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The recent Senate-approved $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will see $550 billion in new infrastructure spending and is another step toward the U.S. construction industry’s recovery from COVID-19. While short of the original $2 trillion proposal, the plan represents the largest federal investments ever made across several different infrastructure asset types including passenger rail, bridges and electric vehicle charging. With this infrastructure investment on the horizon, the construction industry has every reason to feel upbeat about the future, but is it prepared?

Optimistic about growth

Research conducted by InEight earlier this year, that saw 300 large enterprise, capital project and construction professionals surveyed—forming the basis of its inaugural Global Capital Projects Outlook (GCPO)—found that 95% of owners and contractors from the Americas are either fairly or very optimistic about their organization’s growth prospects for the next 12 months. Given the year the industry has had, the results were surprisingly positive, even bullish. However, it is also a strong indicator of the incredible resilience that the sector has shown since early 2020. Only 12% of contractors responding to the survey said they felt their organization was not very resilient—a pleasingly small minority. Looking to the future, both are positive markers of the industry’s capability and appetite to ramp up to deliver the infrastructure deal.

The potential influx of capital into the sector is not the only thing contributing to respondents’ positive outlook. The promise of digital transformation also remains top of mind for 65% of America’s construction professionals who responded to the survey. The construction industry has, historically, proceeded with caution when introducing new digital tools, and owners and contractors see that any increasing lag in adopting digital transformation as an unpalatable threat to growth.

Improving project delivery

In light of COVID-19, has digital transformation become a make-or-break factor? It certainly looks that way, with many more organizations jumping into digitalization to bolster resilience, gain smarter insights for better project outcomes and keep pace with or even overtake competitors. This complements a longer-term trend that has seen a marked increase in the number of projects delivered on or ahead of schedule, with over half of owners and contractors responding to the survey indicating as much. Over the medium term, organizations that have invested in digital transformation will not only benefit from cost and schedule improvements but also attract the best talent and partners to collaborate—and will soon begin to leave the digital have-nots to fall behind.

Digital transformation is now thoroughly realized as a must-have in the industry to achieve the pinnacle of project execution: project certainty. With this, a paradigm shift is at hand.

The industry is beginning to move away from low bid contracting toward alternative delivery models and to a more transparent and collaborative way of working where risk, project decisions and project data are shared. At the same time, owners and contractors are switching on to the power of collecting, connecting, and analyzing data from past projects to establish more meaningful expectations for future project delivery. This, underpinned by an influx of digital tools, means the industry is becoming far more adept at planning and estimating as well as identifying risks upfront to create more reality-based budgets and schedules. With the infrastructure deal at play, this offers an unrivaled opportunity to put the industry’s digital vision of the future to the test.

Just in time: Project confidence

Collectively, confidence in project certainty is at an all-time high due to these improvements. According to the GCPO, 83% of respondents are confident of completing future projects on or ahead of schedule, and 82% are confident of doing so on or under budget—a huge leap compared to what the industry reports today (48% for on or ahead of schedule and for on or under budget). That said, contractors highlight that continued focus on estimating accuracy combined with enhanced planning, scheduling and resource management are vital to turning this confidence into reality.

This new reality for the construction industry could not come at a better time. With billions in capital spend on the line, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of jobs and economic growth the spend is hoped to create, scrutiny over project delivery will be more intense than ever.

While there remains a long way to go before the industry achieves project outcomes and productivity on par with peers, it is promising to see the extent to which the industry continues embracing digital transformation, which can only have a positive impact on the execution and ROI of this historic bipartisan deal.

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