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Civil Engineer blog

Breaking Barriers in Infrastructure – perspectives from the profession

25 February 2019

Dr Anne Kemp, UK BIM Alliance and Atkins, discusses the ICE/Topcon Breaking Barriers in Infrastructure report, addressing the barriers preventing us from maximising the opportunity tech has to offer the sector.

Breaking Barriers in Infrastructure – perspectives from the profession
Image credit: Feifei Peng/Unsplash

We're living in an age where digital technology is an integral part of almost everything we do, from apps that boil the kettle to taxi-drones. It’s a natural conclusion then that the infrastructure sector must also embrace and actively engage in the digital revolution.

But what's preventing us from maximising the opportunity?

The case for change from the top to realise a full digital transformation has been made, so to help us answer this question, it’s important that we understand perspectives from the people that work day-to-day in our sector.

Providing a snapshot of views from across the civil engineering community, a new research paper from Topcon Positioning GB and ICE has investigated the barriers to adopting new technology and different ways of working.

Junior views vs. senior views

One of the report’s most interesting revelations has been the difference in opinion between those entering the industry and those in leadership positions.

Among the respondents, a higher proportion of junior staff have found the industry reluctant to work collaboratively and believe that their business is resistant to change. The proportion of senior professionals who share these beliefs is much lower.

The research also showed that 58% of junior respondents believe adopting new technology can proactively overcome the skills gap while only 23% of senior decision-makers believe this could be a key solution.

This disconnect should cause concern. The industry is broadly behind the concept of changing and adopting new ways of working but it may not be translating to projects and day-to-day work. It’s crucial that we listen to perceptions and views from around the profession. Those at the top need to recognise and champion true transformation.

Shifting our mindset

It’s unsurprising that there are barriers to change. There’s an inherent risk to trialling or implementing a new technology or process on projects that come with strict regulations and contractual obligations.

The cost implications – both in terms of time and money – can understandably be a daunting prospect, particularly for smaller businesses.

However, we must shift from the short-term thinking of project-by-project profit and instead consider the long-term gains in productivity and efficiency.

Recent initiatives like Project 13 and the National Infrastructure Commission’s digital twin proposals have set out the principles for change and a vision for the future.

It’s no coincidence that they have highlighted the need for greater collaboration and enterprise throughout the built environment, the effective use of emerging technologies and the need for greater investment in innovation. Success will only be achieved if the whole profession is convinced of the significance of what is being proposed and what they themselves need to do differently.

Together we can capitalise on the opportunity that the fourth industrial revolution represents. ICE exists to support its members, who ultimately have the power to enact real change. We hope members will reflect on the findings of this research and help us drive debate and action on how to address them.

Perspectives from industry experts

The 2019 ICE-Topcon Innovation Lecture featured views from across UK industry on the concept of change, including:

  • Simon Navin, Head of Innovation, Ordnance Survey (at 26 mins 30 secs)
  • Alison Watson, Founder & CEO, Class Of Your Own (at 40 mins 26 secs)
  • Dr Jennifer Schooling, Director, CSIC (at 54 mins 50 secs)

Watch the lecture

  • Dr. Anne Kemp OBE, ICE Fellow, Chair of the UK BIM Alliance & Technical Director, Atkins