Coming from a decades long involvement in construction technology and data solutions, I have seen my fair share of uncoordinated departments and uninterested people when it comes to change management. I don't mean to say that people won't change, but we are all programmed to find our groove in life and the comfort in consistency at work is no different. You perform your job to your best ability and in the construction industry in particular, most times you find yourself focused on the aspect of a project’s lifecycle you directly impact. Whether it be in survey or design, construction or maintenance, you build your expertise in the areas you are involved in every day. So, why is that a bad thing? It's not.
What has developed in recent years is the growing demand for digital content to be created and incorporated across all phases of a project, from conceptual through project delivery and beyond. Within that effort has been a more refined approach on the lifecycle of the physical assets installed on a project and the best means and methods to acquire comprehensive digital content for each asset. It's in these efforts where you can find more technical, organizational, and human challenges.
Challenges to Digital Project Delivery
The technical challenges apply to almost every organization. Data needed to better support asset lifecycle management comes from a variety of software solutions and devices. Different data sets are created by design and construction management systems, and a wide variety of field data is captured on everything from rovers to drones, LiDAR and laser, smart phones and construction cameras, etc. All of this data has to be associated with project activity and then applied to the physical asset.
To address these challenges, you need to assess the variety of software systems your organization uses. What, if any, workflow, integrations or best practices have you already developed to pass data from one system to another? Oftentimes, a current process could include an export from one system to another by using a .csv, Excel, or other file type that is emailed or shared through a file sharing application. The receiver performs a manual import and thus the data has been transferred. Not live, mind you, but at least a moment in time and progress is made.
Of course, there are many organizations that are well beyond these types of methods and have developed significantly integrated systems and interoperable departments that address a more efficient workflow for their organization. To achieve that level of efficiency, you have to start by developing your roadmap, which cannot begin until you have done a proper self-discovery and assessment of systems and tools in place across the organization.
The organizational challenges start at the very beginning of the journey with a high level of commitment from the executive level. Without it, the process will likely struggle, if not fail. The time and costs associated with achieving a level of proficiency in these processes while potentially seeking systems integrators and other outside consultants will require buy-in at the highest levels.
Managing this project should be a clearly defined responsibility for someone or a small team of people assigned to the project. Leading the discovery phase and developing the full scope of work that identifies the key objectives and hurdles this effort will face will be the initial focus. Recognizing a potential problem is one part of the process. Suggesting a solution and developing the roadmap around them is where the leader needs to take responsibility.
The next challenge at the organizational level will be in building a process that supports the roadmap and addresses the needs of each department and team member. If teams currently work in silos and have very little coordination with each other, that would be the best place to start to address departmental needs, processes, and procedures. The discoverer needs to be keen to identify redundancies in workflow, opportunities for integrations or interoperability enhancements, and potential roadblocks the effort may face.
Radical honesty is required when interviewing department leaders and team members. We all get caught up with our own little fiefdom or niche. That goes for people and departments that have important work to conduct to meet their business and project objectives. Which process or department is more important? Who should live at the center of this roadmap? This effort is being done to better support the digital asset lifecycle and it must be done in a coordinated effort. Departments need to cooperate and people need to cooperate.
This brings us to the people challenges facing this effort. Everything that has already been mentioned about departments applies 10X for the people in those departments. First off, each and every person is at a different place in their own personal and professional journey. Some are new and inexperienced but quick to learn technology. Others may be more experienced and have a certain way they perform their tasks. Some people are more willing to learn and others just want to do their job and go home at the end of the day.
These people are most likely using systems that have been built to support their specific roles and functions. Suggesting to them that a new process or system might need to be introduced in order for the organization to accomplish its goals will most likely have mixed levels of support. How do you convince people that the way they do their job has a significant impact on the digital project delivery process and make data management a part of everyone’s job? In full transparency, I stole that last line from Shawn Blaesing, Maintenance and GIS Coordinator for Iowa DOT. She said, “you have to make data management part of everyone’s job.”
People have to be motivated to support this kind of effort. Many people are self-motivated and many will easily adjust to new processes or procedures adopted by their organization to meet a greater cause. The best path to successful change management does require education and training, cooperation, coordination and leadership. People leading people, guiding departments, developing workflows, and supporting the effort.
