Machines and humans united

Partnership between humans and machines is required to address the great challenge of our times, writes Mott MacDonald's Richard Shennan

Losing your job to a tireless robot. Demotion to the role of drone worker because there’s an artificially intelligent machine that can think and learn faster than you. They’re fears that have crept into workplaces across the economy over the last decade. The construction sector has lagged behind other sectors in adopting digital technology but is now making up for lost time. As it does, concerns about the potential impact of machines on jobs in construction are rising.  

The end-to-end process of project shaping and definition, design and construction and finally commissioning and incorporation into existing systems, can increasingly be seen as a series of digital information transactions that result in the delivery of both physical and digital assets. Key decisions punctuate the process and determine its performance. However, the decision points are often poorly co-ordinated, inputs are badly defined, and the process itself is changing due to the impacts of digital technology and modern methods of construction.  

What if the process could be structured with greater precision? Those project participants best placed to provide information would be involved at each decision point. The decision points would be accurately sequenced. Different parties’ needs would be clearly understood. Desired and required outcomes from each decision would be well-defined. New technologies and modern methods of construction would be strategically integrated.

The rise of augmented delivery 

The resulting approach will reveal where human skills are best deployed. Humans’ strengths include creativity, judgement, empathy, leadership, intuition, domain experience and a quest for innovation. Machines are good at executing rules-based and repetitive digital or physical tasks and can increase capacity to achieve a desired objective. However, they must be built to do that by humans that understand the direction in which we need to travel to progress. 

It is the collaboration between human and machine that unlocks the opportunity to transform the industry. This leads to a virtuous cycle of continuous improvement, enabled by AI, that will see the machine augment the ability of the human and the human augment the ability of the machine.

We call this approach ‘augmented delivery’. It has three parts.  

  1. Integrate: Augmented delivery provides a digital working environment and processes that enable the integration of all project participants as an effective team, aligned on a common goal. It enables them to share and organise data in pursuit of that goal.  
  2. Enhance: Augmented delivery enables all members of the team to work optimally by using machines or apps. Those tools are continually improved, meaning that the team can gain efficiency over time on repeat tasks.  
  3. Liberate: By re-thinking process, automating where possible,  and supporting efficiency, augmented delivery liberates humans to add value in ways that the machines cannot. 

Augmented delivery is about empowering people to achieve more – maximising human potential to generate the step changes required to address the great social, environmental and economic challenges of our times.

Richard Shennan is global digital delivery director at Mott MacDonald.

Click here to find out more about augmented delivery.