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The Today and Tomorrow of Engineering

By Scott Zieber, VP & CIO, Gannett Fleming, Inc

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Scott Zieber, VP & CIO, Gannett Fleming, Inc

Gannett Fleming has served as an engineering consulting partner in global infrastructure for 100 years. We improve communities through transportation, earth science, environmental, water, power, geospatial and facility-related projects in more than 65 countries. Our 2,000 employees deliver innovation and excellence in planning, design, technology, and construction services for a diverse range of markets and disciplines. From more than 60 offices around the world, we embrace sustainability and innovation, finding the best solutions and the most efficient processes to meet our clients’ complex challenges.

Current Market Trends in Engineering

How digital is your company? Digital technologies are overcoming the engineering space. How the companies adopt the use of these technologies will be key. The Internet of Things (IoT) is in full bloom and the integration of wearables and implanted sensors in their designs will direct many of the ways we work and play. Along with these sensors, the expansion of virtual reality and 3D/4D visualization will direct the next generation in engineering. These may include the use of the technology by the engineer during design, the project manager during client reviews, or during public meetings. Being able to see, or “walk-thru”, a project or existing structures will help people have a better concept of the final product.

  “As current and newer trends in technology are implemented, they will allow for the next disruption or transformation to happen even faster’’

In order for a trend to become an effective solution, it can’t be something mandated or required by Corporate IT or even the executive team. You need the buy-in and participation from the end users and you need to show how it will benefit them in their daily work. It can’t be something they use or do every other day or week. The most effective solutions are those that you can make a part of their everyday work process.

The next toughest hurdle to overcome in implementing any new technology is the integration point and speed of implementation. Do you introduce it to a specific area of the company where it will benefit the most or is it something that must go company-wide. Many times the most effective solutions are those that are organic. They start with a small group or individual and as it grows, t is formally integrated and adopted throughout the company.

In some areas of the company where project timelines are years versus months, these changes can be slow to implement. At Gannett Fleming, we are very lucky to have an enterprise geospatial IT division called GeoDecisions that is very innovative where we can test many new trends without impacting the entire company. Now that isn’t always the case because the specific trend may not apply to their work process. You need to be selective and determine what is going to provide the greatest and quickest benefit for the company.

Businesses Challenges

I think the level of the business challenges a company faces is primarily based on their current presence, experience, and ability to adapt to the Internet and its cloud services. A company’s current infrastructure is also critical. Over recent years IT business units have been asked to continue to do more with less. Allocation of the proper financing to support the necessary infrastructure and software licensing is also a challenge. Much of the software licensing is changing to a subscription model.

Key to Success

Embrace new technology. Use the work experience you gain and the experience of other veteran engineers to sift through what trends you think will continue and what to dismiss. Then apply those ideas to what you create. Also, think about the impact on the individual. Don’t just design to the physical nature of a project, but design to the human aspect or individuals it will affect.

During an internal interview I conducted with executives of our firm, I asked our CEO at the time his thoughts on the question: “Over the years, have the changes and trends in technology made engineers smarter or dumber?” His answer was two-fold, “yes and yes. Unfortunately, it has allowed borderline individuals to get by, but more so it has allowed the smarter, innovative engineers to do a lot more.” Strive to be one of those innovative engineers.

Periodically attend conferences outside your area of expertise. If you are a civil engineer go to a conference for the medical or legal field. If you are an IT Director go to a CAD or financial user’s group meeting. Match those experiences with attending various technology conferences and try to marry the two. Take a different perspective into a new area and see where you can apply new ideas.

The Future of Engineering

The pace at which these happen will only increase. As current and newer trends in technology are implemented, they will allow for the next disruption or transformation to happen even faster. I’m not just saying there will be more of them, but less time in between each event. I think the biggest benefactor of these transformations will be the general public. I see the future transformations allowing many of the construction services to occur at a faster rate because of new methods available, minimizing the impact to existing transportation is just one example. The growth of IoT and the accumulation of vast amounts of data will affect all areas of engineering. Its affect has and will continue to cross many of the disciplines and blur the specific areas of engineering. Each of them using more and more of the accumulated data that was previously directed for a specific discipline. I am not saying that disciplines will combine, although I would not rule that out, but will require more collaboration and become more dependent on each other than ever before.

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