The Long Haul—Future-Proofing Infrastructure

Transcript

Narrator

The future of project management is changing fast. On Projectified™ with PMI, we’ll help you stay on top of the trends and see what’s really ahead for the profession—and your career.

For an easy way to stay up to date on Projectified™ with PMI, go to iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play Music or PMI.org/podcast.

Stephen W. Maye

Hello, I'm Stephen Maye, and this is Projectified™ with PMI. I'm here with my co-host Tegan Jones, and in this episode we're talking about future-proofing infrastructure projects.

When people talk about future-proofing, they're normally talking about technology. But another big risk to long-term infrastructure projects is population growth. By 2050, two of every three people will live in an urban area, according to the U.N. Right now, that figure is just over 50 percent. That means adding 2.5 billion people to cities around the world, and almost all of that growth is going to happen in Asia and Africa.

Tegan Jones

That's a lot of people, especially when you're talking about megacities like Tokyo or New Delhi or Shanghai. If you've got 25 or 35 million people living really closely together, you need the right infrastructure in place just to manage daily life. I think that's why we're seeing such an uptick in smart city investments. According to IDC, smart city spending will basically double between 2018 and 2022, when it'll hit 158 billion U.S. dollars.

Stephen W. Maye

Those are enormous investments, and cities want to spend that money wisely. That's one of the things I heard from Frank Vieveen, our featured guest for this episode. Frank is a program manager for the City of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, and he focuses on smart city and digital economy projects. For him, making smart choices means selecting projects he knows will actually work for the community.

Tegan Jones

Yeah, our other guests really touched on that idea, too. Sarah Hoban, for instance, works on innovative infrastructure projects in developing countries. She's a global project manager and lead associate for Booz Allen Hamilton, and one of her main points is that project teams have to really think about the needs of their primary users: the people who will actually operate and maintain these systems every day.

We’ve also got a local government perspective. Ed Blayney is the innovation project manager for the Office of Performance Improvement and Innovation for the city of Louisville, Kentucky. He talked about how smaller cities can run innovative projects while still being careful stewards of taxpayer funds.

Stephen W. Maye

You've got to strike that balance, especially on public projects. Let's hear what's working in Louisville.

[musical transition]
Tegan Jones

Fixing potholes. Picking up trash. Putting out fires. People count on local government to provide basic services—to do the foundational work that makes a community function. And new technology promises to make a lot of these tasks easier. With the right sensors and systems in place, cities can automate jobs that once took hours—and that could save a lot of money in the long run.

But budgets are tight and innovation can be expensive up front. So how can cities be sure they’re making the right tech investments?

For Ed Blayney, who leads up innovation efforts for the U.S. city of Louisville, Kentucky, it’s about prioritizing the projects that have the broadest impact.

Ed Blayney

You know, you have to think about your whole community and incorporating it—what’s gonna make, uh, not only benefit, you know, your most well-to-do citizens, your highest populated areas, or the areas with the most commerce, like your downtown areas. You have to think about how this is gonna affect maybe some of the more rural parts of your community, and some of the disadvantaged parts of your community. So you have to think about how you’re going to incorporate technology in regards to equity across the whole city.

Tegan Jones

When the innovation team was started in 2012, one of the big challenges Louisville faced was detecting fires on vacant and abandoned properties. The city struggled with blight after the recession and needed a better way to revitalize the neighborhoods that were hit hardest by the downturn. So it partnered with a local maker space: a place where the city’s tech experts and enthusiasts come together to collaborate on innovative ideas.

Ed Blayney

We hosted a hackathon, worked with our fire department and our emergency services department, helped judge the hackathon, and we selected a device that listens for smoke detectors to go off that we could put in vacant and abandoned properties. It’s solar-powered. It sends a notification over a cellular network if a fire alarm’s going off. So using this community-sourced solution, we’re expanding to 150 properties in one of our most challenged neighborhoods around.

