Future leaders: Technological adoption of infrastructure delivery in Colombia  


Best practices aimed at standardisation and better training of staff in the construction of large projects have great potential in Colombia, writes cost and civil engineer Sebastián Santiago. 

It is not a secret that, when evaluating the general efficiency of different economic actors throughout the globe, today’s construction industry suffers from a slow adaptation to innovation and technology processes. This puts the sector behind when comparing it to other much more developed industrial sectors such as ICT and advanced manufacturing, among others.

Little or no adoption of technology, however, is not specific to construction. In sectors such as agriculture and mining it is also common to see this phenomenon. Given this, let’s consider what all three of the sectors I mentioned have in common. The workforce lacks specialised training, and the industry involves repetitive processes covering large areas of land and require a complex supply chain as well as specialised logistics.

In essence, all three subsist from processing, consuming and transforming large quantities of natural resources using processes whose adoption and emergence date back to the establishment of the first civilisations.

Although we live in a modern society, this preliminary diagnosis reflects that the digital age does not yet completely permeate all levels. In other words, there is a wide range of options to explore, strategies to implement, and processes to optimise. As a civil engineer, I believe there is an enormous gap to fill by using new technologies when addressing infrastructure project delivery.

Given the fact that most infrastructure projects require a large investment of capital and are not exempt from evading responsibilities related to the fulfilment of sustainable development goals, efficient use of resources and social commitment, some changes need to be implemented in order to, for example, reach zero emissions targets and accomplish high-quality standards related to efficiency. Such a change, however, must be implemented in the way projects are structured, funded, and delivered.

Implementing change
For these ideas to take hold a change in integrating stakeholders and project stages is required. For instance, implementing collaboration scenarios based on mobile and cloud technologies allowing optimisation of planning and removing reworks of a project, combined with building information tech, could help PMOs forecasting scenarios to mitigate associated risks that, in principle, will allow a greater degree of confidence on predicting results.

Proposing best practices aimed at standardisation and better training of staff involved in the construction of large projects are an alternative that in my opinion have great potential in Colombia, especially when considering for example data collected in the global competitiveness report prepared in 2019 by the World Economic Forum, in which it is reported that the average school education in the country is only eight years.  Therefore, encouraging active training and preparation of the workers involved throughout the lifecycle of the projects can ensure that these suffer to a lesser extent from setbacks affecting labour quality and eventually requiring greater resource demand.

Similarly, alternatives within engineering and innovation definitely become the spearhead to propose solutions towards technological transition and decarbonisation of the construction industry. This is one of the biggest challenges, not only for the infrastructure sector but also for the economy in general.

Achieving this transition will involve a move to clean energy that will support current energy demand and thus require large capital investments putting regional economies under high stress due to change. In order to achieve the goal of zero emissions by 2050, dependence and investment in non-renewable energies at some point will likely be reduced or suspended and replaced over time.

Finally, I would like to point out that for real change to be implemented, it is necessary to establish channels of cooperation between actors where goals and agreements can be established. Since the problem cannot be tackled exclusively by private industry and the solutions it can propose, there is a need for constant interaction between state entities and non-governmental organisations to generate clear discussion and regulation, with the objective of having a frame of reference to join efforts in order to achieve objectives of technological adoption and sustainable development.

The author

Sebastián Santiago is a civil engineer of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, with professional experience in project evaluation, costs and budget estimation and execution schedules analysis. He has had experience in bidding processes, contracts supervision, as well as knowledge of programming, data analysis and BIM management.

He has participated as a cost engineer in large infrastructure projects in Colombia such as the PPP project IP Chirajara – Fundadores, a contract with an investment of near $1.16m for the construction, operation and maintenance of an 86 km motorway.

Sebastián is a 2022 contributor to the FIDIC Future Leaders Council annual book of essays on the shape of the industry.