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Insights and best practices for construction management technology and project delivery

HS2 innovation leader on what tech holds promise for the future

In Part I of our latest Trailblazers interview with HS2 Ltd. Innovation Strategy Manager Andrew Pestana, he discusses the path to fostering diversity and culture within an organization and why innovation needs to be everyone’s responsibility.

In Part II, Pestana shares his views on promising technologies, the importance of optimizing the lifecycle of smart buildings and sensors, and the future of AI and machine learning.

Burcin Kaplanoglu, executive director, innovation officer for Oracle Construction and Engineering, leads the discussion.

BK: What emerging technologies do you see presenting the most opportunities in our space?

AP: A lot of our focus centers on construction and design sustainability, process, and customer experience. But what does that mean in real terms? I see those broken in four key areas.

1.    Advancing traditional materials: Taking traditional materials that we use in the construction industry and moving those into something fundamentally different.

2.    New material combinations: We're at the forefront of the world of new materials. What value does graphene from the UK offer? Can we combine graphene with something like traditional concrete, thereby increasing the properties of reinforced concrete and providing real value in that?

3.    Innovative materials with new functionality: What is the next graphene or the next concrete from an innovative and construction-based perspective? You’re seeing the start of standardized and modularized prefabricated construction and components, but fundamentally we need to move to the next stage of delivering that. We’re seeing some of these materials coming to the fore with bridges within our contracts at HS2.

4.    Autonomous vehicles: This technology will also emanate into the construction industry, including our need to consider semi and fully automated construction equipment.

Optimizing the lifecycle of smart buildings and sensors

We should also optimize the life cycle of smart buildings and sensor technology. We must understand what these assets are doing at any time before adaptively responding to challenges and opportunities from a maintenance and operation perspective.

In terms of digital technologies, how do we manage the supply chain when we start looking at sensors and RFID tags? If you visit a building site on any one day and see the vast amount of materials that are lying around, we need to move that to a different dimension.

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"Process and operations, including upfront cost-conscious designing and project planning, involves a different approach to project planning, project design, and innovative contracting. That’s a big area for people to think about."

-Andrew Pestana, Innovation Strategy Manager, HS2 Ltd.

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There will be major disruptors and new business models entering our industry. We need to consider how that adaption evolves and transcends into contracting models and how people contract from an infrastructure program.

Redefining the norm

We cannot ignore the way we evolve as programs, industries, and businesses. What was normal 6-8 months ago is not normal anymore. We need to redefine the new norm, including different ways of hiring and retaining people.

Millennials, who comprise 75% of our working population, want to make a difference. Innovation is an important part of that generation. How can we retain those individuals and allow them to continuously learn yet also utilize their knowledge?

How do we retain new individuals who are coming out of university and academic institutions and tap into that knowledge? We must think about how we can enhance and harness these individuals’ knowledge of the digital world and expertise in a new way.

Otherwise, these new graduates will leave our industry and create their own disruptive startups. Just look at someone like Elon Musk—he got frustrated with the ability to make change and made the change himself.

BK: Where do you see the opportunities with AI and machine learning?

AP: AI and machine learning holds real value, but we need to see this as a journey and not as something that will happen overnight.

Where can we use stuff like AI and machine learning to supplement and enhance the ability of humans? How can this technology take the place of repetitive easy-to-do tasks and allow the human element to focus on really adding value?

For example, we send a lot of individuals to maintain vegetation along our highways. Those environments are risky and include safety constraints. Do we need to put people in those positions so often? We could use AI technology to predict and enable the individuals to apply their capabilities in the right place at the right time.

Leveraging technology for easy-to-do tasks

So, you take something like tree or vegetation growth along a motorway or a train line. Could you tap into weather patterns to determine the rainfall, precipitation, sun, etc., to predict the growth of specific tree vegetation in a defined area?

We could predict that we need to manage this vegetation once a year at a certain time rather than visiting every two weeks to see if it's encroaching the asset. Things like this are going to define where we go regarding AI and machine learning.

The other areas I see are around project planning, project scheduling, and risk management. There are real opportunities to predictively identify risks and manage those proactively rather than reactively.

Safety meets AI

We’re already seeing huge strides in respect to predictive approaches to health and safety. How can we use AI and technology to better manage ourselves as individuals?

We need to evolve and use the technologies to benefit the whole. And it's happening already. The key is: how can we leverage the technology to run safer operations, increase our productivity, and position these technologies as an enabler?

We must do things that are safer, especially when it comes to robotics. Why do we put humans in harm's way with the repetitive and unsafe stuff? If we can avoid it, we should let the humans do more agile, value-added activities. How do we enhance the ability of us as individuals and as human beings?

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"I'm a firm believer that we need to solve the right problems. It’s very easy for us to just apply technology for the sake of technology's sake. Let’s not throw drones, VR, and AI, and machine automation on something that really doesn't need it."

-Andrew Pestana, Innovation Strategy Manager, HS2 Ltd.

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There's plenty of examples on YouTube where we've chucked robotics or something at a “problem”. And you go, "Really? Do I really need a toaster that cooks me an egg at the same time it makes my coffee? Maybe for some people but certainly not for me."

See innovation in action at the Oracle Industries Innovation Lab.

Oracle Construction and Engineering, the global leader in construction management software and project portfolio management solutions, helps you connect your teams, processes, and data across the project and asset lifecycle. Drive efficiency and control in project delivery with proven solutions for project controls, construction scheduling, portfolio management, BIM/CDE, construction payment management, and more.

Read more Trailblazers articles here.

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