Donna Huey

Donna Huey

North America

Donna Huey is senior vice president and director of technology for Atkins North America supporting clients manage both the opportunities and challenges posed by digital disruption. She has over 25 years of experience in engineering and environmental consulting services with emphasis on applied technology and innovation. Ms. Huey co-founded Atkins' North America commercial IT business in 1996 and later launched the region’s first formal technology R&D program supporting the firm's competitive market position. Ms. Huey is an Atkins Fellow and serves as Atkins Global Technical Network Chair for Integrated Digital Solutions providing oversight of best practice and technical excellence in the areas of CAD, BIM, GIS and Software Development.

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Due to a backlog of “shovel ready” projects nationwide, and required annual letting volumes that exceed $5B in the coming years, DOTs across the country are looking to increase the efficiency of their project delivery models to meet the anticipated dollar volume requirements. Civil Integrated Management (CIM) can help meet the challenge but will take time to realize—the quicker we’re willing to learn and adapt, the faster we’ll become more profitable.

Think of it this way. A hand saw and a power saw both accomplish the same task, but the power saw will get it done faster—and better. Engineers should look at CIM the same way. And as thought leaders in our industry, we have a responsibility to help meet the challenges ahead by assisting clients in delivering their work programs more efficiently through the innovative use of technologies across the project life-cycle. CIM is defined by the Federal Highway Association (FHWA) as the technology-enabled process of collection, organization, managed accessibility, and the use of accurate data and information throughout the life-cycle of a transportation asset.

Simply put, CIM is a win. It’s an innovative process that will best serve our clients moving forward. Our job is to help agencies make the transition from 2-D CAD deliverables and processes to a 3-D model data environment. Using CIM, we will be able to deliver work programs faster and within budget with minimal claims and variations. How? By improving on-site job safety and reducing the change orders caused by utility coordination conflicts between engineering disciplines. When information is digital and managed properly, updates flow and evolve from a single source—eliminating information loss across the various phases of a project.

To support the DOTs across the country, the FHWA and the Transportation Research Board (TRB) recently published a CIM Implementation Guide (NCHRP Report 831) which establishes framework and guidelines for DOTs to implement CIM processes and technologies successfully across their organizations. The guide follows the FHWA’s Every Day Counts initiative to use innovative technology and project delivery methods to deliver projects better and faster.

Several states across the U.S. have been doing various pilot projects in recent years and are sharing their feedback, and return on their investments, after going digital with project delivery and implementing CIM processes and framework. Wisconsin DOT, for example, achieved a 3-4% reduction in project costs with pre-construction utility coordination. And Florida DOT has seen both an estimated 3-4% project savings through the use of 3-D models for automated machine guidance (AMG) with contractors, and an approximate 12-15% savings in program delivery schedule.

Digital engineering technologies are here to stay. Success will be measured by how quickly we adopt this technology, the level of benefit enjoyed by the users, and the seamless integration into their project workflows. It’s more critical to understand digital project delivery than just how to use the digital tools. Those who grasp the overall digital delivery process will no doubt achieve the greatest benefits through implementing CIM.

Of course, we will always retain the ability to create 2-D outputs, but we have new tools at our disposal today that provide a better, safer outcome. We should embrace these technologies, not fear them. The designers who adapt to new tools and processes will become much more profitable and can increase business.

Power saw? Hand saw? Which would YOU choose?

North America,

A perfect storm of risks threatens even the simplest of resiliency goals. There are key dangers to pay attention to while evaluating the relevance of context, contracting, and people as critical factors to achieve goals.

Starting with natural risks, resiliency is how vulnerable one is to hazards—understanding what the pattern or intensity of those hazards is, the response time, and how one can recover. There has been an 80 percent increase in the growth of climate-related disasters between 1980 and 2009. In 29 years, losses have doubled because of disaster. The increasing densities of urban centers, particularly in coastal cities, only push the limit of property and human losses. Even when attributing some of the loss increases to improved reporting, scientists argue two-thirds of the increase is ‘real.’ Certainly, if one were to dispute the increase in frequency, it would still be clear the rising costs are related to increased density in urban centers..

