Why The Infrastructure Bill Allocates $100 Million For States To Adopt Construction Management Systems (Forbes)
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Vital components of the U.S.’s infrastructure are in critical need of upgrades. The American Society of Civil Engineers, for example, found that the nation’s infrastructure averaged a C-, with a nearly $2.6 trillion investment gap that needs to be closed to catch up with countries like China and Japan.
Failure to upgrade and repair this infrastructure will inevitably lead to more disasters like the Oroville Dam and Flint water crisis, failures that pose dire consequences to the public and often cost billions of dollars to fix. Inadequately maintained infrastructure systems are also already costing billions of dollars per year in lost economic productivity alone.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) prioritizes the modernization of our roads and bridges while acknowledging that the successful implementation of this initiative relies on bringing the industry that designs, builds and manages that infrastructure into the 21st century.
Provisions in the legislation acknowledge that the infrastructure industry must modernize to optimize this unprecedented investment. Section 5113 of IIJA, in particular, calls for the application of advanced digital construction management systems. It allocates $100 million to accelerate state adoption of such systems “throughout the construction lifecycle (including through the design and engineering, construction and operations phases)” to maximize interoperability, boost productivity, reduce project delays and cost overruns and enhance safety and quality.
Why does the IIJA include funding for modernizing?
The construction sector is among the least digitized industries. Many projects in the infrastructure construction industry are still based on paper or electronic forms with manual reporting processes. As a result, according to McKinsey, large projects like roads and bridges often face cost overruns of as much as 80% and take 20% longer to finish than scheduled.
Many of the agencies leading infrastructure development use old, monolithic legacy systems that are difficult to modernize. These systems lack the flexibility to address the challenges of operating modern transportation infrastructure and the transparency necessary to navigate the process of securing federal funding.
If we undertake an initiative of this size, transforming and future-proofing our infrastructure, the industry must adopt innovations that improve efficiency, increase productivity, leverage data’s value and retire legacy systems.
The Benefits Of Digital Construction Management Systems
The adoption of proven technologies has already demonstrated a range of benefits, including cost and time savings as well as improved safety and quality. According to McKinsey, digital transformation can result in cost reductions in the range of 4% to 6% and productivity gains of about 15% for construction companies. Digital investment, when coupled with a continuing embrace of new materials and advanced automation, could lead to a 50-60% increase in overall productivity.
Even with improved productivity and a satisfied workforce, the industry will need enough individuals to get the job done, and the construction industry has been facing a labor shortage since before the pandemic. It’s estimated that 430,000 workers are needed this year and 1 million more over the next two years to keep up with demands. With 41% of the construction workforce expected to retire over the next decade, the industry must modernize to attract younger “tech natives” entering the workforce who rely on and expect technology to serve as an important resource.
By leveraging integrated, cloud-based solutions organizations replace redundant, siloed data with information that can be accessed in real time and on demand, enabling projects to move faster and more efficiently. This approach means data leads planning and decision-making rather than being used only for prescribed purposes such as forms and reports.
Enhanced communication and collaboration, aided by the deployment of mobile tools on job sites, offer greater security, accountability and transparency among stakeholders to support current projects as well as future development and funding.
How To Meet This Transformative Moment
If the industry heeds the legislation’s appeal to modernize, the changes and resulting benefits will be profound. The new paradigm should attract a younger, tech-savvy workforce, supporting the industry in meeting the inevitable demand for workers. Infrastructure will be built more effectively and efficiently. Advanced digital management systems are also crucial to providing the reporting required to secure federal funding for projects through the IIJA.
So, why is the industry so hesitant? Because change is hard.
In an environment where change is perceived as challenging, it is crucial to select partners focused on supporting workers through the transition process, creating methods that ease the adoption process and demonstrating the technology is proven and offers clear benefits.
Some team members may cling to the mistaken belief that sticking to the traditional, legacy systems will minimize disruption. Selecting proven technologies can dispel those beliefs. To ensure the successful adoption of new technology and shift perspectives, Departments of Transportation (DOTs), for example, need to educate their workforces on the long-term benefits of the new systems and share relatable success stories.
Often the adoption of just one technology will shed light on the benefits of modernization, and users will begin to rethink how work can be done. When organizations adopt cloud-based technologies, with open architectures, the transition to advanced systems can be accomplished step by step. Standalone technologies can integrate to create a robust network of solutions, constantly evolving to meet future challenges.
Implementing the IJJA will require massive project and capital management from state and local agencies and organizations managing the construction projects. Innovative technologies that capture, utilize and position data effectively and securely while integrating seamlessly into the construction process are crucial to executing such an ambitious agenda.
That’s an initiative the American taxpayer can get behind.