Tegan Jones

Ed Blayney says this approach helps the city do a lot more with a limited budget. Rather than hiring a large tech team, the Office of Performance Improvement and Innovation has built relationships with tech-savvy experts in the community, including those with hard-to-find skills. That lets the city of Louisville tap into that network on an as-needed basis.

Ed Blayney

We had a little bit of money, which was really great, so we could sponsor some prizes. And what they did is they helped us tap into our, the broader local civic tech community. They brought in makers from all over the Louisville metro area to participate in this hackathon. So the government wasn’t necessarily doing that, right? They’ve already got that network.

Tegan Jones

These partnerships help the city brainstorm affordable, effective tech solutions. But actually implementing these projects requires building bridges internally, as well.

Ed Blayney

A lot of it has to do with educating people that traditionally are thinking about like, ‘How wide are the roads going to be?’ ‘Do we have sidewalks?’ ‘What does the tree canopy look like?’ Now they need to be thinking about this thing that is kind of invisible that they may not know much about, that they may feel nervous about even talking to people about, because they don’t want to seem like they’re ignorant about technology.

But it’s really important for them to get incorporated into plans. Because, you know, if the innovation team is leading all of the innovation projects, the scope of our work will be very limited, and we will not have the impact that we are intended to have. So we really have to work through others.

[musical transition]
Stephen W. Maye

I love the idea of finding a community-sourced solution. Even if a government agency lacks advanced technical skills, it can crowdsource a solution to a community problem. That's really creative stuff.

Tegan Jones

Hackathons are definitely a great way to bring in totally fresh ideas. So many times, project plans are limited by what the people in the room think they can achieve. These contests bring down those walls and open up the brainstorm to people with completely different perspectives, and it can produce pretty amazing results.

Stephen W. Maye

And the solution they developed was also easy to use, and that's key. Sarah Hoban, our next guest, says that's why capacity-building and education is just as important as technical implementation on her global development projects.

Tegan Jones

That makes a lot of sense. Let's hear what she has to say.

[musical transition]
Sarah Hoban

Hi, my name is Sarah Hoban, and I'm a global project manager and a lead associate working at Booz Allen Hamilton based in Washington, D.C. I'm here to talk today about the infrastructure space and the impact of disruptive technologies, particularly in the developing-country context.

Right now, I am involved with a project in Liberia that's focused on conducting road inventory and condition assessments and preparing for road maintenance planning. So in this role, I often have folks coming up to me who are really excited about the phenomenon of leapfrogging when it comes to disruptive technologies and wanting to understand how that it applies in this project. And for those that may not be familiar with this term, leapfrogging is when a developing country, in effect, leaps over a current technology that may be in use in the developed world.

And a great example of this is mobile phones. So when the developed world was still transitioning from landlines to mobile phones, developing countries were actually ahead of the curve on this one and had a lot more prevalent mobile phone usage. Since developing countries didn't have landlines in place already, they didn't have to make the transition between the two technologies.

And the reason that mobile phones were a great candidate for leapfrogging is because they were really easy for people to use. But for other technologies, like for UAS or Unmanned Aircraft Systems, for example, there are other considerations involved in determining whether that technology can be widely adopted.

For example, on one of the projects I support on—as I mentioned, this Liberia project—we're conducting road inventory and condition assessments. And that's a type of project that can be a really great candidate for UAS, depending on the distances involved that you need to survey. But a really big focus of this project as well is around capacity-building. And this involves, you know, asking questions about whether you have the right educational and vocational system in place to support the training that's involved for people to use these types of instruments. You know, not just when you have an instructor present from abroad showing them how to use the technology, but you know, when that person leaves, is there somebody that can kind of carry on that investment? What about the maintenance associated with that equipment? What about securing that equipment from potential theft or damage? Whether that infrastructure and training is in place in that environment dictates whether that investment will be worthwhile over time. And you know, even though the technology, such as it is, may be mature enough to integrate, it all comes down to your audience, and whether they're ready for that integration.

