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Infrastructure Spending, Technology Adoption will Revive AEC Industry

The impact of COVID-19 is being felt in both above and below the surface infrastructure. Budgetary cuts, physical distancing and remote communication are among the biggest challenges faced by the AEC industry. However, the slowdown hasn’t prevented governments from accelerating investments in infrastructure, and the industry has begun to transform digitally to adapt to the new normal, says Page Tucker, CEO and Founder of ProStar. 

How has COVID-19 impacted the AEC Industry?

In my opinion, COVID-19 has not had a substantial impact on construction job sites, unlike at places where people work together in confined areas. In the current situation, working from home is the new norm, as has been the case in our organization. At ProStar, over 50% of our employees have elected to work from home. It works for us because we are a software company with efficient communication channels, making it possible to monitor performance and easily share information. 

However, one crucial impact of the pandemic is that there has been a cut across the board in corporate as well as Federal and State budgets. This has resulted in many infrastructure projects being delayed, but has also created an opportunity for the industry as a whole to move towards adopting innovative technologies that would reduce costs and enhance efficiencies.

Do you think geospatial technologies have an important role to play in the current situation? 

Without a doubt. In the present context, the entire world understands the value and impact of geospatial technologies and location services. By using these technologies, it is possible to identify and track the precise location of virtually anything, from people, animals, vehicles to even a virus. Further, by using Artificial Intelligence solutions, particularly Machine Learning solutions, the impact of events like a virus can easily be tracked, assessed ,mitigated and even predicted. By way of rapidly conducting predictive modeling of the location data and using geospatial-based analytics and simulations, the spread of a virus can be predicted, and the required precautions can be taken accordingly. For instance, by using geospatial technologies, many healthcare organizations can run analytics and determine the dynamics and impact of the virus spread.

Another relevant example is that of the forest fires — a problem we have seen most recently in California, Oregon and right here in Colorado. By capturing data on the density of forests, distance from habituated populations, temperature, rainfall and wind trends, analysis can be drawn. By quickly running geospatial modeling using AI and Machine Learning-based predictive analysis, it is possible to determine how quickly the fire is going to spread, in which direction, its speed and what would be its likely reach and impact. So, I believe geospatial technologies could play a very prevalent role in all things related to science in the future. 

By using geospatial technologies, it is possible to identify and track the precise location of virtually anything, from people, vehicles to even a virus

Has there been a significant impact of Covid on the subsurface utility mapping business? 

Yes, there has been an impact. When the construction of surface infrastructure such as roads, bridges and highways is cut back or delayed, it impacts all the businesses that provide services to protect the subsurface utilities, which are often adversely impacted by surface construction. Anytime you break ground, there is a high probability that you are going to damage something that lies below, and that is especially dangerous if you don’t know precisely what it is or where it is. Because budgets are being cut at the Federal, State and Provincial levels on surface infrastructure projects, the businesses associated to the subsurface infrastructure are also impacted. However, I think these infrastructure budget cuts are only temporary — leading primarily to simply a short-term delay in timelines. So, whenever we recover from the pandemic, these stalled projects will start again, and will be added to new projects that will be planned. So, we could see a rapid increase in the amount of projects that are realized. In addition, the best way to stimulate and promote economic recovery is to spend heavily in the repair and expansion of infrastructure. This will not only jump-start the economy, but will also ensure that the transportation network that we so heavily rely on to move and deliver the products we require on a daily basis is functioning properly. Today, it is in very poor health and is in serious need of repair and replacement. I think a significant spend by the Federal government to fix this problem is inevitable.

So, while there is a slight decrease in business revenues in the short-term, in future, the industry is going to witness a significant increase in both business and revenue. Not only because there won’t be budget constraints, but because of a significant increase in spending, and the new and innovative technologies being developed that will become the new normal in the digital transformation of the AEC industry. 

How do you view the future of AEC industry?

Infrastructure spending and technology adoption is going to revive the entire AEC industry after the pandemic. Across North America, Europe and throughout Asian countries, I am sure we are going to see massive investments from governments in infrastructure, as it is one of the most critical sectors to jump start and support an economy. In North America, all our roads, bridges and highways either need repair, replacement or expansion. I believe there is going to be trillions of dollars spent over the next five to ten years in infrastructure investments, which means we are going to see a significant increase in business practices associated with the development and protection of subsurface utility infrastructure.

New technology solutions can improve workflows and reduce risks, and the AEC industry understands that. The industry is going to see a more extensive and rapid adoption of modern technologies, making the use of innovative technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality and geospatial technologies the new norm. At ProStar, we are going to flourish because we have established ourselves as an organization offering modern and innovative technology that significantly enhance current practices, reduce risks and cut costs. We have government agencies, engineering and surveying firms, municipalities, and large construction companies that are now adopting our technology. I can confidently say that we are leading the way and that our future looks bright.

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