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Insights into the ideas and innovations that are transforming project planning and delivery

  • February 27, 2018

Three crucial ingredients to modernizing federal project delivery

The U.S. federal government has an extraordinary opportunity to modernize and improve how they deliver their projects as part of their journey to digital transformation. As a federal government sales specialist, I love helping clients save 4-6% on project delivery. I recently spoke with Debbie Larson Salvatore, Senior Policy Advisor to the Director of Civil Works, US Army Corps of Engineers on the World Economic Forum’s “Future of Construction” initiative, with one of its core tenets focused on how technology can contribute to higher quality infrastructure by helping manage efficiencies, reducing cost, and meeting schedule. Debbie’s current role focuses on how technological innovation could improve project outcomes for new project delivery and managing those assets over the lifecycle of that asset. She offers a unique perspective on the current and future state of federal project delivery and has worked with the federal government for over twenty-five years, including working on a $5 billion effort to modernize and restructure the National Weather Service in the 1990’s. Our conversation centers on how technological change can help improve how federal engineering and construction projects are delivered.

What technological challenges does the federal government face and why haven’t we seen a bigger shift towards modernized cloud systems?

Digital technology will eventually lead to reshaping the construction and engineering sector and reshape their business strategies and business models.  Adopting the right new technology offers tremendous promise of creating new levels of productivity.   Cloud technology vendors have only recently been able to abide by federal agencies’ high level of data security and compliance requirements. In the past, federal agencies developed their own proprietary applications and hosting environments to ensure secure access to program/project information. Many of today’s systems are outdated, expensive to maintain, clunky, and unreliable. Cloud vendors are now fortunately able to offer reliable, agile, and easy-to-use solutions. Their offerings include advanced security services that address complex federal cyber security data classification requirements mandated by the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) and the General Services Administration (GSA) FedRAMP program.

So, why haven’t we seen a bigger shift towards the cloud?

Agencies are traditionally risk adverse and adoption of new technology can be expensive. Change is particularly difficult, because utilizing cloud technology is still new to them. Also, part of the challenge is helping agencies understand the value and benefits that modernized systems bring and how they contribute to delivering the projects to meet your breadth of mission more efficiently and cost effective.

Why should agencies prioritize digitally transforming federal project delivery?

Trillions of dollars will be invested in infrastructure over the next decade.  While agencies need to invest in digital technology to meet increasing demand, they also need to invest in organizational capabilities that ensure their impact is meeting expectations. The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA), Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) are just a few of the agencies adopting cloud technology to help successfully deliver capital engineering and construction programs.

What kind of impact can digital transformation have?

  • Faster and smarter project delivery: There’s a massive opportunity to improve resource effectiveness at every stage of the project lifecycle. Anyone from project directors to engineers can expedite their tasks and minimize duplicate entry and errors by leveraging technology. Centralized data also would help us access information faster and accelerate our decisions. Software supporting real-time communication and collaboration between stakeholders minimizes the time and effort it takes to ensure every individual knows their role, just like musicians when playing an elaborate musical composition. 
  • Streamlined asset operations: Centralizing data management across the entire project delivery lifecycle will help maintain assets moving forward—including accessing consolidated data to research historical information. Once assets become more connected with censors and diagnostics, project insights will helps track performance and predict issues. 
  • Best practices, learning & sharing: We would be able to easily extract best practices, thanks to captured process information and tracked performance across projects. Technological insights are the key to ensuring we continuously improve as a team and deliver quality projects on time and on budget. 
  • Helps secure private funding: Projects reliant on private equity for funding will need to prove they’re focused on innovation and improving productivity. The same approach applies to federal contractors; many of whom are winning more bids by highlighting their commitment to technology to help drive efficiencies.
  • Attracting talent: The next generation of construction & engineering leaders were raised on smart phones and tablets. Our new, younger hires will expect ease of use, fast access to information, and efficient tools. Modern technology is “table stakes” for attracting and retaining top talent.
  • Transparency to Congress, stakeholders and the public: Modernized systems can help create a better dialogue with the public regarding more timely updates on project status and asset issues that might arise. 

Three ingredients to modernizing federal project delivery

  1. Develop a vision and mobilize the organization. Challenge the construction industry’s status quo and create the momentum for change by setting clear objectives and outcomes.
  2. Agency leadership must express a willingness to drive change. Leaders are constantly looking for ways to innovate and improve process efficiencies. We should invest in strategic technology initiatives, challenge the technology titans, and create partnerships and alliances with the private sector to drive cutting edge technology and accelerate change. It’s harder for change to happen and instill an innovation culture within agencies without leaders’ enthusiasm and commitment to technology innovation to drive the transformation.
  3. Performance-based contracting. Many progressive agencies are focused on the outcomes versus merely the list of tasks to be done. This outcome-based mentality would incentivize contractors and engineers to innovate. Technology providers must strive to meet the unique needs of the federal government. This includes adhering to compliance & security regulations.

Conclusion:

  • A centralized, single source of truth increases visibility, drives accountability, creates efficiencies, and fosters program/project wide team collaboration.
  • Cloud & mobility: Communicate in real-time, improve resource effectiveness, and reduce costs.
  • Compliance & Security: Comply with federal data classification requirements and agencies’ ownership of data.
  • Auditability & Transparency: Reduces risk of re-work and claims.
  • Ease of use: Simplicity drives adoption and lessens the potential for project/program budget or schedule overruns.
To learn more about Aconex for Federal Government, the nation’s #1 cloud platform for federal capital engineering & construction programs, check out our datasheet. I’m happy to answer any questions or share more about how digital transformation is helping our clients. Contact me at wayne.nichols@oracle.com.

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