Cities Rise Back Up

“Never let a good crisis go to waste.” The words were first spoken by Sir Winston Churchill during World War II and were relayed to me again in a recent conversation with Bob Mankowski, senior vice president of digital cities, Bentley Systems. The thought here is that even during hard times—such as a pandemic—there is still opportunity.
Perhaps if we take the right steps, we can rise back up even stronger than before. If you attended our Constructech Technology Days last week, then you know why I like to use the phrase “better normal” rather than saying “new normal.” Digital transformation really is a journey. While we could say this about any aspect of our construction businesses, let’s take a little bit of a closer look in the context of our cities specifically.
Mankowski told me that we need to “leverage the current problem to come out stronger, to come out better than before.” He points specifically to the Dublin, Ireland, as a good example of that.
For those of you who attended Year In Infrastructure back in October, you likely have heard the Dublin case study, but let me give you the background in case you missed it. With a population of more than 1.2 million, Dublin worked with Bentley Systems to develop a large-scale digital twin as part of the city’s planning efforts. With this, it was able to overcome the challenge of getting public review and comment for new developing projects during the pandemic. COVID-19 essentially forced cities to accelerate digital transformation.
“By necessity, they were forced to change the public engagement strategy,” Mankowski explains. “The techniques that they used to get public review of these projects had to change because of COVID, but they came out using technology in a way that was better than the previous situation.”
Now, he prefaced this by saying cities undergo change all the time. This isn’t new, but the speed of change that was required here was faster than ever before.
“When we have tightening budgets, we need to learn how to operate with less,” he adds. “We need to learn how to operate the existing infrastructure for longer than we perhaps thought we would need to. We need to get more out of what we have today than we had previously anticipated because we don’t have the money to do those capital projects.”
There is another element of this that we need to consider. As I always say, it is about people, process, and technology. We can’t have one without the other. We need to invest in all three for a successful technology transformation.
And of course, Bentley believes that technology, along with business processes changes and people, has a role to play in making that happen. He explains, “This idea of investing in digital integrators, like digital waterworks to help more cohesive solutions, which is largely on the electric utility side. And this is where, again, it’s not just about technology, right?”
Still, as we all know, technology—more specifically data—is the crux to move us forward, to move our cities forward.
“I think that’s so empowering with the technology is that ability to leverage that data, but then inject change in a digital sense and see what happens,” Mankowski says. “To me, that’s where the real power is. And that’s where, as you know, we’ve done a lot with deep learning, but that’s where a lot of that sort of discussion is, right? Is around identifying those patterns in the data, making forecasts based on the data, and this is where a lot of investment in digital twins is going to end up, with sort of this level of analytics happening with the digital twins.”