Open Letter to Secretary Pete Buttigieg
By Balaji Sreenivasan, Chief Executive Officer, Aurigo Software Inc.
Secretary Buttigieg, my heartfelt congratulations to you on your appointment as our country’s Secretary of Transportation.
Industry leaders across the country, such as myself, are genuinely excited to see such a dynamic individual with rich experiences in dealing with transportation and infrastructure challenges leading the way for the future of America’s infrastructure. We see an individual who revitalized South Bend’s downtown by making simple, but critical infrastructure changes and who also understands the importance of local, regional, and state infrastructure priorities as part of a broader plan for of economic vitality and quality of life in communities across our country. And we see a visionary, who has been given the opportunity to drive a potential multitrillion-dollar infrastructure bill that will change the lives of over 300 million Americans for a more sustainable and productive future! It is with this in mind that we are optimistic and hopeful for the future that lies ahead.
This brings me to my reason for writing. The job that lies ahead of you provides for the opportunity to drive America forward, creating jobs, spurring our economy, tackling climate change, and furthering a system whose entire purpose is to interconnect us. Central to all these pursuits is innovative technology, which helps state agencies, cities, counties, water authorities, airports, and facility owners plan, build and maintain capital assets, infrastructure and facilities safely and efficiently while reducing costs and planning with confidence. With so many infrastructure issues to address, it is crucial that maximum impact from every dollar spent is realized.
While accepting your nomination from President Biden, you said you want to restore America’s infrastructure and bring it into the 21st century. As the CEO of America’s leading infrastructure software company, Aurigo, that was music to my ears! At Aurigo, we have worked closely with senior transportation officials for almost 20 years, helping them adopt technology to plan and drive capital programs. We understand their pain. Transportation agencies across America struggle with obsolete and mostly disconnected technologies to: build efficient capital improvement programs, obtain and process public feedback, receive timely federal aid reimbursement dollars, and deliver projects on time and budget.
It is no secret that the engineering and construction industry is one of the slowest to adopt new technologies. Imagine a financial services sector without online banking. With no electronic fund transfers. No ATMs. Without PayPal, Venmo, or other successful innovators. That is the state of the construction industry. Trillions of dollars being planned every year without technology? That is a nightmare waiting to unfold.
The whole country is excited about the role you will play in the implementation of the upcoming infrastructure and clean energy bill. Infusing a trillion dollars into our infrastructure will help rebuild our economy, create new jobs, and help us build back better! We know you understand how critical modern technology and data driven efficiencies are in connecting and uniting our country, literally driving us forward into the next century. We have seen you do it in the revitalization of South Bend and know that you value enabling state and local agencies to adopt purpose-built tools to plan, prioritize, and execute these programs efficiently and safely. This is key, otherwise, we run the risk of wasting an immense amount of time and resources due to delayed projects and budget overruns!
At Aurigo, it has been encouraging to see the public agencies we work with harness the power of cloud-based technology. The Utah Department of Transportation saved an estimated $20 million annually by automating their operations in construction, contract management, and materials management. Massachusetts’ DOT cut down the time to gain federal approval for a project by more than half. The City of Lincoln, Nebraska improved their ability to retrieve answers to project-related questions by seventy percent. As the new infrastructure bill becomes a reality, agencies who have positioned themselves to take advantage of technology will benefit most.
For all the agencies tasked with managing multimillion- or multibillion-dollar capital programs over the next five plus years, it’s time to prepare to make some complicated decisions. We all know capital planning on public sector projects, especially those with federal funding, require more than merely distributing funds and resources for any given program. These plans should also act as a lens into the health of a program over its lifecycle. Investing in technology that can help streamline project prioritization, funding allocations, and program delivery could save countless hours of rework and tens of millions of dollars’ in change orders.
Ask yourself: how do agencies decide which programs and projects to fund? Do agencies have a consistent way of scoring all their proposed projects? Are they able to effectively gather public feedback using social media? Are they able to digitally collaborate with contractors over the web, given that physical meetings are not safe (or efficient) with the pandemic looming large? Are they able to share data from the capital plan through the design, build, and maintenance phases?
If the answer to any of these questions is, “it’s complicated,” then it is likely time to rethink the strategy.
We see the upcoming infrastructure bill as an extraordinary opportunity for our nation. It will likely dramatically increase public sector workloads—with more projects, more funding sources, and more sophisticated rules and federal reporting requirements to support accountability. Agencies require new solutions to replace spreadsheets, data silos, and outdated homegrown systems in order to answer the call you will be making to them. Federal policies that promote the use of modern software to ensure more accurate planning, richer public engagement, and meaningful transparency are needed.
Engaging with innovators and utilizing technologies is an absolute necessity in building a 21st century infrastructure program. Know that we are confident that you will rise to the challenge of the work ahead and that we are here to support you and these efforts.
Balaji Sreenivasan, Chief Executive Officer, Aurigo Software Inc.