Integration Across the Digital Ecosystem in Construction and Engineering
As Engineering and Construction(E&C) organizations undergo a digital transformation, the challenge is to integrate a range of systems, software, hardware, and applications across the enterprise and ensure that there is interoperability between new and existing systems.
By reducing duplication, smoothing the flow of data and permitting different systems to communicate with each other, interoperability is an essential means of increasing workflow efficiencies and improving collaboration between project teams.
Leading E&C organizations are focusing on digital technology as part of their core strategy. In the process, they are increasingly building out their business operations across a network of platforms, tools, and devices. These collectively create a digital ecosystem. Whether for collaboration, mobility, predictive analytics, monitoring, or operations, organizations are now expanding their digital ecosystems across the project life cycle, so they can capture more data, reduce construction time, or improve safety and quality.
While the benefits of accelerating digital adoption are clear, the diversity of contractors and platforms across the value chain results in data being generated in a dispersed way, increasing the volume of information handled and creating risks associated with system interdependencies and poor integration. These challenges can cause roadblocks and increased costs. Disconnected processes and systems increase resource and labour requirements, reducing competitiveness in an industry where returns are already diminishing.
Below are practical solutions that must be implemented throughout the industry to integrate technologies across the ecosystem.
1. Defining a Strategy
Increasing an organization’s digital agility starts with a decision to embark on digital transformation and adoption of a clear strategy on how to execute this transformation. Organizations need to establish why technology is important, what value they expect from it, and how it will affect their businesses. Digital integration requires more than just implementing software platforms or moving to cloud computing. It means embracing technology and using the Internet of Things (IoT), drones, sensors, augmented reality, and data science. These and other innovations will redefine production processes, improve project delivery, asset operations and management, and increase productivity.
2. Understanding the Ecosystem and Architecture
Not all technology provides the same value, so having a clear view of internal systems and how they currently operate will help to establish what is working and what is not, how systems connect to each other, the flow of information, and what needs to be rationalized.
Often organizations adopt new technology over time in response to changes in strategy or the need to remain competitive, or because of mergers and acquisitions, which in turn adds to the complex and disconnected ecosystem.
3. Open APIs and File Formats
Through open APIs, an organization can build out its digital ecosystem and accelerate IT integration to avoid the inefficiency of solving individual problems with point solutions that do not communicate with other systems, thereby creating multiple, disconnected sets of information – and even creating new problems.
Given the rise of IoT technologies, artificial intelligence (AI), mobile and on-site devices such as drones, closed solutions are no longer beneficial. Information flow now needs to be bi-directional so that new insights can be gathered, and various data sets can be combined.
4. Interoperability and Usability
To ease the transition to digital technology, new solutions should work with the existing digital ecosystem and be easy to implement. Purchasing hardware or software that delivers the required benefit but does not work well with the existing ecosystem will diminish returns and increase resourcing requirements. Overly complex solutions may hamper adoption. The user experience must be consistent and intuitive for all those deploying the technology, including the smallest subcontractors. A user-friendly system will allow people to do their jobs more easily and effectively.
5. Integration Service and Support
Not only should software or hardware be fit for purpose and work with existing tools in the ecosystem, it should also be purchased from a vendor that can become a partner able not only to support the organization and its users during the integration stage, but that also can offer guidance on what lies ahead and the next steps to take to accelerate the digital transformation. The vendor should also provide a vision for the future and be able to guide customers through the next stages of innovation. When choosing a vendor, it is important to think long term and select providers that have proven track records, credibility in implementation, robust support systems, and global support networks.
6. Investment in a Data Lake
A data lake is a storage repository that holds raw data until it is needed. Given the vast amount of information that can be captured across an Engineering and Construction ecosystem, a data lake is an important component of a big data strategy. It allows enterprise information to be collected and stored in a uniform way, regardless of the source or whether the data is structured or unstructured. A data lake is typically easy to design and deploy and allows an organization to take control of its enterprise data, even if the analytics and insights requirements have yet to be defined.
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