Future Forward: Use Technology to Achieve a ‘Digital Transformation’
This particular webcam interview was recorded by Todd Danielson, the editorial director of Informed Infrastructure. You can view a video of the full interview above or by visiting bit.ly/3Ngn7m0.
Brad Barth grew up in a family centered around heavy civil construction, where he acquired a passion for the process and particularly the technology. That interest persists today, where he tries to help owner/operators and contractors better use their resources and efforts through digital technology.
“If you’re not conscious of that digital transformation and thinking about how your organization is going to participate in that, you run the real risk of being left behind,” he says.
Although funding for infrastructure projects has dominated the news lately, Barth knows it may not be permanent, and even flush budgets need to stretch every dollar to achieve maximum performance, especially in terms of future maintenance and needed upgrades.
“It’s critical that you work efficiently and productively to deliver projects,” he adds. “You can’t afford to have overruns. You can’t afford to do rework.”
According to Barth, technology can help stretch budgets further, allowing organizations to get more capacity out of funding and deliver projects with more certainty. Technology such as digital twins and online asset-management systems can create a knowledge library to best maintain current assets and projects as well as improve the next project, creating a “virtuous cycle.”
“Each project gets a little better,” explains Barth. “Every time you do a project, it’s not starting over—we’re leveraging all those lessons learned in that history.”
Educating the New Workforce
Barth believes technology also can help alleviate another problem currently all over the headlines: a shortage of capable workers. The infrastructure workforce is aging, and it’s not attracting new people as rapidly as it needs to keep up. New workers will not have 30 years of experience, so capturing all the experience from the previous workforce is key.
“Technology helps with that problem by capturing knowledge [from the retiring workforce], capturing those lessons learned from projects,” he notes. “Basically, it’s a knowledge-transfer situation.”
New employees can get up to speed faster and take advantage of all the work that came before them by more experienced people. New workers are more efficient, because all the information is at their fingertips.
The Digital Shift
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated a shift to all-digital processes that began a few years ago, explains Barth. The infrastructure industry recognized that the pandemic’s logistical challenges—restrictions on moving people from project to project, what those people must do when they get to the jobsite—could be helped through technology. As an example, online systems allow users to collaborate easily no matter where they’re located.
Barth notes that many industries have undergone digital transformation, including banking, healthcare, financial and automotive. Construction is unique, with its multiple stakeholders and a very uncontrolled environment, but its shift to an all-digital approach is fully underway and accelerating, partially driven by owners who want digital records for assets starting in design.
“Some people might still perceive it as a big effort, a big undertaking, but it’s become quite the opposite,” adds Barth. “The overall effort and cost to implement a system like this is a fraction of what it used to be, and fortunately that’s helping the acceleration.”