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Construction Management in 2020 - Will You Be Ready?

Construction Management in 2020 - Will You Be Ready?

George A. Beliew, Jr.
Published In: 
WE&T Magazine,  
December 2008

It’s Friday morning on the 101 Freeway as I cruise in the Alternative Fuel Vehicle Lane on my way to the Arnold Schwarzenegger Memorial Water Reclamation Plant ribbon-cutting ceremony. The plant opens today with great fanfare from Sacramento to Burbank, though admittedly, much of the attendance today will be via video link. The plant will be the first to blend tertiary effluent with high-salinity groundwater to produce low total-dissolved-solids potable water that will be connected directly into the city’s water distribution system. “Toilet to tap” is now a reality! Since the 6-year drought has left local water supplies at record low levels, our June commissioning means the plant will be producing water to help mitigate the second half of this year’s dry season.

This was my first integrated project delivery effort. When we started in 2007, the preliminary cost estimate was $400 million, with a project design and construction period of 48 months. Now, 28 months later, I am attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony. I can’t believe the number of obstacles we faced and how we managed to get everything done!

This scenario is far from idle fantasy of what might happen to our industry. The challenges we face in the coming decade will include issues that previous generations perhaps could not have imagined. Increasing populations will demand more energy, food, water, and other vital resources to grow and thrive. In return, they will produce more waste, pollution, and greenhouse gases that must be treated or absorbed by an increasingly fragile environment. In addition, morestringent regulatory restrictions will mean that the leaders across our industry must find ways to do more with less — inventing new technologies, developing new management and economic strategies, and, of course, finding new delivery methods to get projects from the conception to the ground. The construction management (CM) industry has a terrific opportunity to embrace the challenges and meet the needs of our next generation of clients in 2020 and beyond.

The Future Is Super-Sized

Perhaps the largest change and most significant impact on the CM industry will be the size and complexity of future projects — driven largely by the technologies we will have to build. As water and wastewater processes take new shapes, the gap between wastewater discharge and potable water supply soon will evaporate. Today’s typical water and wastewater systems will be replaced with new technologies and processes that ultimately lead to injection of treated wastewater into potable systems. Naturally, conventional treatment will still be essential, but increasing focus will be placed on removing arsenic, perchlorate, pharmaceuticals, and other compounds we can only guess at. Fortunately, we have emerging technologies that will help us with our new treatment goals, including membrane bioreactors, ultraviolet (UV) disinfection, ozone, and desalination.

However, with these new technologies and increased complexity, future projects will start at $100 million and grow from there, in contrast to the smaller-sized projects today. Large, sophisticated construction companies that possess the skills, experience, and resources to complete these largescale projects will squeeze smaller construction firms. For example, most larger construction firms today develop their own 3-D drawings from 2-D drawings to expedite the work. This is a capability most smaller firms don’t have in place. Also, construction managers will have to become familiar with the nuances of emerging technologies. For example, the checklist for installation of a UV channel includes measuring influent hydraulics, irregular channel dimensions, and the water level over the UV lamps. Larger firms will be more likely to have construction managers with the skills and expertise to handle these new requirements, but in any case, our scope is broadening well beyond traditional rebar, cement, conduit, and wire.

The size and financial impacts of tomorrow’s projects also will bring pressure on contractors and construction managers to improve their performance. CM teams will be required to monitor and document work activities for compliance with work schedules and efficiencies of planned resources. The engineer’s design will be scrutinized for errors and omissions, which could result in a contractor’s lost efficiencies being identified through time-impact analysis. Put simply, as project costs grow and finances tighten, there will be increased scrutiny on the bottom line, demanding better planning, oversight, and monitoring from construction managers and contractors.

Sustaining Ourselves and Our Projects

Another major impact and change on the CM industry will come from a greater focus on sustainability— both in design and construction. Currently, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification does not apply to our typical projects. However, in the future, look for state regulations to require contractors to document and provide records of construction-waste recycling and use of green materials.

Beyond documentation, look for our actual construction materials to change. For example, cement production is one of the world’s largest generators of carbon dioxide — the leading cause of greenhouse-gas emissions. Look for the quantity of cement in concrete to be replaced with fly ash to reduce carbon dioxide releases. This new mixture will extend cure time over today’s typical mix design, which will have an impact on contractors’ work schedules, as well as cost. This will have to be taken into account when preparing a bid and construction plan, creating a learning curve for CM s, as well as contractors.

Gone, too, will be the traditional clipboard- and paper-based document system. The next generation of personal data collection and Web-based documentation management systems will enhance sustainability, as well as provide user-friendly, highly detailed and accurate records of changes to be made during construction. This new technology will also become a primary tool for construction managers and owners to use during change-order negotiations and legal claims.

