A common opinion around the Australian government’s focus on infrastructure, particularly while borders are closed, is that it’s an excellent way to move the nation forward after the double whammy of the bushfires and the pandemic, but it’s also going to be difficult to source the talent.
One clear solution, discussed during the Futureproofing Australian Infrastructure Roundtable hosted by Engineers Australia, is to work smarter rather than harder by baking greater scalability and efficiency into the process.
The precedent has been set elsewhere, including in the UK in 2016 where the government mandated BIM in every construction project. Part of the motivation behind the British mandate was to “enhance the global image of UK designers, contractors and product manufacture”, according to a report in Geospatial World Media.
Overall, there is an increase in costs, complexity and completion time and here’s where digital transformation can have an impact. Processes need to be put in place to use the concepts of automation in harmony with human design to have better outcomes to ensure digital technology is transformative and not just a change in mode.
As projects are becoming more complex, one small error can be amplified. This increases costs, complexity and completion time and here’s where digital transformation can have an impact. “We need to put processes in place to use the concepts of automation in harmony with human design to have better outcomes to ensure digital technology is transformative and not just a change in mode,” said Andy Cunningham, Regional Sales Director, Australia & New Zealand and a speaker at the roundtable.
“As a result of population increase, urbanisation and ever greater consumption and need for customisation, there are less funds, less human capital and finite resources,” he added.
On the flipside, a project utilising digital technology captures intelligent information about every single item involved in the project – down to individual screws and wires.
BIM, of course, has given us the ability to ensure all technical information is captured during design and delivery. This information is not just immediately useful, but helps enormously downstream with handover, maintenance, upgrades, renovations, resilience and even demolition. It also dramatically reduces waste and rework.
In doing so, digital technology improves sustainability, scalability, affordability and efficiency. It means we can get more done with less human and other resources. This provides consistency in digital specifications, meaning all infrastructure deliveries are literally built on the same platform.
The surge in infrastructure spend is evident right across the country. There’s a savage appetite and willingness from government to deliver infrastructure and this has been accelerated by COVID-19. “We simply can’t build the same way that we have in the past,” explained Cunningham. “We need to build better and smarter and employ new ways to construct.”
Thought leaders at the roundtable, representing organisations such as Engineers Australia, Autodesk, Infrastructure NSW, UGL, PwC, KPMG, Transport for NSW and more, agreed.
Statistics reveal the enormity of the opportunity to boost performance, improve efficiencies and reduce waste and error. It’s something the industry has known for a long time.
Today, during a pandemic, remote working is the new norm. High-performing engineering firms dedicate entire departments to digital solutions and data analytics. If ever there was a time for the government to mandate more accurate, efficient and less wasteful way of working, it is now, attendees agreed.
How do we get digital right?
Digital transformation is not simple. At the roundtable, presenter Rami Affan, Executive Director Asset Management with Infrastructure NSW, said it’s essential that we leverage the talents of people in government, industry and academia to make sure we get the transformation right.
Most importantly, he said, is ensuring proper training and demonstration around the use of digital systems. This must be individualised, so every stakeholder understands the value add. Data is a massive component in terms of thinking about the workforce and it is important to determine how relevant data can be best shared.
Digital technology is accelerating worldwide – how do we think about digital to leverage what we think is important and what customers and users think is important? How do we ensure we consistently think about who will benefit from digital infrastructure?
“Unless we have the human capital working comfortably with the technology, all the money in the world won’t help,” Cunningham added.
An area of concern is data loss, since 95 per cent of data is lost throughout a project’s lifecycle. “The technology exists to support greater use of integration, but the challenges relate to how it is approached,” he explained.
Other major hurdles to digital transformation include the presence of, and continued investment in, archaic IT systems and applications, Affan said. He acknowledged that NSW is lagging in comparison to other nations, but the last 12 months have demonstrated the benefits in productivity and connectivity can be achieved through digital technologies.
This doesn’t just apply to large firms. If digital technology is to be truly effective in boosting performance by improving efficiency, cutting costs, increasing pace of delivery and reducing the need for re-work, businesses of all shapes and sizes must get in on the act.
Embarking on the digital journey
The roundtable participants were of the view that there is a general lack of asset management experience within project teams. Professional engineers need to be incorporated into project teams and they will provide technical expertise in project procurement, delivery and design and would not be focused on the financial aspects. Review panels must have both technical and financial expertise through an assurance process.
With consistency of standards a key driver for success, national collaboration across all states and territories at all levels of government is essential.
On average, a design team enabled by BIM could save a significant number of work hours on a project. This means more people can work on more projects, rather than talent being drained by a single venture. It’s exactly the sort of solution Australian firms are requiring in the current environment.
The challenge is that there is a process to get on board, and it’s not quick or easy. But once the journey is done, it pays handsome dividends. The group was of the view that contractors will be early movers, but the biggest solution is the government providing firm guidance.
Data is a massive component in terms of thinking about the workforce and Affan posed the question about how data can be shared across industry and government. Pilots are underway to explore how to achieve this, he noted. There are existing opportunities to help.
And so, as the roundtable attendees unanimously agreed, there is a way forward into a successful, infrastructure-focused future. To achieve success, government should be a key advocate for digital transformation and a solution will be to mandate BIM. Then it will be up to the industry to ensure its people buy into the enormous benefits of a data-driven future.
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