And every situation and every project—as PMs know—is different. So how do you know whether an environment is right for disruptive technologies? I think there are a couple of things that you could consider when you're thinking about readiness for integration, and the first is really PM 101. You know, it's to understand your project goals. Who's going to be using that technology? Are they receptive to using it? Do they know how to use it? And, what's the cost involved, not only in acquiring that equipment or technology, but also in training your population on that capacity-building element? What's the sustainability plan?

And you know, when you're thinking about leapfrogging, what does the technology horizon look like? Is this thing you're going to spend all this time and money training on even going to be around in the next 10 to 15 years, or are there opportunities to do some leapfrogging here?

So one thing that project managers working in this sector need to keep in mind is the needs of their audience. And I encourage you to not just think about what people are telling you, but really get to know your audience, if possible. You know, do onsite visits. Talk to others who may be involved and really understand what the capacities are and the appetite for change.

[musical transition]
Tegan Jones

So far, both Ed and Sarah have talked a lot about what it takes to successfully plan and execute these high-tech infrastructure projects, but what about the innovations themselves? What are the big tech challenges that project managers are facing in the field?

Stephen W. Maye

When I spoke to Frank Vieveen, a program manager who works on digital economy and smart city projects for the City of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, he talked about the difficulty of managing data in a smart city. Integrating predictive analytics, and in Frank's words, real-time data implementation, seemed to be the next big steps these systems need to take.

Tegan Jones

So rather than a sensor turning a streetlight on when it gets dark, we're talking about systems that actually make decisions, right? Like, whether to call a police car after an accident.

Stephen W. Maye

Exactly like that.

Tegan Jones

Sounds like he's doing some really cool work. Let's hear what he has to say.

[musical transition]
Stephen W. Maye

Frank, thank you for being here. I'm excited to hear what you have to say about the future of smart cities and what you're doing to prepare that now. So thank you for joining us.

Frank Vieveen

Thank you.

Stephen W. Maye

What do you see as the big trends that are disrupting traditional urban development projects and programs? What are the changes that are coming that cities need to be future-proofing against?

Frank Vieveen

Well, in general, there are so many changes going on in urban development. For example, we're shifting from rural areas to dense city development. And we're also starting the energy transition in the Rotterdam area. And these trends create an opportunity or, I might say, a need to use new technologies and digitization to upscale and also to upgrade city services and facilities. Digitization in a broader sense is one of the most disrupting forces in city development. ICT competence are increasingly deemed part of urban environment. Think of sensors and all kind of urban platforms. So, most smart city programs are only dealing with the implementation of some tricks, like a parking management or free Wi-Fi for citizens, but that's not a smart city.

In my view, digitization must become an integral part of urban development instead of thinking in siloes that in most cities is being done.

Stephen W. Maye

So you described that cities are often implementing certain ‘tricks’—I believe is the word that you used—so they're sort of cherry-picking certain developments, certain advancements, certain innovations, but not taking that broader, more comprehensive approach. Why do you suppose that is?

Frank Vieveen

Well, cities or local governments are not IT companies. So they tend to go to their suppliers and these suppliers have specific solutions for them. But these suppliers are only looking at one side of the problem, and I think a city is a system of systems. So you have to look at the city from a far more comprehensive way than only tackling one solution, because one solution may lead to other issues in other areas.

So for examples, we got some sensors on bicycle box for the traffic lights for bicycles in Rotterdam. And when it rains, the bicycles have a longer period of time where they're allowed to use the crossing. But on the other hand, the cars are waiting longer at the same time.

Cities are quite large organizations, which are organized in structures. And I think the trick for smart city programs is not doing the work of these experts in these departments, but to facilitate these departments in getting the overall view on the challenges that cities has, and how you can combine number of solutions to deal with these kind of challenges.

Stephen W. Maye

So Frank, when you look at everything that's going on and what you understand about the future of the smart city, what are some of the greatest challenges that you believe governments face in navigating the shifts in the future landscape?

Frank Vieveen

Cities should look at the digital layer. Adding a digital layer to the organization is only partially a technical challenge. I think the biggest challenge is to change the organization. That's, in my view, what a smart city program should focus on. How can we as an organization deal with all this new technology that we suddenly are forced to use and how can we change the attitude and organization structures to embrace this new technology? And how can we embrace the new working methods, which comes with it? And to achieve a real integral approach for urban development.

