By Rob Bryant and David Wagner
Australia’s capital project industries are realising major efficiencies by eliminating disconnected siloed solutions and implementing a more holistic approach to connect all project data from the start of a project through its turnover and startup.
In this article, we examine multiple factors to help us answer the question ‘Why has Australia adopted the connected data concept with more enthusiasm than any other country in the world?’.
The concept of connected data is a pretty simple one. The idea is instead of managing all your project data in different siloed and disconnected solutions which are focused on different phases of the project life cycle, organisations should implement a more holistic approach allowing them to connect all their project data from the start of the project through its turnover and startup. Whether we are talking about documents, models, reports, financial data, quality and safety information and more, all too often this information is captured, managed and stored in an isolated solution. This general lack of connection quickly leads to duplicate entry, process inefficiencies, and increased project risk — which often result in escalating costs and project delays.
This connected data concept is a fundamental principle within the ‘Digital Engineering’ or ‘Single Source of Truth’ methodologies. There is little argument of this being a desired state. However, it takes more than a desire and a technical possibility to see concepts adopted. The question we want to examine is, ‘Why has Australia adopted the connected data concept with more enthusiasm than any other country in the world?’.
A pioneering mindset
Pioneering of any sort requires a state of mind and culture of belief. Australia has long been recognised for ‘punching above its weight’ and having a ‘can do’ attitude. For decades considered ‘the lucky country’, Australia has more than its natural share of ‘A’ types. That remains part of the modern culture in Australian business, arguably represented by Australia’s place on the global technology stage.
This calls out the first factor in our hypothesis on the multiple factors driving adoption of connected data in Australia.
More and bigger projects
The environment for project growth is ideal with a rapidly growing, demanding, population (Australia is currently growing at more than twice the rate of either the United Kingdom or the United
States) plus a healthy economic bed. Until COVID-19 arrived on Australian shores, the national economy had enjoyed 20 years of recession-free growth. These combined factors have resulted in a perpetual catalyst for infrastructure and transport building. There are more networks to move people and products and a greater requirement for connected communications, power and utilities.
Projects in Australia continue to grow in size and complexity. Currently there are complex tunnelling projects taking place in Australia’s four largest cities. Melbourne Metro, Sydney Metro and WestConnex, Brisbane Cross River Rail and Perth Metronet. In many cases, the requirements demanded by these super projects have exceeded the capabilities of any one firm to provide the necessary guarantees and capacity. As a consequence, more and more organisations are forming alliances, partnerships and joint ventures to ensure successful project delivery.
Whilst there are enormous gains in combining resources and specialty skills, these alliances and partnerships also require a consolidation of project control data systems.
A life cycle of demand
Bigger projects therefore drive a demand to adopt better connected solutions for project data at every stage of their life cycle. An average $500 million infrastructure project will create over ten story’s worth of documentation with several hundred thousand drawings and documents. All accessed by thousands of collaborators. Ensuring there is a single source and a connection of related estimates, plans, documentation and models is critical to the design, construction and operation of these assets.
Governments demanding more
In recent years government agencies have further recognised the value digital data provides for managing their assets. Many are now requiring the turnover of all digital information representing the physical asset (Digital Twin). The value in connecting data and providing a single source of reference has never been greater. Contemporary transport and infrastructure assets are more valuable in their mixed-use and long-term revenue generation capability. They are commensurately more complex. Transport tracking, monitoring, safety and management, all play their part and have their share of complexity to be managed and maintained in the design, build and maintenance.
This ramp-up in project complexity and volume has drawn in resources from around the world. With that have also come best practice models for project controls and delivery. Pulling in the world’s best to help deliver on these ambitious blueprints for government infrastructure have seen greater adoption of digital engineering. This includes leading technologies (i.e., BIM, cloud collaboration) or best practices (NEC – New Engineering Contract) from the U.K. to Australia.
The genesis of adopting a connected data approach in Australia
Our hypothesis is there was no one single factor pushing Australia down this path but rather several concurrent trends and events. They are:
Transition of leading project types
The foundation for connected data approach started back in the ‘naughties’ (2000-2009) when Australia saw a surge of projects in the oil and gas and mining fields. By their nature, these projects required well-disciplined engineering and construction practices optimised to ensure safety and increase project efficiencies. As these project types slowed around 2010-2011, Government-funded projects became the leaders in construction investment. Projects like the Northwest Rail Line in New South Wales, and the City Link and the East Link in and around Melbourne, are great examples.
As Australia’s population continues to climb, the need for infrastructure projects grows, as evidenced in the building of the West Graham Farmer Freeway, Pacific Highway and the NWA. As construction firms and professionals transitioned from oil, gas and mining projects to infrastructure projects, they brought their construction best practices, processes and disciplines with them.
Connected data: the logical conclusion
For Australia, implementing a connected data solution was the logical next step. It leveraged industry best practices, incorporated leading technologies, supported collaboration across partner firms and easily delivered a full digital record of the project. This digital transformation from siloed independent tools to a single connected data ecosystem became the next logical evolution in how to build. The foundational elements of a connected data solution ensured firms could:
- Eliminate data duplication and double entry
- Minimise project risk and uncertainty with access to joint project audit logs
- Improve overall project intelligence through the linking of related project items
- Minimise rework by ensuring everyone is using the most current data — in the office and on-site
- Provide a digital duplicate of the physical asset (Digital Twin)
- Support project turnover, through a continuous information capture approach
A lead information manager within an Australian state Transport Authority was recently lamenting how easily both paper and digital assets are lost or even forgotten to have ever existed. By implementing a connected data solution, every project asset is now at his fingertips. Through a compelling series of events and influences, Australia has led the charge in adopting a connected data approach, successfully positioning its firms to build what their country requires.
Like ultrasound, the electric drill, plastic bank notes, WiFi and Google Maps (yes that’s right, Australia claims that too), the adoption of connected project data and the evolution of project controls methodologies is best witnessed on the largest island of the southern hemisphere.
What do you think? Are you seeing these same trends at your firm? Are you implementing a connected data solution?
Rob Bryant is executive vice president of APAC for InEight. He has 20 years of experience working in digital transformation and SaaS business models, including construction and engineering project controls, ERP and publishing. He has worked with a range of Government agencies and top-tier contractor organisations to see solutions implemented to address their vision for project controls and digital transformation.
David Wagner is vice president of industry solutions at InEight and serves as a voice of the market for InEight’s Document, Contract and Change solutions. He has more than 20 years of experience developing and marketing capital project management software solutions with a specific emphasis on construction document management. David provides the necessary insight and expertise to develop strategic solutions that help InEight customers succeed in a highly competitive industry.
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