Utility leaders and employees are balancing many concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic, ranging from their health and well-being all the way to their ability to continue operations and core business functions impacted by what’s happening now and whatever comes next.

Through it all, critical infrastructure projects must persist. An engineer-procure-construct (EPC) project delivery method, combined with a contractor equipped with the technology to manage projects in a reliable and secure cloud-based environment, provides a utility with stability in unstable times.

Cloud-based systems are tailor-made for the remote working conditions many depend on during these unusual times. They allow teams to collaboratively connect across different platforms to meet the evolving needs of today’s projects. Thousands of employees representing virtually every industry and discipline can make many project necessities a reality with the following capabilities:

  • Remote collaboration. With the digital tools and technologies available today, project teams no longer need to be in the same office — or even the same country — to review and revise designs, track schedules, troubleshoot issues and complete other important tasks. Advanced document management systems can bridge any geographical divide while engineering collaboration software, such as ProjectWise and BIM360, can help project teams manage, share and distribute engineering content. During a time when access to hard copies of documents may be impossible, these systems provide a comprehensive library of all project documents while tracking and providing detailed records on all changes made over the life of the project.
  • BIM and 3D modeling. The hidden potential of Building Information Modeling (BIM) offers a wealth of possibilities for any team utilizing this technology. BIM makes it possible to imbed data within its computer-aided design (CAD) vector makeup — everything from as-built engineering documents to the serial numbers of individual pieces of equipment. In the age of social distancing and working from home, BIM takes on greater value as team members across the world can access these models and the data they contain to facilitate decision-making.
  • Remote operations and maintenance. High-resolution lidar technology makes it possible to collect point cloud data and take 360-degree images of existing substations and transmission lines to use in future assessments of operations and maintenance needs — without ever leaving a computer. The detailed zooming capabilities of lidar and other assisted reality technologies, such as commercial drones and hands-free, voice-operated wearable devices like RealWear, aid in reducing the need for return site visits and allow for completely remote decisions to be made for operations and maintenance needs.
  • Secure document management. Data security is a perpetual concern for utilities. The best cloud-based document management systems have multiple built-in safeguards. When the security of project files is a top priority, the project team can focus on smooth delivery and staying healthy during this pandemic.

A utility’s critical infrastructure projects demand constant collaboration to move effectively from engineering planning and design through procurement and construction. EPC project delivery provides a model for streamlining those processes, and the range of today’s advanced cloud-based technologies make it possible to hit the ground running to execute the project seamlessly — no matter the global challenges we face.

Mark Tablante manages the computer-aided design (CAD) department within the Houston office’s Transmission & Distribution Group at Burns & McDonnell. An accomplished CAD operator, Mark has served as a project and client coordinator, detailer and designer, and CAD department manager for projects involving telecommunications assessments, power substations, and overhead and underground transmission lines.