Technologies will change too, and sustainability focused projects will incorporate fuel cells or solar photovoltaic technology to produce electricity. In California, water and wastewater treatment accounts for 5% of all energy consumed. California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 established a statewide greenhouse-gas emissions cap for 2020 based on 1990 emissions. Treatment plants are already under scrutiny and pressure to reduce their carbon footprint and emissions. This pressure will spread to contractors and construction managers, who must work with fuel cells and solar technology that is purchased with maintenance contracts that require the suppliers to be responsible for installation and performance. This increased coordination, negotiation, and oversight will add to the CM role as it continues to be defined into the future.

Project Delivery: Evolution and Intelligent Design

Since the construction of the pyramids, owners have sought project delivery methods that shift risk and manage costs while delivering projects in record times. As we continue to search and our project delivery methods continue to evolve, we experiment and redefine roles and responsibilities with design–bid–build, design– build, and CM @Risk.

A recent attempt to bring all project elements together is known as “integrated project delivery.” Its stated goal is to promote the use of new technologies to obtain contributions of knowledge and expertise in the early stages of the project life cycle. This project delivery model’s goal is to improve design, construction methods, and cost to produce a system that is more operations-friendly while managing risk. Construction managers’ roles will vary as the delivery systems evolve. However, the importance of providing leadership to influence the outcome of the process will continue to be thrust upon the construction manager.

Technology to manage these delivery methods and complete sophisticated projects will also have to keep pace as the industry evolves. The use of 3-D, 4-D, and 5-D design tools is widely expanding and should be commonplace within 5 years. These tools will change how projects are bid, how contractors procure materials, and how they schedule resources and work. Construction managers will use 3-D modeling to resolve issues, such as underground conflicts, as well as conflicts between disciplines and subcontractors. Additionally, construction management methods will change to complement 4-D procedures. Document tracking software will be tailored to complement these new methods of project delivery. Virtual reality and augmented reality are exciting new technologies with tremendous potential and likely will be readily available in 2020. Schedule maintenance and management will continue to grow in importance, but the emphasis will be on managing people and coordinating work efforts, not on managing contract time.

Overcoming Tomorrow’s Generation Gap

A cultural shift is occurring within today’s work force. Many publications address the four generations currently working side by side: Traditionalists (born between 1925 and 1945), Baby Boomers (1946 to 1964), Generation X (1965 to 1980), and Generation Y (1980 to 2002).  In 2020, the majority of upper management will be approximately 50% baby boomers and 50% members of Generation X, with the majority of middle management consisting of the Generation Y crowd. The generational makeup of construction managers will mirror these numbers. Since the construction manager’s primary role will continue to be facilitating solutions to problems, the CM in 2020 will have to understand and develop communication methods and techniques based on the different generations involved in a project. Strong communication skills not only will be essential to achieve credibility, buy-in, and acceptance across the construction strata but also will become important in winning work. The lowest bidder concept will still prevail on many public works projects, but contractors and construction managers will have to work harder to establish credibility with the owners and convince them that the construction team brings the capabilities and resources to do the work while minimizing risk to schedule, budget, or the project itself.

Build Globally, Impact Locally

It is all too apparent that accelerated global construction has an impact on more than the cost of materials. Projects such as the National Stadium (known as the Bird’s Nest) and the new airport in Beijing, the United Arab Emirates’ World Project (construction of 300 artificial islands off the coast of Dubai), and the Freedom Tower in New York City are high-profile examples of what the engineering and construction community can accomplish.

These types of projects will continue to be in the public eye and affect ratepayers’ visions of a worldclass project. The bar is being raised with emerging construction technologies, and the water industry will be expected to develop means and methods to match these accomplishments.

Start Today To Keep Up With Tomorrow

While the future has some uncertainties and challenges, the good news is that successful construction managers possess the leadership skills and tools to influence a collaborative environment while balancing the demands of the public with the limited funds available. However, if we start today to be prepared for the challenges that lie ahead, we will find those solutions. We will adapt, and evolve, and change our methods to meet tomorrow’s challenges. As proof, we have only to look at the triumphs our industry has achieved in the past. Do such issues as climate change, energy independence, and emerging micropollutants really seem more impossible to overcome than when Lt. Robert Marshall proposed transporting water more than 640 km (400 mi) from the Sacramento River system to Southern California in 1919? More impossible than in 1931, when engineers diverted the Colorado River and built Hoover Dam consisting of 3.3 million m3 (4.36 million yd3) of concrete — and finished it 2 years ahead of schedule? Our industry possesses the leadership, the ingenuity, the power, and the commitment to handle anything the future may throw at us. I’m looking forward to it!

About the author:
George A. Beliew Jr. is a partner in the Inland Empire, Calif., office of Carollo Engineers (Phoenix).

Construction of the Aurora (Colo.) Reservoir Water Purification Facility.
Construction of the Aurora (Colo.) Reservoir Water Purification Facility.