Webinar puts people at the heart of digital transformation

08 Nov 2022

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The latest event in FIDIC’s webinar series took place on 8 November 2022 and took a deep dive into the always-topical issue of digital and technology.

The Going digital - latest industry trends and developments event was organised by the FIDIC digital transformation committee (FDTC) and gave an update on the latest activities of the committee, examined what ‘digital transformation’ means and where companies needed to start on their journey, highlighted what practitioners needed to be aware and also offered an overview of the latest trends and technologies.

Speakers at the event, which was chaired by Fenwick Elliott partner Stacy Sinclair, who is chair of the FIDIC digital transformation committee, included Bram Mommers, global technology officer at Arcadis, Antoine Labrosse, Artelia Group’s chief digital officer, Tony Scott, CEO and CIO of NeuralRays AI and Claire Rutkowski, senior vice president and chief information officer champion at Bentley Systems.

Introducing the webinar, Stacy Sinclair, chair of the FIDIC digital transformation committee, said that the topic under discussion was a key issue for the industry, as evidenced by the fact that attendees had registered for the event from around the world. “Technology is pervading all aspects of the construction and infrastructure sector, with some parts of the industry making progress at breakneck speed,” she said. Sinclair outlined the role of the FIDIC digital transformation committee which included the identification of issues or trends within the digital space that could be potential disruptors to FIDIC and or its members and industry.

Creating value and an outcomes-first approach

The first question addressed by the panel was - What is ‘digital transformation’? What does this mean, where do you start and what do you need to be aware of? Antoine Labrosse, Artelia Group’s chief digital officer, said that he did not believe that the construction sector would revolutionise overnight and it would take the path of evolution in respect of digital issues. “We need to look at our industry and decide whether we can create additional value through digital,” Labrosse said. Business models, processes and people were all-important in the shift to digitalisation, he said and a holistic approach was needed to ensure that the industry embraced digital at every level.

Tony Scott, CEO and CIO of NeuralRays AI, said that digital transformation was “about taking an outcomes-first approach”. “Technology should always be seen as a means to an end and not an end in itself,” he said. Scott said that digital transformation was more about ‘transformation’ than digital and he stressed the key importance of data. There were lessons to be learned from the software industry, which had been able to scale quickly in the digital space. “Another principle is to fail fast and fail quickly,” Scott said, which would enable lessons to be learned at speed.

Bram Mommers, global technology officer at Arcadis, highlighted how as a land surveyor he and his colleagues had embraced technology at an early stage but now many other professions were able to do this work due to technology developments. This showed how industry sectors could be left behind due to the march of digital if they did not act quickly enough. Mommers also highlighted how building algorithms and digital scripts was easier than ever before as a result of technological developments.

Claire Rutkowski, senior vice president and chief information officer champion at Bentley Systems, said that it was important to understand that different companies were at different stages in their digital transformation journey. “You have to start where you are and don’t be intimidated by what others are doing,” she said. “The technology is a tool – this is all about the people and processes that make change possible,” said Rutkowski.

Digital was also influencing engineering business models, said Tony Scott and this had the potential to really transform the industry. “You don’t have to throw away the old ways of working, you can layer digital innovations on top and be more flexible about the fees charged,” he said. Antoine Labrosse said that this was easier said than done and often you could come up against ingrained attitudes and ways of working in established firms, which could give start-ups an advantage in this area, he said.

Latest trends and technologies

Next, the panellists were asked about the latest trends and technologies and asked to identify where the industry is at and what are they seeing? Antoine Labrosse said that it was well established that the construction sector was lagging behind on digital when compared with other industries. Labrosse said that he had detected a fear that all the value from digital would be taken by the tech companies and that this was a real issue. “We are not seeing a clear demonstration of the value of digital in our industry and we lack the true industry success stories in our sector,” he said.

Tony Scott urged companies to operate “beyond the project level” and to “get to know your client’s client better than they know them,” in order to get closer to all members of the value chain and to be able to better influence it. Scott said that more collaboration was needed across the supply chain and the industry needed to work more closely together across professional disciplines. Once again, people were central to this approach, he said.

Claire Rutkowski said that the more partnering could be done across projects the better as this could be a key driver of digital transformation. She said that a key trend in the infrastructure sector was the increasing use of remote inspections and drone use, which in turn were also driving the creation of more data which needed to be tapped into for greater benefit. The ability to tap into and use this data was crucial and created its own challenges, including the availability of skill sets, the transferability of data and cyber security issues.

Picking up on the cyber security issue, Bram Mommers said that it was not a question of “will you be hacked?”, but “when you will be hacked” and therefore companies needed to be prepared. The danger of hacking incidents was also made more acute given rising global geopolitical tensions, he said.

Causes for optimism and industry opportunities

Much of the discussion and questions from attendees centred on the issue of people and their importance in the digital transformation journeys that companies were taking. Claire Rutkowski said it was also important to never forget that the construction industry was in the business of creating the infrastructure that the world needs to change people’s lives for the better. This was a real cause for optimism and an opportunity for embracing digital, she said.

Continuing the optimism theme and summing up the webinar, both Antoine Labrosse and Tony Scott made the point that the infrastructure sector was crucial in influencing the world as it strives to achieving a net zero, sustainable future and that digital would be central to achieving that at the speed needed to reach the UN’s sustainable development goals.

Summing up the webinar, FIDIC chief executive Dr Nelson Ogunshakin said that the industry needed to be prepared to take risks in the digital arena and develop partnerships across the value chain on projects. There were real causes for optimism and opportunities for the industry and he was confident that the engineering and construction sectors would be at the vanguard of change going forward.

The next event in FIDIC’s 2022 webinar series is a webinar organised by the FIDIC membership committee and the directors and secretaries advisory council on Developing global best practice skills in the industry, which will look at how FIDIC members can benefit from best practice training services and examples and the difference those can make to the industry, both on a national and international level.

Developing global best practice skills in the industry takes place on Tuesday 15 November 2022 at 12 noon CET.

Click here to book a place at this free webinar

View the full webinar recording on the link below.

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