The key challenges of infrastructure risk include:

• adequately maintained structures;
• the pace of technology and new material adoption to improve asset life and performance; and
• prioritizing maintenance or recovery plans based on risk and life line analysis.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 2013, Report Card for America’s Infrastructure estimates the need for $3.6 trillion to raise our infrastructure to acceptable standards. Further, ASCE’s 2015 Report Card for New York’s Infrastructure showed only modest improvements with roads, bridges, and wastewater still reflecting ‘D’ grades.

Another risk to consider involves cyber security. Recent reports predict in the next five years a move from four billion to 30 billion in Internet-connected devices, with a trillion sensors emerging by 2022. Considering the prevalence of personal credit card hacks and identity theft, it is certainly within the realm of possibility there may be a data hack on a smart building or intelligent transport system. In 2014, many in the infrastructure community took careful note of the widely publicized study by Cesar Cerrudo on vulnerability of smart cities. Field tests have shown exposure to traffic sensors in several U.S. cities—couple this with a growing popularity of games and popular products.

A multi-variable problem

Problems arise while in isolation, but together the challenges become a multi-variable problem and infinitely more complex. Having personally worked in the IT side of the infrastructure industry for over 25 years, this author has become familiar with the use of systems’ engineering principles and progressive assurance to protect people from these multi-variable problems—testing individual pieces of hardware or code independently before connecting them together.

However, when the time comes to design or redevelop infrastructure, the luxury of a controlled setting is not always possible. Assumptions need to be made and the interdependencies of these variables must be modeled—it is the real-life, natural elements that will tell the true story of a successful design. Thus, the most important variable to be considered is people. Humans will use and interact with the infrastructure in the environment.

As a result, it is important to evaluate these multi-variable problems with a respect for context—taking into account economic risk, social risk, and the maturity of the community in place to maintain and sustain. To better understand, one can analyze the exponential increase of sensors. The devices come in many shapes and sizes and some can even generate their own power. They are helping designers and engineers understand how their designs are performing—a new live feedback loop has been created because the infrastructure can now ‘talk.’

For example, a new bridge structure loaded up with sensors can tell the operator everything from vibration to loads to wear and tear. Bridges in Atlanta or New York would be connected to servers with teams of people in well-staffed agencies or top-notch consultants evaluating, managing, and leveraging data to optimize maintenance, improve safety, and develop improved designs. Incoming data would feed decision support systems or asset management systems generating predictions, and automating work orders—a great example of making the best of all new technology has to offer.

However, imagine the same bridge in a rural town struggling to make ends meet, with barely enough staff to keep up with the basic needs. How can it take advantage of all this and not be left behind? What about in a developing country? The context in which this bridge sits becomes vitally important. The bridge in the urban setting is quickly integrated into the system of systems. Except in the rural setting, if the data being generated lacks a person or system to interpret or leverage it, there is no meaning to derive, no predictions to be made—would this just be a colossal waste of money? Such a perceived waste can be avoided if the context is evaluated early in the conceptual design stage.

Assuming in each instance somebody is looking to achieve similar levels of resiliency leveraging the latest technology, the context requires different methods of implementation. In the case of the rural location, it means contracting remote monitoring and support; in the case of the developing country, it means perhaps simply the ability to apply the learning derived from similar sensor-laden bridges in other parts of the world. In both instances, when context is considered, operators can still obtain valuable intelligence to ensure future designs are more sustainable.

In the end, the data is generally only as good as the team or system that can interpret the data and leverage it for continuous improvement. It is important people do not become lulled into complacency with respect to technology and allow smart infrastructure make them inferior. These improvements can be readily shared so all stakeholders, regardless of context, improve their infrastructure investment and design decisions. The key is treat the whole patient—step back and understand the context, before trying to devise and implement a more sustainable solution.

