How AECOM “Engineers” A Digital Transformation Journey for Sustainable Growth

The impact of digital transformation on our built environment has been nothing short of transformative and AECOM has wisely leveraged these digitalized solutions to accelerating the delivery of critical infrastructure that leaves sustainable legacies.
AECOM president in front of the office monument
Source: AECOM
By | 12 min read

Officially established in 1990, AECOM has taken the engineering landscape by storm, transforming from a passionate venture of a handful of employees from design and engineering companies to the industry-leading infrastructure firm that has literally built the world. With an unrivaled heritage delivering design, planning, engineering, consulting and construction management solutions, this Los Angeles-based behemoth has marked its name – not only in the U.S. but around the globe – as the world’s premier infrastructure partner.

So, what is the most critical driver behind AECOM’s outstanding growth momentums? How does AECOM make a difference, compared to other long-established competitors? The change driving factor is nothing but digital transformation. Let’s go explore how this giant “engineers” a digital journey for stunning success.

Digitalized AECOM: Harnessing Digital Solutions to Create Sustainable Legacies

Since the world of infrastructure is ever-evolving, long stagnant methods of design and engineering are being rapidly eclipsed by digital solutions – digital twins, immersive imagery, etc. – that disrupt modern engineering delivery. Digital transformation and innovations driven by big data, artificial intelligence and new sensor technologies are redefining what’s possible for traditional highways, bridges, buildings and campuses.

Those who capitalize on these technology platforms early would be definitely the winner and this is certainly the case for AECOM. By rethinking technology’s role in how they design, build and operate built environment assets, this giant managed to invent faster, smarter and better tools, empowering them to push their fortune and the whole industry forward.

AECOM CEO at the headquarters
Source: AECOM

As they embark on their digital transformation journey, AECOM sets out 03 key pillars of growth, which include:

  • Automated Design & Construction: The creative application oftechnology platforms to optimize its operational excellence – to design better, build faster and collaborate smarter virtually – throughout the process.
  • Data-driven Asset Management: A robust focus on infrastructure lifecycle, aiming to integrate digital solutions and process innovations into how they assess, plan, deliver, operate and maintain the global built environment.
  • Data Management and Intelligence: Practices to harness the power of data, capturing the scale of AECOM’s global footprint while delivering valuable offerings for their clients across diverse industries and sectors.

Let’s delves into these change drivers one by one to grasp crystal-clear insight into AECOM’s critical digital delivery.

Driver #1. Efficient and Automated Design & Construction

Given the mounting economic, social and environmental pressures, both private and public sector developers are challenging the design and construction industry to deliver faster, greener and more efficient infrastructure solutions.

To address such leaner and greener construction concerns, AECOM has developed a novel digital ecosystem — which brings together the latest digital tools for use across disciplines, including design for manufacture and assembly solutions. The digital ecosystem is built around a central digital library that allows for knowledge capture, supports interdisciplinary workflows and applies lessons learnt to deliver smarter, greener buildings faster.

Yet, does this platform truly work and how exactly?

Specifically, this integrated digital delivery approach can enhance core business operations and improve outcomes across the entire project lifecycle and the wider industry – in three ways:

Informing Decision-Making at Full Length

From technical perspective, a building is only ever as good as the quality of the spaces within it and the success of its vision to form a coherent and adaptable whole. But, in practice, along the earliest stages of a project, those involved will generally not have all essential spatial specifications to understand inside-out the impact of the decisions they are making on their building.

Harnessing the project detail and sector knowledge stored in digital libraries, engineering and design teams can easily generate 3D models to visualize their design in practice, which then give them insightful data. Thanks to that, well before the construction stages, they can assess the planned use of space, products, materials, light, color and even how the operation of their building will work.

AECOM collaborate with stakeholders from Military base
Source: Memphis District Corps of Engineers

More importantly, ideas and creative changes can be tested in the virtual world and spaces within such common settings as residential, healthcare and workplace as well as quickly get adapted to suit new circumstances or project conditions, without losing embedded knowledge and intelligence. Besides, with access to interdisciplinary data, teams can see detailed information on sockets, lights, grilles and other building services from the very first beginning, which helps to minimize the risk for costly, last-minute changes down the line.

Unlocking Optimal Value Through Specifications

Whereas it’s the building’s spaces that determine its look and feel, its systems — ranging from structural to business services and internal wall systems — will primarily form its engine room.

Leveraging digital libraries with the building-system components, AECOM teams are well informed with in-depth fabrication and construction-ready information. This does enable them to optimize these elements from an aesthetic and whole-life perspective by picking the products, materials and solutions that can deliver the best long-term value for the project.

