Here's How AI is Changing the Way AEC Businesses Operate

In this Q&A interview, GHD Digital explains how AI is transforming traditional workflows and access to data across construction, utilities and municipalities.


IRONPROS: Please provide an overview of the company.

GHD Digital: For 95 years, GHD has provided engineering, architecture, environmental and construction services to clients in the water, energy and resources, environment, property and buildings, and transportation sectors. GHD launched its digital business in 2018 to respond to the industry’s need to rapidly adopt digital technologies amid disruption caused by climate change, competition, risk and increasing costs.

From a small team of 20 to now over 600 professionals worldwide, GHD Digital is one of the fastest growing businesses of its kind and named a global leader in digital transformation in the AEC (architecture, engineering and construction) industry.

We are GHD’s digital transformation business, dedicated to helping clients unlock innovation, embrace the future and change communities for good. Our diverse and talented team includes data scientists, location intelligence specialists, design thinkers, immersive digital consultants, project managers and innovators who are creating lasting community benefit.

With the combined global and local expertise of GHD’s 11,000 engineering, construction and design experts, we take a role by our client’s side, helping them navigate and solve complex challenges with advanced technology. Together, we are creating positive change for generations to come.

Recently, Environmental Financial Consulting Group released a report evaluating the top 50 companies within the $200 billion global AEC industry. GHD Digital emerged as an influential leader in all aspects of digital transformation, ranking number one in AI and automation. Placing GHD in the top quartile for revenues generated from technology, GHD Digital’s investment in technology innovation is significantly ahead of the industry average.

IRONPROS: What is GHD Digital doing with AI?

GHD Digital: Our Artificial Intelligence Centre of Excellence (CoE) aims to help clients better understand the benefits and risks of using AI technologies and fast-track their use of AI to provide value for their clients, people and communities. The advanced algorithms developed by the team generate and mine data from documents, voice recordings, photographs, and videos using unique language processing and computer vision to unearth valuable insights and contextual details.

We are already utilizing AI technology to help multiple municipalities, energy clients, water utilities, and technology companies in areas including citizen engagement, safe water, and waste management.

A few project highlights include:

  • A customer service assistant, similar to the ChatGPT experience for government agencies
  • An AI tool for public procurement officials to develop RFP’s and scoring templates
  • AI bots to duplicate clients’ web data from their current site to the new site, automating up to 80 percent of the work resulting in significant time saving
  • An AI/machine learning-based forecasting model to incorporate different scenarios that might impact a client’s waste management system and the residual waste stream for the foreseeable future
  • Improved records management of tens of thousands of pages of documents using our “AI Library” technology, AI solution architecture, and prompt engineering capabilities
  • Streamlined processes, improved quality of engagement, and stronger connections between organizations and the communities they serve
  • Improved road safety and new insights for traffic design and urban planning using AI and connected vehicle data
  • Met urgent ESG requirements and disclosures using data science, AI and machine learning by digitally transforming their regulatory reporting

One of our more notable projects is GHD Digital’s partnership with Compass IoT, a road intelligence company, provides connected vehicle data with anonymized records of how drivers behave as they travel around roads in their normal day-to-day business. It collects and maintains historical records of de-identified vehicle location, speed, acceleration, and gyroscope data from vehicles manufactured since 2019, as well as providing real-time updates.

We developed a unique algorithm that addresses key questions by identifying variances in driver behaviors such as speeding, harsh braking and aggressive acceleration. For the first time, our traffic engineers saw the whole road acceleration data that demonstrates the impact length of a traffic management treatment, and their optimum separation to control peak vehicle speeds. This was also the first time we could map vehicle speed data across an entire neighborhood road network, right down to cul-de-sacs, concurrently measured and referenceable back to 2020.

With our trailblazing thought leadership efforts, our clients look to us as guides in the AI space. Late last year we released a report titled Beyond AI: Generative AI and the next wave of disruption. Through research, we estimate that advancements in generative AI have the potential to revolutionise the global economy, potentially driving a five to six percent increase in global GDP over the next ten years.

IRONPROS: What problem is the company helping clients solve?