Next-generation contracting

In the previous bridge example, considerations are referenced for new methods of contracting in ways that will help cities less-equipped take advantage of technological advancements. This is the tip of the iceberg as it relates to how interdependencies and new technologies could influence planning and contracting in the industry.

As new technology helps improve resiliency decision-making and funding constraints lead to new ways to extend life or lower life cycle costs of assets, we are rapidly seeing changes in our delivery methods. Owners are taking a step back and starting to look at the bigger picture. There is a rise in public-private partnerships (P3) an increasing prominence of Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), and many new terms and conditions in infrastructure design and construction contracts addressing shared risk.

In the midst of the merging of physical and virtual worlds, evidence of new relationships are forming in the supply chain as well. Traditional engineering firms are finding new partners—more collaboration with large IT and system integration companies, more partnerships with financial firms and banks, and learning how to drive more progressive relationships with contractors on much larger scales.

All these new relationships and contracting methods invoke a new line of questioning or self-reflection for many traditional design and engineering firms with respect to their position or ‘fit’ in this evolving supply chain. It is truly imperative for traditional design firms to complement this supply chain disruption with an equal level of disruption considering new ways of working, sparking ‘whole-systems thinking’ and embracing deep technological shifts in the industry.

When delving deeper into the fusing of the physical and virtual worlds, it is important to embrace these changes through a push to accelerate ‘digital engineering.’ Whether an individual leverages related terms such as building information modeling (BIM), this is about the automation of all or parts of the lifecycle of a built asset.

In the private sector, the infrastructure owner is more intensely driven by commercial returns and when he or she sees the clear return on investment (ROI) evidenced through the use of digital engineering and digital asset management, the owner understands and is able to quickly develop new requirements without complex government bureaucracy. The financial world sees it the same way. Lengthy concessionaire agreements on P3 contracts are about ensuring the commercial returns. The benefits of de-risking the ROI by proactive data management means second-guessing enforcement of contractual requirements on the lead designer not an option.

When examining the area of infrastructure resiliency, engineers can be leveraging BIM in more progressive ways, not just for obligatory contract requirements, but by becoming invested partners in driving that ROI—share in the reward, as much as the risk. Addressing level of detail and information in early phase models, BIM can be leveraged for management of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) compliance. Modeling and optimizing carbon and energy efficiency during concept stage will lead to material long-term operating cost reductions. Additionally, designers can leverage frameworks for sustainable return on investment, putting a value on green infrastructure and showcasing long-term benefits for maintenance cost and resiliency.

BIM and related digital engineering services are becoming more the norm. It will be imperative for the design and engineering community to step up and proactively guide how new technologies and research will be applied. Global standards organizations, such as the buildingSMART alliance and Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), are accelerating involvement to drive these discussions. It is important these talks are infused with infrastructure domain expertise. The design and engineering community need to help make the technology better—truly a call to action for this industry to lead what many call the ‘fourth industrial revolution.’

Importance of people

People are the last, and most important point to understanding resilience and interdependency risks. Education is the best investment for resilience of future cities when it comes down to it. People inherently live in ‘silos’—it is human nature to gravitate toward what is familiar and trusted. Since interdependencies by their very nature require there to be interaction, what happens if people refuse to interact? Leave it to the computers to model these interactions and make the decisions accordingly?

Currently, there is more data than ever and it is impossible to comprehend what that data set will look like one or five years from now. What has become increasingly more important today for industries is society has learned to leverage this data and apply it to the next generation of designs. The data can also be leveraged as a means to bring people together—to break down silos and analyze a situation as a team, recognizing the interdependencies and people are now living in a connected system of systems. It does not help to connect the bits and bytes if people are not connected to make higher order decisions.


