it can only help the world as a whole crawl out of poverty.”