The rise of digital workflow in engineering

Understanding the challenges likely to impact your business is just the first step in reducing operational costs.

By Nick Benore March 20, 2023
Courtesy: Katie Spain, CFE Media

Engineering workforce insights

  • Recent data shows that the workforce will continue to see increasing labor shortages.
  • According to industry data, applying digital workflows to construction processes is a priority for engineers when budgeting to unlock the full potential of existing digital transformation initiatives.

Reducing costs and completing projects on time and under budget is no easy task. Understanding the challenges most likely to impact your business — and to what extent — is just the first step in navigating the storm. As concerns surrounding an impending recession loom, it’s critical that engineers find ways to achieve more with less.

According to industry data, connecting construction using digital workflows is becoming a priority for engineers navigating these challenges. Digital workflows help to establish connections between stakeholders across projects and unlock the full potential of existing digital transformation initiatives.

Tackling workforce inefficiencies

While completing a project without error is ideal, failure to efficiently manage resources can inhibit this. When productivity and efficiency suffer, costs become difficult to manage and projects exceed budget. Managing resources requires connectedness with stakeholders across project teams, increasing the need for effective communication tools at all levels.

Engineers significantly benefit from additional insights by converting traditional workflows that include legacy resource management tools like paper filing systems to digital workflows accessible across teams and working environments. Digital workflows also improve insight into which processes cause delays and errors in the planning, design and building process.

More than a third (36%) of engineers report in a Dodge Data & Analytics study that their organization has highly sophisticated software integration solutions, signaling the field is invested in navigating challenges connected to unplanned work.

Labor shortages and supply chain

Workforce shortages remain a persistent challenge for engineering firms and as the industry’s existing workforce nears retirement, it is likely to worsen before it improves. Many construction companies on average report 33% of their current workforce is likely to retire in the next five years.

McKinsey indicates that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) spending, slated to deploy in 2023, will likely peak in 2027 and 2028. It also notes that this peak demand is projected to be combated by a shortfall totaling nearly 40,000 workers in the engineering and technical-services sector.

Boosting wages and benefits across these at-risk areas within construction is one solution offered to address the shortfall, but it will likely also require a significant industrywide investment in innovation around digital solutions designed to drive efficiency and productivity.

Digital workflows are playing a larger role in connecting internal organizations trying to reduce workforce related challenges. A majority (75%) of engineers in a Dodge Data & Analytics study indicate digital workflows help them connect to their project management teams more effectively. These critical investments can range from enterprise resource management tools to service trade integrations and customer relationship management platforms.

Digitization represents an area of control for decision makers in today’s challenging labor market. No matter the investment, the labor market will not soon change in construction’s favor and the industry must be prepared for that.

Unlocking technology to enhance the workforce

Incorporating new technology is not without its challenges. The combination of high costs, the skilled labor shortage and a failure to effectively leverage data collected from new technologies create a barrier to investment in new technology solutions for construction engineers. Addressing these challenges starts with understanding the ways in which technology can reduce existing inefficiencies.

Interoperability is critical and must be addressed for technology implementation to net positive impact within construction. Information has to be accessible and open between a variety of systems simultaneously to provide the highest level of value. To find and implement the best technology for a company, decision makers must first identify the needs of the business. Before evaluating options, companies should create a phased roll-out plan, including a structured process for engaging key stakeholders and noted key metrics to measure success.

Successful implementation requires buy-in from stakeholders at all levels and each stakeholder must have a clear understanding of the value of the technology adopted from the jobsite to the back office.

The future of the construction industry will undoubtedly produce challenges in the near term as the sector faces economic downturn. As new technologies that can predict costs, track tasks in real time, improve productivity and drive increased safety are introduced throughout the construction landscape, the potential for growth and opportunity will remain resilient.

Author Bio: Nick Benore is the general manager at Integrated Marketing Systems (IMS), a division of Dodge Construction Network. Dodge Construction Network is a CFE Media and Technology content partner.