Digital Builder Ep 60: How Innovation and Technology Intersect

While aesthetics plays a crucial role in construction, sometimes the most impressive facilities aren’t only those with the most visually stunning features. Often times they’re the ones that provide seamless and intuitive experiences for their users. 

This is especially true in transportation centers like airports, cruise ports, and terminals, where clear navigation and user-centric design are paramount. A well-designed environment not only enhances travelers’ comfort but also ensures their safety as they navigate through complex routes and procedures.

Enter our latest Digital Builder podcast guest, Dr. Luciana Burdi. As the Director of Capital Programs and Environmental Affairs at the Massachusetts Port Authority, Luciana continuously promotes practices to improve the experience of Massport’s customers, the public, and everyday passengers. 

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Inside the Innovation Hub Massachusetts Port Authority's Tech Advancements

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On this episode

We discuss:

  • How to improve and enhance the experience of people in your buildings or facilities.
  • The biggest challenges when introducing new tech and methodologies—and how to overcome them.
  • How Massport leverages digital twin technologies to better run its facilities.

The importance of regular team touchpoints

Luciana starts most days with a conversation with her executive management team. 

“We talk about what’s happening that day or what’s going to happen next week,” she remarks. 

She also meets with the aviation department and attends security briefings. Depending on what projects are underway, she attends job site meetings with directors. There’s always plenty to discuss, and with over a hundred team members, these regular touchpoints are critical.

“I see myself mainly as a link between my very talented team of roughly 100 people and the CEO. So I’m between my project manager, delivery team, and then the CEO—plus the client or board of directors,” she says. 

Luciana sees these conversations as opportunities to prod and inspire people to think differently and improve. 

“Instead of bringing my project management expertise, I’ll bring these different ideas and challenge the team. I think this is important if we want to make projects stronger.”

Best practices for improving people’s experiences within a facility

A key priority for Luciana is ensuring that Massport’s transport hubs are intuitive and easy to navigate for the public. 

“Serving our customers is fundamental to us. It’s fundamental to me as a delivery head, and it’s also fundamental to Massport as a whole. To me, there is a big difference between client and customer. Customers are the passengers, and we have millions of them that come through,” she explains. 

Here are some ways that Luciana and her team ensure that passengers who go through Massport’s facilities have a good experience. 

Do a Gemba Walk

Luciana recommends doing a Gemba Walk. An essential concept within the Lean management philosophy, a Gemba Walk involves going to the front lines (in this case, airports and cruise ports) to observe how people interact with the space. 

“I truly enjoy sitting in the corner of any terminal and then looking at how the passenger moves. And when a project manager starts a new project, I tell them, ‘Just go sit down for half an hour. It’s not half an hour wasted. Look at how families behave and the different demographics we serve.'”

According to Luciana, this practice allows you to see firsthand how people react to different elements of a facility. That way, you can better understand the customer experience and improve accordingly. 

Have other teams experience the space

Luciana and her team also implement what they call “the passenger-ready team walk.”

Before a project opens to the public, Massport employees, specifically those who have no involvement with the said project, are brought to the facility so they can experience it firsthand. 

This enables the project team to receive unbiased feedback and fresh perspectives on potential pitfalls or areas that might have been overlooked. Those exploring the space can shed light on things the team may not have considered, given their close involvement with the project.

Luciana explains, “Once you are in a project, you get so familiar that you don’t even see what’s missing. So we select other people from different facilities, and we give them time to explore the space.”

The biggest challenges when introducing new tech and methodologies 

Tech adoption isn’t always easy, and for Luciana, the real challenge is “not the technology per se, but its implementation.” Keeping different teams aligned can be challenging because people perceive technology differently. 

“You have two sets of people working on a project,” she explains. “There are the PM types whose role is to deliver a project and get it done. They’re more comfortable in the methods that they’ve implemented before. They are open to ideas but a little reluctant to use technology. And then you have the other set of people who want to try and use technology at all costs.”

She continues, “Oftentimes, I need to balance those two elements and ask the right questions.”

Effective technology implementation also involves focusing on “the learning, and not the winning.”

“Even a failed pilot could be a success because you’re learning. People are often afraid of doing pilots because they’re afraid that something will go wrong and there will be a finger-pointing type of situation,” Luciana explains. 

As such, she strives to promote a sense of ease and safety within her teams. 

“My role as a director is to build a safety net underneath those teams trying something new. We are all here to support and to make sure that in the end, the project is still a success.”

Balancing regulations with public needs and expectations

Luciana highlights the challenges of operating in a highly regulated environment, such as adhering to Massachusetts general law requirements and standards set by the FAA. According to her, navigating regulatory requirements alongside the general public’s expectations requires thorough planning.

“The more planning we do in advance, the faster and easier it gets down the road,” she remarks.

She also stresses the importance of communication and making information visible to relevant stakeholders. 

To that end, Luciana says that her teams are developing dashboards to shed light on key metrics and ensure they can surface meaningful information.

Digital twins at Massport

Digital twin technology is always an exciting topic, particularly when discussing construction innovations. Luciana is undoubtedly no stranger to it, and she says the evolution of Massport’s approach to digital twins can be traced back to their early efforts seven years ago.

“In 2016, we issued an RFI for a virtual campus. We got very few responses, and they were very disappointing.”

Fast forward to 2020, and the technology has advanced enough for Massport to develop its own digital twin. 

“Our digital twin is a virtual representation of physical assets across the life cycle that is meant to develop and announce processes and technologies to improve decision-making,” Luciana explains. 

In the future, Luciana says Massport intends to incorporate more intelligent and advanced capabilities into its digital twins so they can implement things like predictive maintenance. 

“It’s having the ability for anyone—not just from our department—to understand how a building behaves. I say that buildings are like the human body. You can view them from the outside, but what’s inside isn’t visible. And the digital twin can serve as an X-Ray that shows what’s happening in the building. That, in turn, can inform our capital investment plans and decisions.”

She’s also excited about the possibility of using digital twins to simulate different security scenarios so teams can identify vulnerabilities and optimize passenger flow. 

Then there’s energy management. Massport aims to have net zero emissions, and Luciana envisions leveraging digital twins to “optimize energy use and see how buildings are behaving.”

How Massport (and other organizations) can gear up for the future

What does a bright future look like for Massport?

For Luciana, it’s working on a smart city. 

“I would like to start by seeing multiple organizations working together to get to the smart city concept.”

Luciana adds, “The challenge again is not technology; it’s people and the mindset. It would be fascinating to simulate an optimized city infrastructure.”

“We can start with Massport. We always say that Logan Airport is like a little city, which is true. So we can start from our buildings and see the benefit of infrastructure management through connected digital twins that allow us to monitor and share information”.

New podcast episode every week 

Digital Builder is hosted by me, Eric Thomas. Remember, new episodes of Digital Builder go live every week. If you’re looking for more insights into how Massport operates, be sure to catch the full episode!

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Eric Thomas

Eric is a Sr. Multimedia Content Marketing Manager at Autodesk and hosts the Digital Builder podcast. He has worked in the construction industry for over a decade at top ENR General Contractors and AEC technology companies. Eric has worked for Autodesk for nearly 5 years and joined the company via the PlanGrid acquisition. He has held numerous marketing roles at Autodesk including managing global industry research projects and other content marketing programs. Today Eric focuses on multimedia programs with an emphasis on video.