One of the most prevalent arenas where these silos are present are where cities are addressing impacts of climate change. Climate change does not pick a specific type of infrastructure or location or socio-economic faction. It cuts across and requires a coming together of disciplines and ideas to drive solutions.

In a recent project supporting climate change management in the Dominican Republic, results are drive by this author has observed that when discussions emphasize people-related aspects, building common interests, discussing experiences, learning from different perspectives, and most importantly, building the relationships that develop.

Many sources of data, tools, and technology will aid and facilitate the work of understanding interdependencies as it relates to resiliency. Data and tools are used to help tell a story, but the heart and soul of these efforts is the coming together of the diverse discipline leaders, evaluating together the interdependencies, sharing knowledge, and ensuring connections are established to other people and resources. These are skills that surpass data and technology, that need to be taught and encouraged. They are sometimes tough abilities for a lot of nuts and bolts engineers, but the development of these services in the industry is what will enable clear recognition of the interdependencies and truly drive resiliency.

North America,

Informed Infrastructure (II): Have you done more to formalize the Atkins approach to how you assist cities in coping with change?

Huey: We have. Most of our efforts have now been pulled into an updated value proposition for our customers that we call “stress testing,” where we’re looking at how to apply the process of evaluating different master-planning scenarios to validate the least-risk/highest-reward environment.

Cities have different goals. Some might be trying to just have economic stability, and some might be trying to address environmental issues. Whatever the goals or objectives are, the stress-testing process and some of the tools we’ve developed to support that are really the next generation of master planning. It’s come about in the last six to eight months.

II: Does it involve a bit of a scorecard or report card on how well cities are doing now?

Huey: We typically start the process with a report card, because many cities still need that high-level assessment of where they stand today. We start with a look at key issues and giving them a good baseline. Then that report card forms the basis for collecting feedback from stakeholders on potential solutions. You have all the challenges, and you also have opportunities. When you put those together, then we can look for what the right solutions are. Solutions form a plan, and you can have a number of variations of that plan. Each one of those variations could potentially produce different results.

So we start with a report card, and then we go into the assessment and end up in a handful of scenarios that we use in a workshop process and stress test.

II: Resilience is a buzzword now. In my observations, the coastal cities seem to be more motivated given threats from sea-level rise. What are you seeing in terms of drivers for this next-generation master planning, and are there any stand-out motivators for cities?

Huey: There’s a lot of new interest embodied in the term resilience in respect to cyber. We are seeing that swiftly emerging as a pillar under the resilience heading. You have environmental, socioeconomic and climate-change issues. With cyber resilience, you’re not just protecting your natural environment and infrastructure, but you’re also protecting from cyber attacks as well.

II: That ties into our more-connected infrastructure. I know there have been some attacks on dams and other critical infrastructure.

Huey: It’s pretty scary. It’s great that the infrastructure can talk to each other and talk to us, and we can even answer each other. The move toward self-healing materials and networks is coming along. But it’s all pretty vulnerable to attack. I think the amount we don’t know with respect to our vulnerabilities is what’s scariest for owners and operators.

II: What types of tools are you employing? The last time we spoke, we touched on BIM and its evolution to become an asset-management tool. Does much of your work involve the integration of BIM and other data feeds like GIS to provide a better understanding?

Huey: This is still a struggle for many of our clients. There are a lot of good products out there, so when we engage with our clients, the software product mixture differs. Usually the benefits and outcomes these systems are driving toward are similar. Our focus and methodology puts the data at the logical center and builds around those data.

We’re doing some projects that we call Scan to BIM and BIM to AIM. Scan to BIM really helps our clients capture as-built asset information with advanced laser-scanning technologies and drones. That feeds straight into a BIM model that can be attributed with asset information.

There’s some good work that we’ve done recently with Heathrow Airport in a tunnel system. This Scan to BIM project helped them tag assets with attribute information for operations and maintenance.

