Engineering Influence sat down with David Ohrenstein and Theo Angelopolous from Autodesk at the Moving America Forward presidential forum on infrastructure in Las Vegas.


Host: Welcome to another edition of Engineering Influence on the road - we are coming to you from Las Vegas right before the first ever, single issue focused presidential candidate forum on infrastructure being put together by United for Infrastructure and also hosted by some of our corporate friends, including Autodesk who I'm joined with today. I'm joined by David Ohrenstein, Director of government affairs and Theo Angelopolous. He is the Senior Director of Infrastructure Programs. I'm very, very pleased to have you join us today. Autodesk is something, the services that you provide, the digital technology, is something that our industry uses on a daily basis. I want to get your thoughts on why this forum is important, number one. And number two, from your position in the marketplace, what do you want our elected leaders to do? What could Congress do? What should the industry do to really move forward on the integration of digital technologies with engineering and the construction and design of infrastructure?

David: Sure. I'll start - I'm David Ohrenstein. First of all, we're really excited to be at this event and we think it's great that this is a big national conversation going on about how to have ambitious plans to build out America's infrastructure as a, as a technology provider to companies that design and construct infrastructure. We know the big challenge that the country faces in meeting its infrastructure needs and we think that technology can play a key role in meeting those needs. We work with big firms, with small firms, some are more advanced in the use of technology. Others have a way to go. And we think that any big infrastructure proposal by the candidates, by the administration, by Congress, all of them ought to have incentives to improve this use of technology.

Host: And Theo, from your perspective as a senior director in infrastructure what's your take?

Theo: Yeah. So I mean, I think, you know we all talk about the trillion dollar global infrastructure gap and we talk about the aging infrastructure in the U.S.. What's interesting is when you look at that gap, world economic forum is projecting that gap to get bigger every year for the next 20 years. And more than half that gaps actually in the U S and primarily in roads and highways. So, you know, I think we know that we have to do more, you know, better with less. And I think there's a couple of things we'd like to see happen. One is obviously we want to see the faster adoption of digital technology in design and construction. And then, you know, like David said, we'd like to see the government be more progressive and incentivizing, you know, their supply chain to go digital. And I think if you look at governments like the UK and governments in the Nordics, they've done that. So I think it's a really good opportunity for the U.S. to really go faster and, and be a leader in the area of digital technology for infrastructure.

Host: And before we went on you mentioned the fact that there's been a greater adoption of digital technologies in countries in Western Europe and are there any good examples? I mean, is there any one country, I mean, you mentioned a couple, but anyone who has really done it well, that could actually be a good I don't know - example for the U S for policymakers to follow in the way that they embrace digital technologies with infrastructure projects?

Theo: I mean, the one that really stands out for us is really the UK. I mean the UK has basically, you know, mandated that all projects over a certain threshold are delivered in building information modeling and they've actually adopted certain compliance and regulatory requirements on those projects. So I think, you know, I think there's definitely the standout right now. David, I don't know if you have anything to add.

David: Yeah, the UK is, in addition to having these policies, they have a real, like national construction strategy. So they really see this as a key industry to support both. In building in within the country, but also as you know, as an industry that can, they can export these services around the world. So they have, they're a great example of having a comprehensive national construction strategy.

Host: And David, from your perspective in government affairs, I'm a former T&I staffer. I kind of know that there's some, not everyone is current on exactly all the technologies that are out there, especially when it comes to infrastructure design. There may be a habit of looking backwards instead of forward. How should, Members of Congress, what would you, what would you advise T&I members for example, to do, to become more knowledgeable and more open to the idea of, you know you have, you've got digital twins, you've got all these different technologies that are out there to, to learn more about them and take advantage of them?

David: Well, you know, the, the past surface transportation bills have had some incentives for using digital modeling,

Host: Minor minor technology titles in the bills.

David: And the current Senate EPW bill that also a technology section to it. So we think those sections ought to be a robust part of any package. And not just around the design but also using digital technologies and construction. That's going to be a key, key piece of it. So you know, we want, we want the overall plans to be ambitious, but one of the things we're focusing on is making sure that the technology piece of these plans is robust. And as I mentioned you know, things like autonomous vehicles and broadband, smart cities, those are all important and those get a lot of attention. But also using more technology and how you design and construct infrastructure. I think that has sometimes not been as you know, upfront as part of the conversation we'd like to, for policymakers to be thinking about that too.

Host: And then finally, for the forum in general we're going to have a couple of presidential candidates come up and talk about infrastructure. What do you hope to hear, what would make your day from any of the candidates today? You know, on the issue.

David: They all have ambitious plans and we think that's great. What we'd like to hear is a little bit more detail, again about technology, how technology can play a bigger role. Because if we're going meet as, as Theo was saying, if we're going to try to build more infrastructure, built better infrastructure with, you know limited resources, then technology is key to that. And we'd like to hear them get a little bit more granular about about how to promote technology as a key part of these proposals.

Theo: No, I mean, I agree. I think the devil's in the details always of course. But I think, you know, for me what I would like to hear is definitely the how, you know, I think we all can align on both sides of the aisle around the value of investing in infrastructure. And really the challenge is how do we do it? And that for me, that's kind of the key takeaway that I'd like to understand from each of the candidates.

Host: Hopefully we hear that and we've got a long time until November. But our members - the engineering industry is going to be very interested throughout. So hopefully it's a good forum and, and, and successful one. And I really appreciate you both coming on our podcast. You have an open invitation anytime you want to when anything comes up, our members of course are very interested in the services and products that Autodesk provides the industry. So if you have news or information, please consider us as a, as a place to come. And I want to thank you both for being on the show.

Theo: Great. Thank you. Thanks for having us.


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