Infrastructure Outlook: Making Progress on Infrastructure Requires a New Approach to Technology Adoption
Infrastructure has a powerful impact on the social and economic health of the regions it serves, and the value of establishing strong and resilient infrastructure is difficult to understate—especially as global populations continue to increase.
In the greater New York City area, which is home to nearly 17 percent of the U.S. population, the North River Tunnel is the only tunnel connecting the city to its western neighbors. Its traffic is responsible for supporting the region’s nearly 20 percent contribution to national GDP. In other words, a service interruption to this singular piece of infrastructure could not only impact the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals, but also the entire national GDP.
In turn, the Gateway Program seeks to secure the North River Tunnel, along with the wellbeing of the residents and economic activity it serves. Of course, as is the case with most infrastructure projects across the country, it has been difficult to secure funding for the program. And this program isn’t alone in its struggle to survive—infrastructure construction teams across the country are tasked with building and reinforcing existing infrastructure with sparse resources.
What Will It Take to Make Progress?
Technology is an important piece of the solution to reinforce infrastructure as it enables construction teams to do more with less. However, the construction technology ecosystem is filled with point solutions serving various needs, and the world’s infrastructure needs are not siloed. Building and maintaining enduring infrastructure that supports the growing needs of our populations is a massive undertaking, and meeting those needs requires a broader, more strategic implementation of technology.
The adoption of cloud-based design, planning and construction-management technologies that integrate and connect workflows across the building lifecycle as well as simplify project management can drive quality, cost and schedule certainty to help us attain the infrastructure building and maintenance we need.
Connected Technology Helps Maximize Value
Infrastructure is a public benefit, so it’s often financed using taxpayer dollars, and costs must be kept as low as possible. There’s little to no room for errors that may require rework with additional materials and labor—often with longer project schedules.
Minimizing the potential for errors requires minimizing the risks of miscommunication, and the antidote for miscommunication is ensuring everyone on the team can access and collaborate on the information they need, when they need it, wherever they may be. Owners should be able to access the latest updates during any stage of a project to make informed decisions. Just like the design team, the preconstruction team should have the latest project models to keep bid invitees updated on the latest specifications. Office teams should be able to easily feed the latest project data to the field, and the field team should be able to instantly report onsite conditions that may require changes in design.
With the mature cloud solutions and integrations available today, information can instantly translate from one construction workflow to another, so team members at every stage can be confident they’re not working from outdated information and risking making mistakes.
Adopting connected collaboration tools also drives overall project productivity. Work continues moving along schedule when team members don’t have to spend time on manual data entry, and they can instantly access the information they need. With design and quantification tools integrated, preconstruction managers can share out model and quantity updates to streamline the bid-management process. For field teams working on large-scale infrastructure projects, connected project-management and field-collaboration tools can eliminate the need for frequent trips to a jobsite trailer, saving hours each day. Connected workflows also can create more comprehensive project activity logs, which can be referenced when anyone has questions and when it’s time to develop project as-builts for turnover.
When it comes to keeping infrastructure in working order, those data-rich records are again a big boon—especially for publicly funded projects, which often require meticulous record keeping at the mandate of the government. Structural engineers can reference the records when conducting regular evaluations of built infrastructure; should any issues arise, the engineers can trace the project work and pinpoint any issue areas. Infrastructure is heavily used and expected to last for generations, so optimizing for its resiliency is essential.
Investment in advancing construction technology can seem like a “nice-to-have” on infrastructure projects, especially when taxpayer dollars are involved and infrastructure demands are pressing. But that accountability is exactly why technology investments integrating project management are important: they enable construction teams to make the most of their resources and get more work done.
Promisingly, construction technology already is successfully being incorporated into infrastructure projects. The Utah Department of Transportation, for example, is saving $19.5 million annually ($100 million over five years) from greater visibility; increased control during planning, construction and maintenance; and better reporting as a result of utilizing digital construction management technology.
The adoption of integrated technology is a construction strategy that can pay dividends for the larger economy. Not only will we be able to make our infrastructure more viable and connect people to jobs and businesses, we may see increased tax revenue as a result.