Defining Solutions: Digital Twins and the Asset Data Lifecycle
I have had the opportunity to attend several workshops and conferences that address the digital project delivery evolution occurring right now with a wider adoption of BIM and Asset Management systems. The definition of a Digital Twin is getting clearer while the journey to achieve such a lofty accomplishment is still in need of significant development for most firms.
One of those workshops was at the GIS-T conference in Charleston, SC in April this year. I participated in a workshop led by Shawn Blaesing from Iowa DOT and Simon Lewis from AECOM entitled, Data Life-Cycle Management – Looking at How DOTs are Starting to Integrate BIM,OM,GIS & AM Together. The discussions held in that workshop and the mindshare that resulted from it are worth exploring.
Their final tips for steps to success include:
Get executive champion/key stakeholder buy-in
Define policy, roles, and responsibilities across agency
Define what data is to be managed as an enterprise asset
Define data management practices (Data dictionary, data governance, specifications, standards, metadata, data quality, records management)
Revisit/Iterate Steps 2-5 (May be 2-4 years cadence)
Implement enterprise tools (quality, catalog, warehouse)
Define key performance indicators, track progress, have accountability
I know that Shawn intends to do a similar workshop and talk more about the Peer exchange element of these efforts at the Transportation Research Board (TRB) annual meeting next January in DC.
The bottom line here is that the demand for a more efficient process that connects data from silo to silo and project cycle to project cycle is imminent. The GIS team members will tell you that the one constant data point with any asset is location. They are correct.
At Infotech we have taken that to heart and developed integrations with devices from Trimble, Leica Geosystems, EarthCam, and others to streamline field data and reality capture. By connecting project and item details directly to a device that can obtain location data with pinpoint accuracy we are building a more efficient workflow through integrations and partnerships. Infotech took that one giant leap further by establishing a partnership with Esri and building integrations between our systems and ArcGIS. By moving data from our systems like Appia, after successfully adding location data acquired through these field devices and mobile applications, we enable our clients to not only better visualize and analyze the data coming from our systems, but also to provide a building block for the asset owner to incorporate data from other sources that are also organized around location.
That takes us right back to the technical challenges around achieving this level of efficiency while building an entirely new and improved level of digital project delivery. Software and hardware vendors like Infotech and our partners are already developing these solutions and doing the necessary discovery to future proof our systems. Organization executives are hearing about megatrends like Digital Twins and Smart Cities and are starting to discuss with their peers and work with leading asset management and other software vendors and consultants to better understand the value and hurdles they may face along the way. Department heads are beginning to get pressure to digitize more, if not all, of their workflow and processes and are facing issues like team members bandwidth, learning curves, and other priorities.
And the people. Oh, the people. Actually, this applies to people at all levels in any organization. It's a personal decision to be a driver, a rider, or a crosswalker that just gets in the way and slows things down. This applies to the exec still sitting on the fence and not really investing, but still hoping for the best. To the person in the field who has their established routines and are very comfortable in the way they conduct their inspections and other business each day.
Heraclitus said “the only constant is change.” How true this is. The changes mentioned here are all designed to build a better mousetrap. A mousetrap that the naysayers may say doesn't need to be fixed. If the people in the field or from other areas of the organization don't understand the value of these kinds of changes in priorities that provide a far better deliverable, whose fault is that? Maybe they were told, but didn't listen. Maybe they weren't asked for feedback and feel like the “new” way of doing things does not meet the same level of expectations they have when performing their own duties. To be successful, we have to look at this effort more holistically. What does the executive need to do to assure success? How can the departments better communicate and collaborate to build these bridges from silo to silo? How can all of us be more open-minded and embrace the change that will ultimately make our organization that much stronger, which, of course, means more personal and career stability for us in the end.
It's not really a mystery. It's a lot of hard work, open-mindedness, and willingness to participate in change. There are many organizations that are at some point on this journey already. Talk to your peers and introduce yourself to other departments you may not collaborate with on a regular basis. Whoever touches the asset in physical or digital form needs to understand how important they are to the success of these programs. We don't have to break the silos down but building bridges, tunnels, and other means of connecting data and people will very certainly improve your organizations deliverables and make everyone who participates a better team member.