New technologies are changing our businesses at an unprecedented pace. Across industries, business leaders must respond to the impacts on workforces, supply chains, products and operations. In construction, with a widening infrastructure funding gap and productivity at a low, digital transformation is being hailed as key to unlocking the power of integrated delivery and accelerating the progress of critical infrastructure that is essential to economic growth.
The importance of embracing digital tools and technologies is clear. But despite the rapid pace of technological change, digital transformation can be a lengthy and demanding change management project.
As we shepherd our businesses through this era, I’ve learned the importance of balancing the excitement of the new with good old-fashioned leadership principles. Following are three key ways to support a successful digital transformation.
1) Digital is already making a difference — it’s our job to celebrate it
The construction industry has had its fair share of criticism for being slow to adapt to technological change. In AECOM’s recent Future of Infrastructure report, 84 percent of industry leaders said the industry is not evolving fast enough to meet society’s changing needs. But while we have a long way to go, we must stop being so hard on ourselves. Technology is already making a huge difference, and it’s our job to recognize the progress being made — and to champion it.
At AECOM, an example is how we’ve incorporated digital tools into our design reviews. By adopting 3D design review software, we’re already creating efficiencies of 5-10 percent. Now we’re starting to expand this by making immersive technologies (virtual and augmented reality) an integral part of the design process, bringing digital models to life and allowing stakeholders to intuitively interact with a design in real time.
However, enterprise-wide adoption of new technologies doesn’t happen organically. To make immersive design reviews commonplace, we’ve backed our small virtual reality team with strong leadership support. We’ve championed their work at the highest levels, helped them engage teams worldwide and encouraged others to get on board.
2) Make sure you’re getting the most out of what you have today
It’s hard not to get distracted by the pace of technological change. With new techniques and tools available all the time, be careful not to rush onto the next thing before you’ve fully explored the innovations currently at your fingertips. Manage your digital transformation just like any other business growth initiative: track progress, set key performance indicators, assess adoption and standardize processes.
AECOM’s digital transformation program team is rigorous about the tools we focus on and meticulously track progress to ensure we gain real value from digital investments. Align digital outcomes with business results and track the benefits to ensure you get the most out of the tools available.
Still, don’t be afraid to break the mold — or even redesign it — in order to explore new applications and ways of overcoming barriers to change. One of the areas we’re exploring at AECOM is the move from descriptive to prescriptive design by creating fabrication-ready digital libraries that build standardized detail into a design up front. Digital libraries promise to dramatically improve the efficiency and quality of the design process, streamlining project delivery. But the concept requires a whole lifecycle approach with cross-industry collaboration throughout the supply chain. As leaders, we must work to put the right structures in place to make this possible.
3) Tomorrow’s technology will be transformative — plan for the future
Once you’ve set a path to getting the most out of today’s technologies, you can start embracing digital solutions that are genuinely transformative. The key to success is creating a portfolio that balances short-term gains from existing tools with longer-term initiatives that incorporate emerging technologies.
Make sure you create the right environment for innovation to flourish and for people to experiment. Leaders have a crucial role in seeking out innovation and digital excellence across their organizations and surfacing untapped genius. But remember, there’s no sense in pursuing digital for digital’s sake — just like with existing technology, track progress, demand interim results and recognize when an idea, however exciting, has run its course.
Programs like AECOM’s Global Challenge are a great way to inspire employees and create new sources of ideas to tap into. Since our company-wide innovation competition launched in 2016, it has received more than 1,000 entries from our employees who are inspired to collaborate, try something new and bring their best ideas to the table.
We’re starting to explore the long-term potential for emerging technologies to transform how we deliver projects. From machine learning algorithms that can detect design anomalies, to mobile data capture techniques that are shaving weeks off project timelines, and technologies like 3D printing that are fundamentally changing how we build — the future is truly exciting.
This article was originally delivered at ENR’s Futuretech conference on June 6, 2018. To read more of Matt’s thoughts on the benefits technology can bring to infrastructure project delivery, click here.