By Luke Carothers
Earlier this year in March, President Biden announced the American Jobs Plan, which is intended to improve core infrastructure throughout the United States. This $1.2 trillion capital investment plan represents a historic investment in American infrastructure and will provide the means to improve infrastructure that affects the lives of millions of people every day–roads, bridges, public transit, railroads, water and energy utility, government buildings, and broadband.
The question as to how this massive investment will be allocated is, understandably, the subject of much debate. According to Balaji Sreenivasan, CEO of Aurigo Software, much of infrastructure investment in recent years has been driven by a state of deficiency. This notion is reflected in recent reports from countless agencies, most notably the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) who currently grade American infrastructure as a “C-”. The ASCE report is alarming–stating that 43 percent of American roadways are in a “poor or mediocre condition”– and speaks to the declining state of American infrastructure.
For many, Sreenivasan included, this means the new infrastructure plan is a first step at repaying the debt of our decaying infrastructure. This is important to remember as agencies across all 50 states begin to receive funds from the plan. Beginning with the debt of accumulated decline, these agencies must effectively prioritize these funds in a way that will markedly improve the lives of the people living here. With rising rates of failures such as broken water lines, collapsed buildings and bridges, and failing dams, the stakes are incredibly high.
These agencies are currently in the phase of a capital improvement plan process; they have to look at their deficiencies and score them; they also have to prioritize these projects. Once this is done, these agencies must build a cash flow forecast. Sreenivasan believes that, in many cases, the methods by which these agencies perform these tasks are sorely outdated and are not suitable for such a large investment plan. Many agencies still rely on Excel, paper, and other outdated methods in completing these processes and building their cash flow forecasts.
In order to accurately manage this large investment plan, Sreenivasan believes these agencies must move toward a digitalization of the capital lifecycle; he believes that this is important in both the pre- and post-design phases. On one hand, an adoption of digitalization by these agencies will, first and foremost, allow these agencies to better identify and prioritize their deficiencies and help them gain a better understanding of where their money is being spent. On the other hand, digitalization also pays dividends once these processes are completed. Digitalization is useful in the post-design phase as agencies are answering questions about things like: accurate estimates, historical spending, contractor selection, and metric quality among others. With more accurate information to guide the decision making process, agencies are able to spend less money and less time completing projects through digitalization. This is a direct result of smarter, more focused planning.
Additionally, an adoption of digitalization in the capital lifecycle process inherently makes the process more transparent. According to Sreenivasan, this transparency comes from everyone having a single source of truth. With cloud-based, enterprise-level software that can facilitate its transmission through the different phases of the project, data is transferred intelligently throughout the entire project lifecycle from stakeholder to stakeholder. This means that every stakeholder in the project–owner, architect, engineer, or contractor–has access to the same set of data. Ultimately, this intelligent transfer of data, facilitated through the supporting software artifacts, leads to better quality.
In thinking about how the money allocated by the American Jobs Plan will be spent, Sreenivasan notes that this is an interesting moment where we can reevaluate the use of automation within the industry. Much of the adoption of automation has come in the form of replacing physical tasks through automated ones. Sreenivasan believes that, as we move towards these forms of automation, it is imperative that the AEC industry also use this automation to create intelligent business insights and that help us make better data-driven decisions. In doing so, he believes we will experience a paradigm shift from thinking about how automation can help us perform manual labor to how it can help us make better, more informed decisions.
Luke Carothers is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.