Bridging the technology gap in the construction industry

By Tim Pratt, Industry Lead, Local Government & Public Works

The City of Lincoln, Nebraska, where I live and have worked as the Transportation and Utilities IT Manager for two decades, has used Aurigo Masterworks since 2006 to manage over $70 million per year of Capital Improvement Projects (CIP). The software did its job, but there was still a gap between the field and the platform. With infrastructure projects becoming increasingly complex, there continues to be an opportunity to create systems that fill this gap.

Construction is an enormous and vital economic activity. We should be able to take a dive into it and see every detail, from tracking materials to checking quality and getting updates on project progress. What you see should be just as detailed—and simple—as your bank account, where you can view your entire transaction history. You should be able to see exactly what was delivered versus what was planned, approved, and commissioned.

The need for visibility into, and accountability for, the enormous and vital CIP projects seems to grow daily.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) will see the government spend a lot ($1.2 trillion) on public infrastructure. 

Projects associated with the IIJA will do well to use digital platforms that provide detailed views with complete transparency to stakeholders, including citizens. Citizens are used to accessing everything on their phones. They are the ones who will want to scan the web and see the details of projects, “Hey, that is my home. And that’s the new water main.” The Aurigo engagement platform is a good step towards enabling this and binding everything from project management to public transparency.

However, one size doesn’t fit all. The construction industry needs all the help it can get by way of flexible digital tools and systems that can be customized based on the nature of the project and generally make the job easier for everyone involved. There isn’t much choice available. Most solutions in this class fail to capture and integrate data from the field seamlessly. Field personnel must arduously go about recording locations, quantities, tracking material types, material quality, weather, and contractor effort. Often, data is recorded manually on the fender of a truck or at the desk in the office. Later, it is keyed into the system of record. This has to change. Digital systems that allow on-site teams to capture, store, and transmit data efficiently and seamlessly will bring about exponential change in project management.

I acknowledge progress has been made in the documentation process by deploying cellular data on laptops and integrating mobile devices. However, these leave much room for improvement. Yes, we can find some ambitious staff marking up siloed PDF documents. However, as hard as it is to admit, most of the work is still done with a red pen on paper.

Here is a simple irony: It is not as if the industry does not have data. Today, agencies and consultants have thousands of terabytes of visual data for projects, but most rely on a simple directory structure to manage the data and hope that the staff place the data in the correct directory. If the data isn’t stored in the right place, it stands no chance of being found when required.

The state of the industry is at the same point that MP3 technology was at before the first Apple iPod became available in 2001. There were hundreds of clunky MP3 players and numerous sources of music in MP3 format. The industry was ripe for someone to come along and blend it all to give us a functional, easy-to-understand, easy-to-use device.

Like the iPod, there is a game-changing opportunity in the construction industry to create a system that presents an actual model of the environment and ties it to the back end.

The Aurigo-Autodesk partnership, which takes several technologies and puts them together, is a step forward in this direction, bringing design, planning, construction, and operations to one platform. I am encouraged by the promise of LiDAR information on personal devices, adding 3D information to digital images, and using drones to gather survey information. These are an example of the opportunities to come.

We are blessed with dedicated and talented inspectors, but we need technology to leap forward. Public confidence demands improved visibility and accountability.
Ultimately, 99% of the projects get done, and those in charge track everything well, but the process is labor-intensive. Errors creep in. Often, conclusions in meetings and reports are based on assumptions, which leaves space for doubt.

Everything suggests that a sweeping change in the technology used by the industry is necessary. The time is now.

Tim Pratt,

Industry Lead, Local Government & Public Works

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