Can Design-Build Teams Build Trust Around Utility Risk Mitigation?

David Horesh, Director of Marketing, 4M Analytics
David Horesh, Director of Marketing, 4M Analytics

Contributor: David Horesh, Director of Marketing, 4M Analytics

Trust is foundational for design-build teams. 

Because of the emphasis on mutual confidence and communication, the design-build approach is better suited than other project delivery methods to deal with industry challenges such as utility risk mitigation — but maintaining the trust that’s been offered can still prove difficult at times. No one wants the unpleasant surprise of hitting a gas line — but working together to avoid potential issues and strikes can be difficult when reliable data is hard to find before you break ground.

Three Strenuous Challenges on Projects 

New projects pose new challenges. Design-builders may face any of these three strenuous challenges when they embark on a project:

    1. New utility data emerges with each phase.
      In the early stages of design, design-builders typically have very limited information about existing utility lines on the site. They must discover utilities throughout the different stages of the project lifecycle, resulting in a patchwork of constantly changing utility data that often causes project delays.
    2. When fresh data conflicts with existing plans, costs escalate.
      Uncovering new utility data throughout the project’s phases can force design-builders to change course multiple times, resulting in rework and project cost overruns.
    3. Lack of needed information causes uncertainty and stress.
      Without the information they need about the presence of subsurface utilities on a project site, design-build teams proceed with uncertainty — trying to mitigate their risk of liability if (and when) new and unexpected utility lines are uncovered.  

Creating a Single Source of Truth: The “Network of Networks” 

To be successful, utility risk mitigation technology needs to create a single source of truth that stakeholders across roles and organizations can all see and interact with — and one that remains valid and available through every stage of the project lifecycle. Many current solutions focus on a particular role, stakeholder or project phase — but to really solve this problem, we need tools that remain relevant, accurate and valuable from pre-design through design and construction, allowing everyone to access data and collaborate within the same platform.

Technology-driven utility mapping solutions like 4M Analytics seek to compile data from many sources and verify it using AI and imagery, with the goal of offering a single source of truth about the presence of subsurface utilities. Owners, design-builders and other stakeholders can access digital maps and dashboards through a web portal and gather needed information about the existing utility lines beneath their construction sites. Typical data includes the types of utility lines present, density of infrastructure and owners of each line.

Visual of the interface of 4M showing the utility lines, owners, lengths and locations of the utilities both above and below ground.
Visual of the interface of 4M showing the utility lines, owners, lengths and locations of the utilities both above and below ground.

To create the utility maps, 4M utilizes an AI engine that sifts and evaluates information gathered from disparate sources such as satellite images, historical records, existing maps and other reports. The technology uses civil engineering logic to determine whether data is accurate or not. (For example, if one record shows a utility line going off a cliff, the AI engine recognizes that and removes or corrects the data based on the imagery.)

Imagine the power of the AI conflation engine coupled with the boots on the ground verification of subsurface utility engineering (SUE). When shared with the engineering firm conducting the SUE, highly accurate AI-generated utility data can offer a better roadmap to begin the process of utility line verification. Handing the SUE an accurate utility map can reduce potholing and allow design-builders to break ground on the project sooner.

Improving Trust, Collaboration and Data Sharing: The “System of Systems”

Many in the construction industry recognize the need for better collaboration and data sharing across the board — a worthy goal that’s achievable with emerging technologies like BIM, cloud-based project management tools and AI tools. As digital transformation unfolds, organizations will benefit from better communication between project stakeholders and access to more accurate, standardized information sources.

In the realm of risk mitigation, digital utility mapping can help build trust between Owners and design-builders and reduce the risk of utility strikes. It’s a step toward the ultimate goal to create a single source of truth — a system of systems — where utility data can be shared and accessible to all. 

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