Furthermore, the better and more detailed the design content is, the likelier it is to repeat best-practice and well-designed spaces throughout all project programs, replacing the design standards typically adopted. In fact, AECOM teams also harness digital design libraries, including construction-ready spaces and systems, to drive residential developments, repeatable retail plans, high-performance workplaces as well as adaptive healthcare and higher education buildings.

Synthesizing Innovation & Tradition While Fostering Collaboration 

With the most cutting-edge tools, software and solutions in one place and ready to deploy via a digital ecosystem – consisting of such design for manufacture and assembly (DFMA) techniques as modular construction, AECOM teams are enabled to minimize waste, cut down costs as well as save resources across the project lifecycle.

To take an example, the adoption of off-site modular solutions, which are embedded with advanced manufacturing technologies and processes in construction, can deliver high-performing, precision-engineered buildings equipped to reduce running costs, adapt to changing needs and save energy. In cases where modular approaches are not adequate, especially when it comes to commercial offices or airport terminals, digitally integrated platforms can bring together manufacturing and construction software platforms to empower multidisciplinary teams and supply chain partners to collaborate more efficiently, lowering downstream costs and delays while simplifying these complicated, and often global, programs for smooth management.

AECOM chief of capital speak at a hotel ribbon cutting event
Source: AECOM

For instance, just by linking an architect’s model to engineering software, engineers can possibly limit the need for multiple design iterations and ensure early design decisions are as solid as possible.

Driver #2: Data-Driven Asset Management

To deliver on their solid commitment to quality, consistency, and safety, asset management performs a critical role. That’s why this Los Angeles-based behemoth focuses on developing technologies to automate asset identification and condition assessment, which helps to improve health and safety, communication with stakeholders while optimizing design, operation and cost-efficiency.

Amongst AECOM’s most powerful asset management solutions are GIS 2.0 and Predictive Failure & Analytics Platform

GIS 2.0

Most individuals must be familiar with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) that refers to the location-based solutions available in most mobile devices and desktops to navigate or to make decisions based on the surroundings. Yet, apart from that, the GIS technology has a myriad of technical applications, from assisting remote information gathering on-site, to assessing damage after a disaster.

In practice, digital map solutions are a handy yet super-powerful tool for improving project communications, better informing project stakeholders and providing critical information in a spatial context. From standard mapping portals to custom web solutions, AECOM has utilized their flexible array of mobile and web GIS 2.0 solutions to develop a tailored approach for each project.

By positioning all projects into a real-world context and fostering interactive collaboration and sharing of information across all screens and devices, the GIS 2.0 platform is global and significantly transcends how AECOM projects are executed digitally.

Predictive Failure & Analytics

As for built environment asset owners, the ability to project the future is not longer a life-long dream. It has become a reality, making a significant difference to the operations and maintenance of critical assets.

Whilst Internet connectivity failure, emergency repairs and unplanned outages emerge as major expenses for asset owners, predictive asset management now enables operators to keep their assets operational, facilitating planned maintenance activities while avoiding the critical financial implications of reactive maintenance works.

AECOM staff collaborate with design record on ipad
Source: AECOM

Within an ever-evolving era of “big data”, a wealth of information is made available from the asset performance perspective. The capability of interpreting and optimizing the use of this data is the key to making significant differences. Acknowledging that, AECOM developed Predictive Failure Platform that allows asset owners and operators to drive data-driven decisions to better manage their assets and forecast asset deterioration more effectively.

Through visualizing the geo-referenced data, this platform presents insightful engineering data to determine the underlying factors that contribute to asset performance problems. In addition, AECOM’s Predictive Failure Platform is well equipped with advanced features to amalgamate and process a vast amount of information from disparate datasets and adapt algorithms to analyze performance data.

For example, the AECOM engineering team harnessed this tool to analyze water pipes and model deterioration patterns for several water supplier corporations. With the Predictive Failure Platform, they were able to model drain deterioration, which helps to increase the efficiency of costly survey work and improve pipe defect detection rates from 20% to amazingly 50%.

Driver #3. Data Management & Intelligence

Increasingly reliant on smart technologies, people create staggering 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every single day. Surprisingly, this figure accounts for 90 % of the world’s data produced in the past two years alone.

Data management is not going to be a straightforward task in the case of businesses, especially for such a data-driven AECOM who work with a countless number of construction projects and clients around the world.

How could AECOM manage such a huge amount of data in the smartest and most efficient way?

