Like many large contractors, AECOM challenges its employees to come up with technological innovations that can benefit its projects and its clients.
For four years now, the Los Angeles-based firm, the fourth-largest contractor in the country by revenue, has hosted an annual Global Challenge, in which participants have 25 days to develop and submit ideas through an online system. That's followed by a peer-voting process designed to explore the concepts' viability through market research, early-stage testing, business planning and prototyping.
This year’s challenge, which got underway earlier this month, is focused on addressing issues in the areas of urbanization, infrastructure, data strategy, generative and efficient design, resilience and ecosystem restoration and protection.
Participation is open to all of the company's 56,000 employees. Past teams have included engineers, architects, scientists, planners, consultants, administrators, analysts and functional experts, according to Todd Orenstein, vice president of AECOM Ventures.
The winners of the competition receive resources to accelerate their solutions from concept to minimum viable product and commercialization, Orenstein said. The most successful groups have been multidisciplinary teams that combine deep technical expertise with marketing know-how and commercial savviness, he added.
“It’s one thing to say you think a solution will be really valuable to a client, it’s another thing to show evidence that a client is willing to pay for it,” he said.
Since launching the Global Challenge AECOM has implemented more than a dozen ideas. These include:
The web-based Rosetta platform that improves energy portfolio planning.
A machine learning model using immersive imagery to classify infrastructure assets.
New technology to optimize and predict maintenance needs for sewer and wastewater projects.
The 3D printed CNCT Arch that streamlines installation of railway data communications systems (shown in photo above).
The predictive analysis Mobilitics tool that helps cities plan for the adoption of connected and automated vehicles.
Making an impact
In addition to the Global Challenge, AECOM has implemented other ways to encourage in-house solutions, including Mindblazer competitions that look for rapidly implementable ideas that can help a specific team or project. A group called Innovation Agents meets once a month to facilitate conversations across offices and specialties.
“It’s really all about generating smaller ideas that we can implement really quickly and have a big impact,” said AECOM's Orla Pease, vice president, Digital & Innovation DCS Americas.
Another program that encourages employees to create one-minute videos about their ideas and innovations plays off the popularity of the TikTok short-form video app, Pease said.
All these things are ways to let employees that their innovations will be supported. “I remember as I was coming up through this industry, I would have ideas and wonder how to make them happen,” she said. “I would think ‘If only I had one week of time to work on this, I could really do something with it.' That’s what these programs are all about.”
In addition, AECOM’s commitment to employee-generated innovation helps recruit new employees, Pease told Construction Dive.
“Young people who are tech-savvy and into coding and other uses of technology want to know that when they come here they’ll have a voice and an opportunity to work on some cool stuff,” she said.