We did another interesting Scan to BIM project for slightly different outcomes in Miami with a large private developer. They were putting a building in adjacent to a Metro station and had to capture all the intricacies of designing around that. The scanning was able to go straight into a BIM model, which then directly informed the design. It significantly impacted not only the speed of the analysis, but it also allowed them to discover conflicts very early in the process to save time and money.

On the BIM to AIM side, that market is still maturing, and one of the things that we’ve recognized is a lack of demonstrable examples that exist in our infrastructure industry that are proving the results. We’ve started launching some of our own internal proof-of-concept projects.

For example, one of our office locations in need of a new floor fit out. We’re taking it upon ourselves to do the entire BIM design with a progression to an Asset Information Model that can be turned over to the operator for optimizing the energy efficiency and maintenance on the building.

There is a lot going in the integration space as we can better realize this data continuum across the whole of the project life cycle. It’s always been a passion of mine to see this data continuum persist and drive value.

Read the full interview on Informed Infrastructure

North America,

As Building Information Modeling (BIM) continues to reveal opportunities for revolutionizing the engineering and design industry, we are still seeing challenges around adoption. Many organizations have managed to sort out ways to leverage BIM in pockets such as 3D- and 4D- visualizations, conflict detection in multi-discipline design, or even augmented reality in construction. But the capability of the technology today is already so far beyond that. So why is there a lag?

The design and construction industry has historically been slow to exploit new technology. Perhaps there is a lack of know-how, or far more likely, a bit of fear around change and how it (and we) fit in. The recent Harvard Business Review article, Beyond Automation—which discusses how to protect your career from the growing threat of computer automation—got me thinking more about the gap between today’s reality and tomorrow’s potential.

Automation starts with a baseline of what people do in a given job and subtracts from that. It deploys computers to chip away at the tasks humans perform as soon as those tasks can be codified … Augmentation, in contrast, means starting with what humans do today and figuring out how that work could be deepened rather than diminished by a greater use of machines.”
– Thomas Davenport and Julia Kirby, Harvard Business Review

The article struck me as a means to generate a roadmap and illustrate “how” to engage with BIM from wherever you sit within an organization. It correlates to how we can drive a view of BIM as an augmentation to the traditional mindset. We should partner with technology to drive new methods, approaches and, of course, solutions. And only when all stakeholder groups engage will we achieve the full potential of BIM and its underlying technologies. So I’ve adapted the Harvard Business Review authors’ original 5 paths to the following:

Five paths toward achieving BIM’s potential

People have alternatives for how they’ll work with BIM:

  1. Step up. This is for the big picture thinkers. Whether you have invested heavily in BIM already or are simply at the top of the pack when it comes to world class design solutions—we need leaders that will step up and drive the industry. If you are a business manager this might mean doubling-down on your investments—adding new hires and advancing research and development. If you are a technical leader this means greater engagement in thought leadership and investing in greater professional organization involvement. I would further suggest that those who step up must be ready to partner. No single organization can own this—our big picture thinkers will need to collaborate to push BIM’s limits.
  2. Step around. These are the people who aren’t BIM experts, but get what’s happening (although their thoughts around BIM are more abstract). There is value in this role too. Their expertise may be in a supporting role such as human resources, learning and development, legal, commercial real estate, and others. BIM will generate new interactions and training demands, requiring interpretation and understanding of emerging business risks and needs. Those who play along the sidelines to integrate BIM will be invaluable. So these guys shouldn’t shy away, but instead they need to get involved, raise their hands and volunteer their ideas.
  3. Step in. These are “the doers,” the practitioners who have had their arms around this for quite some time and have been waiting for the rest of the industry to catch up. Now is the time to step in fully and push the rest of us toward what you know is the technology’s full potential. Be bold and don’t hold back. Breakthroughs are inches away. Expand beyond your immediate circles and get involved with your peers to make potential a reality. Consistent small steps toward the goal will result in giant leaps for the industry.
  4. Step narrowly. These are the guys that have been watching from the sideline for a while and they get it, but they see potential in a very niche area. Perhaps their ideas are related to sustainability, asset management, or even additive manufacturing. Now is your time. Build a unique application of BIM technology and show it off—most importantly, show off the return on investment. Most industries are facing an expensive proposition to fully adopt, so the greater evidence of the return, the easier to generate up front investment.
  5. Step forward. Innovators unite. This space is all yours. We need those who can see over the horizon and inspire the rest of the pack. Digital engineering is the new frontier, and as we deconstruct plans and specs into bits and bytes what new theories will unfold? What new means and methods are available to us that we didn’t see before? Dream big and innovate—we’ll all be better for it.

