In the first of a series of blogs, Malcolm Taylor, Crossrail International’s Expert Adviser, Digital, discusses the ‘new normal’ for major infrastructure projects in the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic, and the critical importance of digital strategies …


Embracing digital strategies for infrastructure’s ‘next normal’

It was former Crossrail Chief Executive Andrew Wolstenholme who titled his 2009 Constructing Excellence report: “Never Waste a Good Crisis”. There is certainly nothing good about the current global COVID-19 pandemic which has inflicted immeasurable social and economic disruption to what we considered ‘normal’. From all this, a ‘new normal’ is emerging as we hit the reset button and prepare for the ‘next normal’. So, what does this mean for major infrastructure projects?

Global infrastructure projects are critical to national economies in the way they deliver social and economic benefits. As projects are forced to embrace and adopt a ‘new normal’, it’s critically important that investment in the sector continues.

Construction hasn’t really changed very much since The Wolstenholme Report. Indeed, some would argue it hasn’t changed much since The Latham Report (1994) and The Egan Report (1998)!  Now it’s the turn of McKinsey & Company to report on how disruption is reshaping the world’s largest ecosystem in its June 2020 report “The next normal in construction”. The report highlights the low productivity rate in construction of less than 1% per year compared to 2.8% for the economy every year for over two decades. COVID-19 is accelerating the need to change the way we do things in construction and leaders need to lift their view to see what these shifts will mean in terms of delivery processes, operating restrictions and longer-term safe working procedures.

Yet our social lives and most economic sectors have been able to continue to some degree because of our digital economy and the technologies we know and can’t do without.

For example, each day there are:

  • 300 million participants in Zoom meetings;
  • 65 billion ‘WhatsApp’ messages sent; and
  • 300 billion emails sent.

Those projects that have embraced digital concepts and digitalisation have at least been able to continue working in their digital world to some level of efficiency. Projects with a Common Data Environment (CDE) to enable documents, drawings and models to be accessed remotely and securely from home or by the supply chain anywhere in the world can continue to be productive – at least in the virtual world.

In trying to move infrastructure projects and processes into a digital world, there’s a huge amount of smoke, seduction and technical waffle that can confuse those who are not steeped in the digital jargon of BIM and ‘Digital Twins’. Information management has also given rise to new sets of standards and ISOs that are great as they stand, but to many outside the information management discipline they can be hard to fathom and integrate into contract procurement processes. You can have the smartest CDE in the world and all the digital twin aspirations you like, but if you don’t really understand your data requirements or haven’t structured it properly, you won’t get very far!

Digital strategies are all about setting visions and understanding business outcomes. Strategies involve people, often getting them to change the way they’ve done things in the past. Getting there is a journey. This can start with understanding the simple but really important question: “Do I need to structure my data, and if so, how?” This is particularly important with so many of us working from home and creating digital information remotely.

WFH. Is it the ‘new normal’?!

More to follow …

 

For more information, contact Malcolm Taylor at enquiries@crossrail-international.co.uk

 

Categories: Blog