Industry leaders: “Data and technology is a human issue”

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Global experts from across infrastructure and technologies sectors have warned industry not to delay its digital and technological transformation.

Industry leaders spanning software, insurance, construction law and engineers, came together for the launch of research into digital and technological disruption of the infrastructure sector. They agreed that while there are great opportunities for technology to improve delivery and management of assets, more needs to be done to better embrace that.

Collective technological working
Kevin Reeves, industry exec for Microsoft, welcomed the fact that industry is not starting from ‘ground zero’, saying “There’s been a lot of work in recent years to bring together sectors to accelerate delivery of infrastructure. We have looked at successes in alliancing and have replicated this across projects like HS2 and data is crucial to alliancing, bringing together information and technology to help inform and facilitate activities.”

Kevin Reeves also stressed that technology and industry could move very fast, as evidenced by the past two years, and that this needed to happen again to achieve net zero quickly.

“At the start of the pandemic we saw two years of digital transformation plans put into action in just two months as companies were driven by the need to respond quickly. We’ve seen something similar with the ventilator challenge, which advanced ventilators by ten years.”

“I think we are going to see the same in Net Zero. The amount of change needed in just eight years would take decades to happen through conventional change. So we need to automate what we can and that will drive rapid change in business models.”

Insurance and cyber risk
Speaking from the insurance sector, AON’s architecture and engineering practice leader, Michael Earp, pointed out that insurance was reacting to the emergence of news risks through technology, and the potential for risk-mitigation.

“We are seeing more people ask ‘do you have cyber insurance coverage’, which is to protect the first party from being hacked, and that is different to technology services coverage.”

“So we are now seeing exclusion put on professional and general liabilities insurance to exclude cyber insurance because people are now starting to understand what it is there to cover and it is done through more dedicated insurance.”

Michael Earp then set out the challenge that needs to be presented to insurers. “We need to challenge insurers on where they can provide value for new practices – things like single digital platforms, which are the nirvana of where we need to go as an industry. But we also need to work with insurers to help them understand how digital twins and shared or alliance data can be reflected across insurance and improve transparency.”

Artificial intelligence and engineers
Turning to experiences with the delivery of infrastructure, project manager Artur Brito of TPF Engenharia, told the global audience about the role of artificial intelligence in cutting project times.

“AI is here to stay. In the early days it was not so well developed but very recently it has become invaluable. Is has now helped analyse huge quantities of data to inform the trace of a 1,000km+ railway in Brazil in just a year and AI will do a lot more as it grows in importance for data-use.”

At the same time, he highlighted the human side to technology and the transitions of the past two years of pandemic.

“Our employees are really demanding decentralisation through technology. We like time with our families and we have increased productivity through home-working. But that could go down if we don’t still get people interacting and growing together in the office. So we need the hybrid way of working, not a single system for everyone.”

The need to educate people
Marcial Rivera Rodriquez, from the Departamento de Ingenieria de Procesos at CIFA, highlighted another aspect to the human side of transition – one that represents a larger challenge.

He explained: “We can see technology slowed down because of people’s fear of losing jobs to technology. But we have seen in recent years that that does not have to happen, so we have to see the whole picture, not just the technology itself.”

“All kinds of societies of engineers must help to provide the steps and knowledge needed for individuals and companies to become educated about technology because we have a responsibility to inform, educate and take it forward.”

Client and regulatory impact
Dr Stacy Sinclair, a legal partner with Fenwick Elliott, said that two drivers of change would be clients and regulation.

“We are rapidly moving into a situation in which established and emerging technology is being used – with fully digital lifecycles of construction contracts from initiation to termination. Digital contracts allow for digital-led decision-making, tracking events within a contract and making decisions accordingly, which helps to mitigate risk. And I think the next horizon will be smart contracts, with execution of the contract partially automated.”

“I think there is a real drive or disruption from some clients in expecting suppliers to adapt quickly to these new technological requirements. And there’s a regulatory driver too. In the UK we have see an emerging safety requirement for a digital thread of data throughout an asset’s lifecycle.”

Collective adaptation needed
The group of experts, speaking to a global audience, were brought together for the launch of new research by FIDIC’s Graham Pontin that looks at how industry might adapt to digital and technological disruption in the years ahead.

Graham Pontin told IG: “If we want to ensure industry is equipped to respond to this challenge, it is important to recognise that this is not an entirely company-by-company approach. The successful use of data can be heavily dependent on collective adoption and application of that data in the delivery and management of assets.”

CEO of FIDIC, Dr Nelson Ogunshakin reflected on that need for the industry to avoid the pitfalls of assuming answers were all in each individual’s hands.

He said at the launch event: “Do we have all the answers that industry needs for tackling technology and digital disruption in the years ahead? No. Do we have the expertise and the right people in place, working to help deliver those answers and ensure the industry and infrastructure adapts successfully? I believe we do, yes.”

You can read the full FIDIC State of the World report here.