Webinar highlights super-fast pace of digital and technological change

07 Apr 2022

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FIDIC launched its sixth State of the World report, Digital disruption and the evolution of the infrastructure sector, at a webinar on 7 April 2022 which looked at the technological, data and digital challenges facing the engineering, construction and infrastructure sector in a fast-moving industry and business environment.

The webinar, attended by more than 300 engineering, construction and infrastructure professionals from across the globe, was chaired by FIDIC chief executive Dr Nelson Ogunshakin and speakers at the event included Kevin Reeves, industry executive, energy and utilities at Microsoft, Artur Brito, projects manager at TPF Engenharia, Dr Stacy Sinclair, partner at Fenwick Elliott, Michael Earp, architects and engineers practice leader at AON, Marcial Rivera Rodríguez, department of engineering and processes at CFIA and Graham Pontin, head of economic and strategic policy at FIDIC.

Opening the webinar, FIDIC CEO Nelson Ogunshakin said that change in whatever form it takes will always happen and the highly evolving digital and technology sector means that this change was taking place at a faster pace than ever before. He said that FIDIC was keen to ensure that the sector globally was able to facilitate open discussions on the key issues it faces and to that end the recent launch of FIDIC’s new Digital Transformation Committee was a very significant development.

Introducing the report, FIDIC’s head of economic and strategic policy Graham Pontin said: “The report looks at the pace of technology and how this is affecting our sector. It’s clear that technology is a potential disrupter and may lead to industries changing their business model as a result of shifts in digital, data and how customers, clients and the sector as a whole can access and use such information. We also look at the role of technology as an innovator, driving real change and improvements and ask how will the sector embrace data and technology and become one providing a progressive set of solutions.”
Pontin said that the sector had the opportunity to not only influence but to lead change and that this had key implications for engineering, construction and infrastructure companies. “The recommendations in the report will help FIDIC to develop a growing bank of evidence and engagement with the widest set of stakeholders in the infrastructure sector on digital and technology issues to ensure that we can meet the significant challenges ahead of us,” Pontin said.

Kevin Reeves, industry executive, energy and utilities at Microsoft, said that the industry wasn’t starting from ground zero when it comes to technological change and digital collaboration in the infrastructure sector. Asked about how he saw the sector evolving to enable scaled data sharing and sector level insights in support of common imperatives like net zero, Reeves said that Microsoft was doing a great deal of work in this area to see how increased collaboration could be encouraged across the supply chain. He also said that the Covid pandemic had led to positive change across the industry. “The pace at which people moved was genuinely unbelievable,” said Reeves. “We saw red tape being removed and so was the traditional bureaucracy we all face and I think that we will see a similar willingness to move and change around the issue of net zero. We need to take decisions much more quickly, collaborate at scale and I really think we will going forward,” he said.

Michael Earp, architects and engineers practice leader at AON, addressed the issue of cyber-attack risks in the industry. He explained the difference between cyber and technology errors and omissions exposures in insurance policies and highlighted how professional indemnity (PI) insurance was changing because of digital transformation. “We have seen lots of claims coming in around the cyber-issue and we are seeing exclusions being placed on cyber risks in general PI policies. The message is that cyber and PI insurance are different and people need to be clear about the extent of their cover and what their risk is,” said Earp.

Earp said that the industry needed to look at how digital transformation was changing its risk profile. With so many changes taking place and new platforms, initiatives and technologies entering the market, there were a number of challenges stacking up for insurers and there needed to be an ongoing dialogue and a holistic approach involving all player in the industry to develop workable solutions.

Artur Brito, projects manager at TPF Engenharia, addressed the issue of how the shift to online working and cloud-based digital platforms had changed the way the engineering sector works. “The pandemic has changed our lives personally and professionally. It has decentralised teams and also made it easier to hire different people from diverse cultures from around the world,” he said. This was a very positive development for the industry and has increased productivity exponentially, Brito said. He also reflected on the increasing and evolving use of artificial intelligence and other digital technologies in infrastructure projects, which he said was changing the way the industry worked. “These technologies are speeding up the way we work, especially in the areas of studies and design, and I strongly believe that we have the capability to do a lot more in this area,” said Brito.

Marcial Rivera Rodríguez, department of engineering and processes at CFIA, said that there was a digital challenge when working with some of the government or agencies that control construction projects and building digital capacity was crucial in those organisations. “We need to take a big-picture approach, collaborate and share all the data we have access to in a spirit of partnership,” he said. Rodríguez also praised FIDIC for bringing these issues to a wider audience and for discussing them in such an open and collaborative way.

Dr Stacy Sinclair, partner at Fenwick Elliott, talked about how digital transformation would change the contractual landscape going forward. “The role of technology has the potential to change contracts in a big way,” she said and especially in the area of how the rights and obligations of the parties are recorded. “The whole process from forming the contract through to project execution is now a digital process and this allows that data to be better captured, learned from and tracked to optimise performance and minimise risks,” said Sinclair. Such ‘smart contracts’  or 'smart clasues' were increasingly being seen in the engineering, construction and infrastructure sector and have the potential to significantly change the way the industry works and how parties relate to one another, she said.

Asked about what she thought was the biggest opportunity or potential disrupter she saw across the infrastructure landscape, Sinclair said that client requirements and regulations would pose the biggest challenges in the future. “Legislation and regulation requirements and how we respond to them with technology will be increasingly important in the future,” she said. ‘Above all, its about people and mindsets and contracts will need to respond to this,” Sinclair said.

Summing up the event, Ogunshakin said that the industry had no choice but to embrace change in the digital arena and that FIDIC would continue to share knowledge and intelligence on these key issues. We have been priveleged to have leading experts in their field sharing their insights with us at this webinar today and I'm confident that these insights will enable us to meet the challenge of change as we move into the future."

The next FIDIC webinar is a very topical and important event organised by the FIDIC Integrity Management Committee looking at “Integrity in infrastructure delivery during times of corruption and conflict”.

Click here for full details and to book a free place at this webinar.

Download the full report here


View the full launch webinar recording on the link below.

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