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The $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is about to galvanize the AECO industry as almost half of the funding is pumped into transportation and utilities revitalization over the course of the next five years. To continuously win and maintain work over that period, companies will need to augment their traditional skills with modern technologies and the expertise to maximize their effectiveness. Without a national standard for how these construction and civil engineering projects are executed, however, the responsibility for onboarding new solutions and processes will be on the firms themselves.

Some of these technical capabilities have been available in AECO industry for several years, such as cloud collaboration and building information modeling for 3D project management. With the need to focus on efficiency and sustainability, technologies such as "Internet of Things" enabled devices and digital twin platforms will be required in the next phase to meet government RFPs. The former technologies will be suitable for the short term as the act’s funds are released; however, the latter will enable firms to future-proof their workflows against the changing needs of facility owners and civil oversight boards.

The need to plan out immediate engagements at the highest level of detail is imperative for success since waste management and upcycling are critical factors of the act. Firms of all sizes will be required to onboard lifecycle-spanning solutions and be trained in how to maximize uptime to work quickly. Familiarity and expertise in designing and constructing in collaborative data-rich intelligent 3D models will separate firms that are prepared from those that are not.

As the Infrastructure Act matures, a transformative trend will take shape making data management and sustainability paramount. Government agencies are already moving toward BIM models as a legal document, leading to as-built models and digital twins becoming industry standards. Furthermore, shifting from reactive to proactive ongoing maintenance will drive AECO firms to employ connected devices to continuously feed information into master models that can identify equipment and infrastructure status accessible via a common data environment.

Therefore, planning how to balance these immediate and ongoing initiatives will allow firms to win government-funded projects while optimizing their internal offerings and practices. Organizations with long-term goals aligning with the Infrastructure Act should do the following.

1. Understand working in a BIM Process 

As government agencies transition from 2D to 3D BIM deliverables, they expect their subcontractors and engineers to prepare materials in a compatible format. Firms need to train their staff in BIM software or partner with a consultant familiar with BIM protocols.

2. Develop BIM standards

A 3D model is a framework for what will become a final product. Embedding high standards throughout the BIM project lifecycle reduces change orders and excess materials. Many construction organizations are requiring Level of Detail 400 or above which may call for a parts database. Creating quality workflows that meet this demand will result in the creation of a master model that includes electrical, plumbing, and HVAC data in a single location.

3. Move to the cloud

Construction projects of any size include an array of documentation, contracts and stakeholders that all need to be organized. Therefore, the natural flow of a BIM process evolution is to store all project data in a single cloud database. Critical status updates, revisions and review sessions can be conducted regardless of location to keep projects visible and on time.

4. Implement data management protocols

With all that data in the cloud, proper management of information becomes a necessity. Contractors and designers will need to work with owners to identify maintenance inputs, upload asset information and share point and linear asset materials to guarantee holistic administration after construction is complete.

5. Transition from BIM to a Digital Twin

A digital twin differs from standard BIM in that it incorporates all the data points and documentation previously relegated to a separate cloud location. Firms should collaborate with owners to determine the long-term needs of the build.

6. Integrate data points into the Digital Twin

Finally, the BIM detail and data points can be combined into a true digital twin with maintenance, asset and occupancy data accessible from the platform. Firms involved at this level of digitization should team up with owners to create detailed handover documentation.

AECO firms securing Infrastructure Act contracts and onboarding new technologies will be positioned to expand into design and environmental areas and become more competitive in the long run. The innovators among them will not limit their development goals based on the five-year government funding program, but rather will use those resources to springboard themselves into the next era of connected building.

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