So where do you fit in and what steps can you take? How can the use of this technology deepen our abilities rather than diminish us? How can it make the big thinkers think bigger, the supporting services better support, the doer’s better do, the niche developers find their niche, and the innovators find new ideas? I’m looking forward to finding out together.

Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, North America, Rest of World, UK & Europe,

I recently attended two global conferences regarding the use and proliferation of technology in the engineering industry and was truly astounded at the collision of so many professions at one time. In years past, you would find these events filled with techies looking for the next release or new whiz-bang software feature.

But today, you’ll find an equal fill of managers, executives, and owners all looking to up their game. The mergers of CAD with GIS, the technologist with the engineer, and even AEC with industries like movies and gaming, are all creating new ideas and approaches to design by the truckload. All of the traditional lines and boundaries are being blurred.

We speak frequently about the explosion of technology and how significantly it is impacting us. However, I believe the explosion of collaboration and the mixing of ideas between people and industries whose paths rarely crossed previously, or in some cases were even avoided, will be equally if not more revolutionary. Now, combine the advances of technology and the communication between diverse industries at the same time, and we really are embarking on a design renaissance like we have never seen before.

Being a scientist at heart and spending nearly my entire career in the engineering and design community, I find this topic fascinating. It’s a big global experiment and we’re all in it! When you discover new connections in nature it generally yields breakthroughs that advance our thinking or solve misunderstood phenomena. So, as we continue to uncover these new connections in society, who can predict the innovative solutions we might be able to bring to bear! We are facing some of the most complex problems of our time in addressing the long-term infrastructure needs of our society with the delicate environmental balance of our planet.

I firmly believe that with this new age of interdisciplinary collaboration, coupled with advanced technologies, we can build a clearer understanding of options and therefore a clearer path to decision making.

So, how will we evolve as the lines between industries are blurred? How can we ensure we’ll contribute to positive change in the way we approach the global-scale challenges of our industry? What must we do differently in the future to address the global infrastructure challenge? Here are my thoughts:

  • Let’s remember it’s still all about people: The changes we need to make are a little about technology and a lot about people, new roles, and new skills. We need to prioritize our investments accordingly.
  • Human nature is a funny thing: This is not a one and done kind of issue, rather it’s adaptive change that we’ll need to work at continuously. We’ll need to keep working to establish new relationships and new ways of thinking and not let our muscle memory snap us back to our old ways.
  • A new breed of designer: Everyone plays a role in design, not just the engineer—so it’s imperative that we all begin to learn more about how things work. Technologists need a better understanding of engineering, engineers need a better understanding of technology, and we all need to be able to tell a better story, together.
  • Information overload: The design industry is talking a lot right now about BIM (Building Information Modeling), but it’s still an abstract concept to many. What’s most important to understand is the “I”—the purposeful management of information for the whole project life cycle, but recognizing the real value in each piece of information is key. We bring different perspectives to that value depending on the desired outcome or even one’s position in the supply chain. We need to be open and understand this clearly to meet both our project and clients’ needs.

I welcome your comments and feedback in this discussion as we encourage new connections. Through collaboration come breakthroughs. Exciting times aren’t ahead … they are now!

North America,