GHD Digital: Our AI CoE is helping clients address some of the world’s most complex challenges related to water quality, climate change and environmental justice. The value we offer is in the powerful combination of human thinking and AI – which is what our AI CoE in conjunction with our GHD technical experts offer. Here are a few examples of problems we solve for our clients:

AI assisted community engagement

Engaging stakeholders and communities is crucial for our clients, particularly local governments and municipalities tasked with judicious resource allocation. Traditional online surveys often fail to capture the majority’s voice, as many constituents may lack internet access, doubt their input’s influence, or simply lack time to respond. This leaves policymakers with a skewed representation, hearing only from a vocal minority.

To address this, we offer a comprehensive solution enabling constituents to express their opinions through webforms, paper forms, or voice recordings in everyday language. Utilizing Natural Language Processing, we convert these varied inputs into structured data. This data is then analyzed with machine learning algorithms, equipping our clients with unparalleled insights into public opinion. Our approach also has applications in the private sector.

DREAMS (Dynamic Risk, Enterprise Asset Management System)

Preventive maintenance of assets is essential, especially for Water Utilities grappling with aging infrastructure and the severe effects of climate change. Asset managers and directors of water utilities face the challenge of making informed decisions and optimizing limited resources amid risk and uncertainty. Our DREAMS platform supports the maintenance and enhancement of water-related infrastructure. It features various modules such as smart asset management, dynamic hydraulic modeling, adaptive planning/CIP, financial planning, and resilience strategies.

Road traffic safety

Previously, traffic safety measures were designed and monitored without a data-driven approach, limited until the advent of connected vehicle data. Now, integrating this data with our expertise in artificial intelligence, location intelligence, and traffic engineering, we’ve developed an innovative method for analyzing road safety risks and the effectiveness of speed management infrastructure. Our insights into road safety enable us to comprehend the full spectrum of road acceleration data, revealing the effective length of traffic management treatments and their ideal spacing to regulate peak vehicle speeds. For the first time, we’re able to overlay vehicle speed data, pedestrian fatality risk, and the distribution of traffic kinetic energy throughout a neighborhood’s road network, with data traceable back to 2020.

Transport asset management

Utilizing real-time connected vehicle data, we provide insights into pavement conditions, including the rate of deterioration. This aggregated data is showcased on a geospatial platform, assisting asset owners in identifying risks and prioritizing their investment decisions effectively.

AI assisted compliance tool and greenhouse gas emission control panel

Adhering to Greenhouse Gas compliance is critical for plant operation managers. We leverage data science, AI, and machine learning to render our clients’ data transparent and auditable. This facilitates real-time decision-making and yields potential cost savings, efficiency improvements, and risk mitigation. Additionally, we’ve developed a portal that employs modern web technologies and data science techniques for enhanced emissions understanding and reduction opportunities. Our predictive models also project future emission trends, supporting strategic planning and informed decision-making.

AI librarian

Our cloud-based tool harnesses the power of generative AI to sift through extensive knowledge bases, extracting pertinent information from vast data collections. Operating on the robust Microsoft Azure cloud platform, it meticulously catalogs and searches documents, pinpointing facts, concepts, and relationships. This empowers users to efficiently resolve queries, bolster decision-making processes, and gain valuable insights.

Leveraging recent advancements in advance analytics and AI, our clients will gain the accelerated benefits of AI to drive innovation, improve operational efficiency, and enhance customer experience, as well as manage risks in this rapidly evolving field.

IRONPROS: What commercial-off-the-shelf applications or development tools are they using/recommending?

GHD Digital: We have strengthened our partnership with Microsoft, leveraging generative AI to enhance operations and drive innovation – both for clients and internally. Our AI CoE is employing Microsoft Azure to foster a deeper understanding of how this technology can be applied to address our clients’ specific business challenges. We also prioritize collaboration with our clients’ chosen partners. We are flexible in accommodating requests for specific technology platforms, offering both hardware and software solutions. Additionally, we are equipped to operate within the client’s secure network environment.

Built on Microsoft Azure, GHD has embraced the transformative capabilities of generative AI to optimize its tender response process, a critical facet of its operations. Its newly developed solution is designed to streamline the initial qualification and prioritization stages of the tender response process, giving participants more time to focus on tender analysis and fine-tuning.

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