I had an op-ed in Engineering News Record, the “bible” of the engineering and construction industry, this week, dealing with what I call “Bridges 2.O,” how using Web 2.0 tools such as wikis and structured data feeds, and, equally important, the Web 2.0 ethos of collaboration, can revolutionize public works projects.
As I point out, it’s particularly crucial right now because public works are likely to be important parts of the Obama stimulus package, yet traditional projects take so long to implement that that their effectiveness as stimuli (unless we go back to the WPA pick-and-shovel approach!) is limited. The cost savings through such and approach is also critical because of the deficit.
This grew out of a conversation I had with MA Gov. Deval Patrick just before he announced a bridge reconstruction package last spring, when he bemoaned the fact that even a relatively small bridge project takes up to 10 years from concept to ribbon-cutting (of limited appeal given his 4-year term…). He said he’d been able to jawbone transportation officials down to a 5 year horizon, and I speculated that a Web 2.0 approach could cut that even more!
A few of the specifics I mentioned:
Put videos of the bidders conferences on YouTube, as the District of Columbia now routinely does for major procurements. Not only can bidders repeatedly refer to the video to make certain they are responding accurately to what was said, but also the process’s transparency dramatically reduces the chance of costly and time-consuming legal challenges from losing bidders.
Post all bills and payments to contractors on line to help build public confidence in the project and its transparency
Coordinate the construction schedule by on-line calendars:The exquisite interdependency of contractors and sub-contractors in a bridge project can bring the entire process to a halt if even a single small subcontractor doesn’t show up on time, inflating costs and delaying completion. Making certain that all participants have access to the schedule and their role on a real-time basis will help remove those coordination problems. Allowing the public, officials, and the media to subscribe to the schedule would also increase accountability.
Create RSS feeds to which the public, media, and all contractors can subscribe
I hope the Obama Administration will experiment with this approach. I’m convinced it can simultaneously improve efficiency, cut costs, and restore public confidence.