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Rekha Kharbanda, Practice Director, GHD
A peek into future:
Digital technologies are changing the way we work, live, how we interact with the world around us and how we think about planning, building, designing, commissioning and operating our infrastructure. These technological changes bring significant opportunities for transformational change in the infrastructure industry.
Imagine this: The digital engineering industry will be able to plan, design, and operate large infrastructure projects via machines with little human intervention. The future construction site will be human-free. The bots will work in teams to build structures using dynamic new materials. Drones will fly overhead and scan the site constantly in near real-time, inspecting the work and using the data collected to predict and solve problems before they arise, sending instructions for dynamic planning and response. The capacity of humans to do multiple projects will multiply since the manual tasks will be done by the machines. Humans in the future willbe accessing 3D and 4D visuals and data from the on-site machines, ensuring the build is proceeding to specification.
A current scenario of the engineering and construction industry with mega trends:
Infrastructure has always been a political and economic priority in many countries across the globe. The infrastructure industry is being pushed to think not just in linear fashion but to solve the multivariate problems of transport, water, environment,urban planning, disruption management etc. Increasingly complex projects are being commissioned to stimulate sluggish economies, upgrade legacy systems and cater for growing and changing populations.
With high economic growth and fast-growing populations leading to significant urbanisation, the demand for new infrastructure is predicted to see massive growth in coming decades. Other new challenges including, changing demographics, the increasing expectations of businesses, customers and the regulatory, and the need to reduce carbon emissions and waste, all create a dynamic and testing environment for the industry and those commissioning new projects.
The engineering and construction industry is among the least disrupted industries due to technology, and hence the transformation opportunity and benefits can be gained sooner and faster.
Digital Transformation for the engineering and construction industry means developing a capability to successfully oscillate between a planned and dynamic world
Engineering and construction industry maturity curve:
The need to transform engineering and construction organizations is critical - some are at an advanced stage and some have just begun.
As we scan across the markets and geographies, there are 5categorisedstages:
1) Pre-digital: A traditional way of capital project delivery with legacy systems used for spatial (GIS Esri) and project management tools .There is no interconnectivity or flow of information digitally from designer to contractors.
2) Digital Pods: A small digital team, part of a capital delivery team. The other teams are still operating in a conventional manner support by the digital team for collaboration, communication and use of a common data environment.
3) Digital Plants/Stations: Multiple digital teams with dedicated resources that are part of the planning, designing, building and commissioning of the large projects who adapt to agile ways of delivery. There is still minimal inter-operability since digital product teams are operating at a different speed and are more dynamic compared to the rest of the functions.
4) Digital Mixer: Significant adoption of agile ways of working by conventional engineering and contractor teams. These teams are organised around products like business cases, parametric designs etc. and there is an increased focus on minimising redundancy and maximising inter-operability between teams.
5) Digital Innovator: The team operates as a holistic product based organisation and leverages capabilities from delivery teams (tribes and chapters). There is at scale automation via generative designs, real-time situation awareness for dynamic planning. The tools and processes in place enable the best of the situation for enhanced productivity and quality each day on reduced cost and risk.
The wave of digital transformation is pushing the engineering and construction industries to apply new tools to everything from design management to field productivity. These efforts have produced significant value for certain capital projects.
For example, GHD Digital have recently been able to save millions of dollars by using digital technologies for collaboration and situational awareness for contractors. This gives the ability to respond dynamically via near real-time updates to enhance productivity. The digital strategies for capital work projects have been able to challenge the traditional delivery approach and incorporate right capabilities and tools for different results. Our experience suggests that capital projects struggle with digital technologies because they do not put the right operating model in place to enable the environment to leverage the power of digital.
The success of digital transformation in the engineering and construction industries depends on leadership to drive the change and openness of the industry sectors to embrace. The transformation will change the fundamental DNA of the organizations and how they interact with customers to its way of working and operations. It is a customer-centric business transformation that requires cross cutting organisational change enabled by implementation of digital technologies.