By Luke Carothers

With the recent addition of a new infrastructure bill as well as a country-wide problem of aging and crumbling infrastructure, firms are looking to prepare for the coming boom.  This problem is further compounded with the looming impact of climate change, which has and will continue to impact regulations surrounding the construction of new bridges, roads, and highways.  With a recent environmental regulatory shift favoring quicker, cheaper projects.

One issue facing these firms, as well as the AEC industry at large, is a slow adoption of digitized processes.  According to Lee Lance, CEO and co-founder of Ecobot, the environmental regulatory industry in particular “desperately [needs] to catch up” in terms of digitization.  This digitization will certainly solve issues for individual workers in the field and make their jobs easier in the long run, but from a wider perspective, digitization will help us solve some of the most daunting challenges coming our way.

This wide-ranging ability to help us face the coming challenges of climate change begins with protecting our natural resources, something that is becoming increasingly important; according to Lance, digitization helps these firms “look at natural features to help offset the effects of climate change.”  On the other hand, digitization will also help firms in their decision-making processes.  As many of these firms are responsible for making decisions that have not only a wide-ranging environmental impact, but also a significant economic impact.  These critical decisions are often land-use decisions, meaning they will impact not only the natural environment, but the people who live there.

It is imperative that these firms do so on the basis of solid information.  With better information and more accurate data, firms are in a better position to make decisions that positively impact the residents of an area for decades and centuries to come.  According to Lance, there are a number of issues involved in the current processes that result in inaccurate information that negatively impacts the decision making process.  Many firms are still relying on manual, labor-intensive processes involving spreadsheets as well as paper documents.

Lance believes that such a system is inevitably “error-prone”; he believes that the key to solving these inefficiencies is to create a real-time link between the workers in the field and in the office.  This idea is central to the long-term goals of Ecobot.  By connecting data and knowledge creation, engineers will be able to make smarter decisions.

However, as the environmental regulatory industry begins the process of digitization, firms must be mindful to not simply transfer offline inefficiencies to online ones.  Some solutions, while solving a major issue in the present moment,  become extra work and unwanted accountability for the end-users, thus simply transferring the inefficiency down the line to another worker.  This means that the process of digitization should not only benefit the business, but also the end-user.

As the industry inches towards digitization, Lance notes that we should be moving towards understanding how the trajectory and patterns of our natural resources as well as the trajectory and patterns of our economic development overlap with one another.  Such an approach will not only allow us to see how these patterns interact and impact one another, but also tell us where the industry is headed.    


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 lcarothers@zweiggroup.com.

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