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Steven Karan

Steven Karan

Vice President, GHD Digital

Vishen Maharaj

Vishen Maharaj

Digital Infrastructure Leader, GHD Digital

Over the next decade, hundreds of billions of dollars will be spent on infrastructure across Canada. Research shows that three-quarters of infrastructure projects are beset by scheduling delays or cost overruns. The often-complicated divide between finance and delivery, compounded by a significant number of projects relying on public funding, can mean serious operational and financial implications.

Global professional services company GHD believes that these issues can be reduced by using robust digital solutions and data analytics at the outset of a project.

A growing demand for digital transformation

With rising costs, disrupted supply chains, increased customer expectations, and the impact of climate change, digital transformation is front of mind for today’s infrastructure leaders.

Clients come to GHD to harness the full potential of existing and potential infrastructure. Developing and assessing well-planned and integrated strategies to minimize risk, GHD helps them to maximize returns, efficiency, and productivity over the life of assets. At the same time, GHD is acutely aware of how building a digital infrastructure can better connect clients with their customers, save money and ultimately be more effective in their business.

GHD has taken its 90-year history of engineering know-how and integrated it with an in-house team of digital solution experts to create GHD Digital. Blending traditional engineering mindsets with the latest technologies, the team can offer solutions that normally wouldn’t be possible.
“Our aim is to fully understand our clients’ needs, show available technologies, all while guiding them through the digital transformation process that will help achieve their goals,” says Steven Karan, Vice President, Canada, GHD Digital. “Through analytics and data science, clients can use predictive models and machine learning to understand their infrastructure assets. Through augmented reality, clients can visualize a building and the surrounding area and study the flow of people and the necessary equipment, well before shovels are even put in the ground. Digital technology offers a framework that infrastructure owners can adopt to minimize delays and cost — we owe it to our communities to take that approach.”

Digital technology offers a framework that infrastructure owners can adopt to minimize delays and cost – we owe it to our communities to take that approach

Thinking digitally to inform decision making

Cities need to think digitally and think big about resolving issues like climate change, urbanization, and aligning growth with existing and future infrastructure. Taking urban planning into a truly digital environment offers city planners, urban designers, and architects a collaborative, visual platform to better respond to a critical change in real-world environments. For example, how to visualize the future of our landfills, energy use, and water supply.

Recently, GHD Digital worked with a large pharmaceutical manufacturer to model how policy changes can affect infrastructure over a 50-year time frame. Combining digital twin technology, a virtual replica of a building, site, or other physical object, alongside advanced analytical techniques, they helped understand potential community impacts of a new facility. By using spatial data points and leveraging its data warehouse, GHD Digital first modelled everything from topography, density of community, access to energy supply, and surrounding road and transportation infrastructure. The team then layered additional data points, such as population and potential workforce demographics to gain a complete picture of the project at the outset.

Traditionally, it would be expensive and time-consuming to gather this kind of intelligence. Now, access to these advanced tools allows companies to be proactive with infrastructure investments. “The advantage is understanding where things will go before anything moves forward,” says Vishen Maharaj, Digital Infrastructure Leader, Canada, GHD Digital. “There are different circumstances facing each business, with nuances between private- and public-sector clients. We need to understand both. If we don’t take a digital by default approach, the implication can be billions of dollars.”

Innovation grows in the digital lab

Collaboration unlocks innovation. This is the motivation behind D-Lab, GHD Digital’s innovator and strategizer. Supporting clients through their innovation lifecycle, D-Lab builds immersive and interactive environments to unleash new ways of thinking about infrastructure.

“To meet today’s challenges, we need to reimagine how infrastructure can be built in an agile and adaptive way, increasing the efficiency of a project,” says Karan. “By looking through the lens of digital technologies, we find the outcome of a project is much more focused, in terms of building, sequencing, and targeting. Sometimes, we have clients who don’t know what’s available to them. D-Lab is about illuminating the art of the possible.”

GHD Digital is bullish on this sentiment, which it’s using globally. In Australia, for example, the company has helped improve level (railway) crossing safety, often predominant in residential areas. Bringing together subject matter experts and looking through the lens of digital technologies, the D-Lab experience increased the overall fluency of digital innovation.

No longer are clients saying, I didn’t know this was possible. Instead, they realize how new technologies can contribute to a successful project. It’s like a snowball effect as organizations execute their first projects. They need to build muscle memory when adapting digital solutions into an infrastructure project.

“Once you start executing, it’s not like there is a reserve of capital to correct mistakes,” says Karan. “Many infrastructure projects, specifically publicly funded, come from taxpayer dollars. Governments need to ensure they are maximizing available resources.”

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