When it comes to data management, AECOM has invested in developing the best-in-class cloud-based software solutions with a developed governance framework to establish, implement, manage and operate seamless projects and programs. This integrated digital platform has strong clarity at all levels, offering clear, up to the minute dashboard reporting, ensuring measured outputs are monitored and managed to deliver optimal outcomes

More importantly, AECOM focuses on all terabytes of structured and unstructured data produced across an asset’s life cycle and leverages them via I3 – a tool for data science.

Inventing I3 with the connected expertise and the global capacity to manage, comprehend and interpret mountains of data at all engineering stages, AECOM’s data science approach makes use of advances in information management technology to form a holistic picture of client’s data through advanced analytics, virtual design and construction techniques, and the creation of custom dashboards. The output is data-driven insight that not only assists in sound decision making but also minimizing risk and increasing clients’ competitive advantages.

AECOM Has Literally Built the World

With its robust focus on these key drivers, in addition to the creative applications of the state-of-the-art technology platforms – virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), 4D & 5D Building Information Modelling, 3D printing, to name a few, AECOM has reimagined the construction works, not only building on their growth momentum but also bringing in impactful values to their clients.

This explains this engineering and design giant win the majority of construction projects in both public and private sectors.

AECOM won contract from US Airforce
Source: USAF

In the past March, AECOM has just been awarded the U.S. Air Force infrastructure and facilities contract under the $2 billion program. In particular, this company has been selected by the U.S. Air Force Civil Engineer Center (AFCEC) to provide a full-service package of planning, design and construction management through the Architect-Engineer NEXT 2021 contract for infrastructure and facilities globally. The multiple-award contract, with a combined $2 billion program ceiling, includes a five-year base period and one five-year option.

Before this 2-billion contract, AECOM has held AFCEC’s predecessor architect-engineer contract for the last 5 years and stood out as the unrivaled leading service provider, spanning dozens of projects around the world, including the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado.

“AECOM’s track record of technical excellence positioned us as a trusted partner to continue our 65-year history collaborating with the U.S. Air Force to deliver innovative solutions for their dynamic missions across the globe,” affirmed Lara Poloni, AECOM’s president. “We are proud to support the U.S. Air and Space Forces’ dominance in the skies and space for generations to come by delivering strong infrastructure built on the ground.”

Just one month later, in mid-April, AECOM continues to be awarded the third consecutive nationwide contract with the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). This is an indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) program management services contract in which AECOM will provide program and project management, architectural and engineering design, construction management, and environmental services to improve and maintain the USPS’ vast facilities portfolio.

“We are proud to support the USPS across all of its service areas with our expansive, established network of experts,” stated Tom Scerbo, Metro New York Executive of AECOM’s Design & Consulting Services business. “With our unwavering track record of successful completion, we are ready to continue to deliver USPS projects of all sizes and on a national scale.”

Quite similar to the U.S. Air Forces, AECOM has also worked at over 2,000 USPS facilities under its previous program management services contract with the USPS. It has also completed a construction management support services contract and various environmental and architectural IDIQ contracts with the USPS, with work encompassing a range of facilities, consisting of network distribution centers, post offices, processing and distribution centers, retail mail facilities, and vehicle maintenance facilities.

In addition to delivering on its operational excellence via huge construction projects, AECOM has led some impactful initiatives that make significant differences to society. Among them is the life-saving Studio H.

Speaking of healthcare, particularly the healthcare system within the U.S., faster, better and more affordable delivery of patient care is not only life-changing but also life-saving. That’s why Studio H, by AECOM Hunt’s healthcare group, came into place.

Located within a warehouse in Indianapolis, Indiana, Studio H is a laboratory for testing and refining prefabrication and modular construction techniques for healthcare facilities. It serves as a collaborative space where AECOM construction and design professionals work with cutting-edge manufacturers to understand how different prefabricated elements fit together to improve the constructability of the healthcare landscape. Besides, Studio H could be considered a “showroom” where clients can see first-hand how modular and prefabricated construction benefits their projects, or a “training facility” for AECOM employees to learn how to optimize the installation of these components.

AECOM present healthcare facility
Source: AECOM

Once adopted properly, prefabrication holds huge potentials of lowering operational cost, improving quality, improving construction schedules, enhancing safety performance and expediting delivery. Those benefits do wonders for healthcare prospects. 

The Bottom Line

Beyond any doubt, the impact of digital transformation on our global built environment has been nothing short of transformative and AECOM has wisely leveraged these digitalized solutions to accelerating the delivery of critical infrastructure that will leave a powerful and sustainable legacy.

The growth trajectory geared towards digital transformation by AECOM is a great starting point for those who wish to make an impactful difference to push their business – and the engineering spaces as a whole – forward.

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