With the United Nations reporting that 60% of the global population will call an urban area home by 2030, what are the most pressing infrastructural systems that cities will need to evaluate to meet the growing demand of this population?

Alexandra McManus: The demands of infrastructure and construction vary regionally, as do resource availability, so it becomes necessary to prioritize the projects that can be completed most efficiently. Regardless of the infrastructure systems needed, data tracking and collaboration via technology could be leveraged to better understand resource requirements and the availability of regional labor along with their various trade skills.

Hussein Cholkamy: Agreed. I would add that cities also need to become “smarter” to accommodate the technological advancements of their residents.  Connectivity with the city as well as interconnectivity between the city’s systems will provide future residents the ease to plug-in and go about their lives. Furthermore, today’s data can help cities predict future trends and needs. Predictive models can guide our direction to keep up with the growing demand.

The average age of an American skills worker is 55-plus with over 10,000 of these working men and women retiring every day. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics forecasts that by 2020, the shortfall of skilled workers in America will reach nearly 10 million within our country. From your purview, what can the industry do to attract and retain the next generation of technically skilled talent?

AM: Very true. And collecting the labor force data today will help us understand which areas of skilled talent are in the most demand. That information would guide the creation of training programs and apprenticeships in the areas we need it them the most.  

HC: The next generation has grown up with technology, relies on it daily and highly values the use of their time. The use of tech in the field that ensures their time is used efficiently and prioritizes their safety will help attract the next generation.  Today’s trends and data will help build predictive models to provide that foundation, but the industry will need to increase technological growth to keep up with the next generation’s expectations.

According to recent Accenture reports, only 30% of construction and engineering (C and E) firms currently deliver projects on time and under budget. What methodologies and technologies can C and E professionals implement to improve the delivery of infrastructure development projects?

AM: That said, as an industry, we need to collect the “right” data. It should be meaningful for the project and the industry. For instance, actionable analytics are generated at Eyrus by comparing real-time workforce data against forecasts and benchmarks on a project level. Users achieve time and cost cutting improvements to their productivity not only per project but also across their portfolio using comparative analytics.

HC: The key to change will be implementing technology that tracks real-time data and provides meaningful analytics. Collected data will support the development of predictive models that can help firms circumvent the challenges of increasing complexity and speed at which projects are built.  These insights will allow firms to resolve matters in a more timely and economical manner.

In 2017, there were 83 major natural and weather-related disasters worldwide, reaching a global estimated $1.245 trillion in damages to infrastructure and property. What advancements in building materials and methodologies can be implemented to ensure the long-term performance and resiliency of civil infrastructure projects?

H: The advancement of building materials over the last forty years has been driven by the necessity to reduce the cost of material, the speed of installation and structural weight.  It would be interesting to see advancements in smart building technology that enable buildings to know when natural disasters are about to strike. The state of the environment can be analyzed using real-time data enhanced by live sensors to create a continuous action plan for the building. For example, the “smart” building envelope could have an emergency mode that alters its links to the building and strengthens its weatherproofing, or water shedding abilities.

Infrastructure development projects require significant financial investment—and cities and public authorities that do not make these critical investments risk being left behind. Aside from taxpayer-financed channels, what alternative financial resources do public authorities have?

A: In addition, whether projects are funded through crowdfunding, bonds or public-private partnerships, those writing the checks should have transparent information on key project metrics. Real-time data and analytics should flow up to the financial institutions from the site of the project.  Collaborative use of that data will enhance the ability to choose a financing option that makes sense for each project and track how productively dollars are being spent.

H: Crowdfunding is already growing in popularity and provides a simplified way of investing in privately built projects. If a crowdfunding model could be applied to infrastructure projects, it not only enables the citizens to invest in their own city’s development, but it gives the public authorities access to funding they don’t have today.