Software products in a services world – accelerating the digital revolution
AECOM has decades of experience delivering services and technical solutions to our clients. Our in-house team of digital specialists have harnessed this knowledge to create a suite of world-class digital products to help our clients navigate the complex world they operate in. PlanEngage, a Software as a Service from Digital AECOM, revolutionizes the creation and dissemination of reports, streamlining dramatically the planning approvals process on major infrastructure projects.
**We spoke with Mauricio Palomino and Todd Orenstein, who are both instrumental leaders within Digital AECOM’s software and innovation teams. **
Software as a Service is quite new to the world of consulting. Why is it so important to its future?
Mauricio: I think it’s amazingly important. Think about it: all of our clients are used to buying specialist software, they do it all the time, but they’re not used to buying software that brings the decades of industry experience we have at AECOM directly into their hands. For me, the digitalization of our industry is a matter of time – of when, not if. And so we’re passionate about helping our customers to accelerate their digitalization journey.
Todd: I think we can all recognize that the industry we operate in has become used to executing the same processes and workflows for decades. There’s clearly a better way of working that can create value for all involved – for our clients, for AECOM, for the wider industry. Take PlanEngage, for example. It’s a software service we designed that revolutionizes the creation and publication of reports such as Environmental Impact Statements (EIS). Traditionally, these EISs are thousands of pages long, in pdf form or printed out, and they’re difficult to navigate, difficult to find information and data in, and they’re often irrelevant to communities. Even though the purpose of these documents in the first place is to inform the public, that primary objective often isn’t achieved by traditional printed and in-person consultation approaches. Our Digital AECOM team found a better way and created PlanEngage.
Although it’s early days, what benefits are you already seeing with PlanEngage?
Mauricio: I spoke recently with a client of ours in Australia, who told me that once they started using PlanEngage, there was a dramatic reduction in questions they were receiving from the public. Initially, I was puzzled by this. But the client explained that because the platform is transparent and open, their communities were finding the information they wanted, without having to ask the questions they would normally ask. This actually saved our client significant amounts of time, as they didn’t have to go through the effort of answering hundreds of questions that already had answers on the PlanEngage website. That’s a very clear example of how our service helps our clients to become more efficient.
Digital services aren’t new to AECOM. How is Software as a Service different?
Mauricio: In the past, we have focused on creating bespoke solutions for specific clients or specific projects – solutions that tackle a specific problem. But by using a Software as a Service approach, we can control the technology and invest properly in features that actually matter to the majority of our clients. The benefits are clear: whatever we create is scalable, robust and sustainable, and enables easier, faster and more transparent workflows. It’s nice to hear clients describe us as their digital partners in the capture, use and interpretation of valuable data.
Is the industry ready for digital services?
Todd: There are some clear early adopters, but I find that we often have to take our clients along with us on this journey towards a more digital way of working. However, digital ways of working and digital delivery models are here to stay, so we are enjoying taking a collaborative approach and partnering with our clients to help them on this journey.
Mauricio: I think the benefits to our clients are clear. We’re helping them to use a digital service that makes it easier, faster, and more accurate for them to collaborate on the design and creation of technical documentation for the approval and ongoing management of projects. We’re enabling efficiencies and transparency in major project planning approvals, and we are democratizing the process of community engagement. We provide a simple, beautiful website which provides all of the information that’s needed, simply, and which natively enables community engagement, commenting, and feedback. So, we see PlanEngage both as an efficiency tool for our clients as they create their technical documentation, as well as a simpler and more democratized way of communicating that information to the public.
Does this digital approach help AECOM too?
Todd: Of course, and this benefits our clients too. Take PlanEngage, for example. The way that environmental impact statement documents have been traditionally created is often quite painful. When you’re working internally on it, you can come across major version control issues when you share the documents within your project teams or work offline with multiple concurrent users. Clients encounter these headaches too when we collaborate on the document with them. Now, PlanEngage gives us a single version of the truth, with real time editing and secure and concurrent collaboration tools. This saves time and effort for everyone involved, whether it’s our client, or our own project teams. And by the way, once we deliver the project with PlanEngage, our clients can then very easily share that information with the public.
How do clients buy Software as a Service?
Mauricio: Most of our clients today are used to buying consulting services from AECOM and have procurement teams that we work very closely with. But buying Software as a Service from AECOM is quite different, but no less straightforward. We might find that it’s now technology budget-holders who we interact with, but at the end of the day, it’s just a software contract.
Todd: It's easy to forget that AECOM has been providing software to our clients for decades. We have tremendous experience creating bespoke solutions, and AECOM’s technical teams around the world have some of the best and brightest minds in them. Our Software as a Service offering takes all that learning and knowledge, finds the best available technology platforms out there, and packages our experience and insight into a software service. This gives our clients more robust and sustainable software solutions, rather than bespoke software each time. What we’ve found is that our customers are actually very used to this approach – they buy software all the time – and they are very familiar with the best-in-class technology partners that we use in our technology stack that underpins our service.