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Amy Corriveau is the president of Trinnex, a subsidiary of CDM Smith focused on data, SaaS solutions, and digital transformation for the public infrastructure world.

It’s a transformation of sorts for her career after over 23 years working with water, wastewater, and electric utilities. And it’s exactly the kind of emphasis on digital she’s working to help the civil engineering industry make.

Corriveau will be talking at the ASCE 2022 Convention as part of an “Innovation in Civil Engineering” panel, Oct. 24, in Anaheim, California, and she recently spoke with ASCE’s Civil Engineering Source.

Civil Engineering Source: Let’s start with timelines. Can you compare the timeline for an infrastructure project with the digital pace of change?

Amy Corriveau: The two timelines for digital and the physical infrastructure worlds are just moving at a completely different pace. That juxtaposition of those two time scales is really difficult to bridge.

For example, a public infrastructure project could take anywhere from 12 to 30 months just to design. Then, if it’s going to be constructed, all things being equal, it could be from two to six years or even longer, depending on what you’re constructing. So that timeframe could be a decade from start to finish. Then contrast that with the digital world, which releases new updates on the scale of weeks, not months.

The timelines don’t align very easily, and that’s certainly what makes it a lot more difficult for our industry to adapt.

headshot of Corriveau
Amy Corriveau

Source: When you talk to these designers, civil engineers, or maybe the project owners, what do you recommend in terms of navigating that challenge?

Corriveau: The attributes associated with each industry make it almost unfair to compare, but that’s why it is so important to integrate the two. Again, if you think about a digital mindset and what it takes to innovate and advance technology, you think of being adaptable and agile, innovating, and failing fast. And that’s the complete opposite of what we need our civil public infrastructure mindset to be. Sure, we need innovation, but we need it at near perfection. If you don’t have a design that’s built to near perfection, it could be catastrophic. So, on the engineering side, the conservative, perfection mindset is borne of necessity, if you think about it. There’s no room for failing fast in that situation, because lives could be jeopardized.

It really is a difficult divide to navigate. I think one of the bridges from the conservative mindset to digital is trying to be more adaptable or flexible with regard to new concepts or change. I am by no means suggesting to experiment or worse, be careless with our designs or construction, but the engineering field could begin to supplement its designs with new tools such as AI-powered designs.

Where possible, the industry could gradually adopt a more flexible mindset to envision differently and take advantage of new data sources. With all of the emerging technologies that have surfaced in our industry – whether it’s the advancement of the internet of things, censors, using drones, or virtual reality – there are so many things that give you more insight into information or provide data quicker. So, you can incorporate that into your design; make sure that’s factored into the construction. It’s these little nudges, so to speak, that can advance the industry and help the engineering mindset to adapt.

Source: What is the case for a digital transformation if you’re talking to someone who might be skeptical or a little bit stubborn?

Corriveau: It’s only human nature to be skeptical; that’s natural. It’s human nature to be resistant to change, but I really don’t think our industry has a choice. Everybody is feeling pains of the “silver tsunami” combined with the Great Resignation, leaving us all with the massive number of job vacancies right now, globally. It’s not just in our industry. Every industry you can think of is being impacted by talent shortage.

Because of this resource crisis, I don’t think we have a choice but to transform, and become more flexible and adapt to change a little more openly. I do think we’ve come a long way, and if there’s a silver lining with COVID, I certainly think it’s that it’s helped people appreciate technology and digital, and the pace of change a lot easier. We all had to innovate on a global scale a couple of years ago, and we still are. Everybody is adapting to a remote workforce or a hybrid approach; we are all using tech much more regularly.

Since we are all fighting to attract and retain great, talented people, we have to think about what employees want. Digital could be the answer. Especially if we’re looking to Gen Z – as a generation they are more flexible, more adaptable. They have never known a world without the internet, without data right at their fingertips. They have no fear when it comes to technology, and they expect it in their day-to-day.

So, I think we’re going to see a groundswell of appreciation for the digital space. And for the skeptics, I can only encourage them to find that benefit on their own. I’m sure as a consumer, they’re using digital, so work is no different. They don’t have to look hard to find the benefits associated with leveraging data and technology differently now – whether it is cloud or BIM, or it improves their projects directly because they have access to new or more data in real time, digital can be a big differentiator.

Learn more about the ASCE 2022 Convention.