Stephen W. Maye

So tell me about some of the projects that you've been working on. When you look at the work that you're doing in Rotterdam in particular, then give me an example of some of the forward-looking work that has gone on there recently or that you're involved in now or that you anticipate.

Frank Vieveen

I think one of the more important ones that we're currently working on with the team is to implement an integral data management program on all layers. So instead of doing that on a department level or a team level, we have now formed a strategy to what's a total implementation of a citywide data management program.

So all relevant departments are part of that overall plan. They are involved in a different step. So instead of reacting on market development, we decided to proactively define our role and our objective to use data as a primary source for the majority of our city tasks and responsibilities. So we foresee the needs to move to a real-time analysis and even towards predictive analysis. This is really complicated tasks, so we started with strategy all the way to real-time implementation and use of this data.

Stephen W. Maye

I'm interested in how you avoid getting to a point where the technology that you implement today actually becomes a barrier to moving forward in the future. So how do you do that? How do you future-proof the technology that you're implementing now?

Frank Vieveen

So we have to be flexible and catch up with our digitization vision and implementation. So by defining both the building blocks as modules and by defining the interfaces, we think we can easily exchange modules by ones with more and better functionality or to be able to deal with evolving technology. And so, I think you have to think in building of blocks, which are, for instance, secure by design, have an open interfaces, use open standards. Then if you use that in your procurement processes and you have guidelines, then it helps businesses to do business with you and to provide the right building blocks on right modules.

Stephen W. Maye

So it becomes something of a Lego approach to thinking about the broader system.

Frank Vieveen

Yeah, you're correct. And we also use the Lego system to as an example to explain how this works. So I think it's very good from you, that you translate it to Lego.

Stephen W. Maye

You've been sharing some insights with us already, but you've been at this for a while. So what's really working, and what's not?

Frank Vieveen

That's a good question. I think one of the lessons is that you should focus on the results or the challenges that you want to solve for your customer. In our case, as a city, we focus on our citizens or our companies within the city.

Another lesson is to start looking ahead instead of looking back. Be aware of digital innovation that's coming towards you. And, you for yourself have to decide how you will deal with that. Part of that is also increasing the technology awareness in your organization. For instance, assign a chief data officer, a chief digitization officer, besides information officer. So there should not necessarily be a department by themselves, but helping and guiding the organization with all data and digitization challenges. It's not enough that you give all your employees an iPad, for instance. But how are you going to deal with the broader perspective of all the different techniques that's coming towards you?

I think also as an organization, you should give employees some space to develop their innovative and digital skills as part of their lifelong learning processes—how we call it here in the Netherlands—and I think that that will benefit your organization tremendously.

Stephen W. Maye

So if you had the opportunity to give one piece of advice to project managers and program managers launching an urban infrastructure project, what's that advice?

Frank Vieveen

Well, if you look at project management, don't only look at your own objectives. Try to see what's going on there. Maybe there are other projects ongoing, or does your project impact other services? Try to connect with them and try to get an integral perspective on your project in relation to the other projects and developments in the same or nearby environment. Also, use capable and open techniques, which are easy to maintain. So please be aware that once you are ready with the project, someone else will be responsible for maintaining it. Your responsibility is not only delivering the project, but also to deliver a project that, once delivered, will be profitable for your organization as well and still capable to deal with future innovations. Of course, don't be afraid of digital innovation. And try to understand it and try to learn from it.

Stephen W. Maye

So look past your own project—your own objectives. Prepare for solutions that are scalable and open. Be sustainable in your view of the future value of the project, and don't fear digital.

And with that, Frank Vieveen gets the last word. Frank, it has been fantastic talking with you, so thank you for the insights that you’ve given us today.

[musical transition]
Narrator

Thank you for listening to Projectified™ with PMI. If you liked this episode, you can subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Google Play Music. We'd love your feedback, so please leave a rating or review.