Digital Builder Ep 65: How One Leading Construction Team Approaches Technology, Diversity, and Talent

At Autodesk, we often talk about connected construction—the practice of seamlessly integrating project data, workflows, and teams to optimize efficiency. 

But who would’ve thought that the concept can mean so much more?

Autodesk's latest Digital Builder episode gives a fresh angle to the notion of connected construction. In this episode, I'm joined by two fantastic guests from Tata Projects. We have Vinayak Pai, the company's CEO and Managing Director, and Rahul Sharma, Chief Information Officer. Both hailing from India, Tata Projects is one of the fastest-growing engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) firms in the country. 

While our conversation certainly touches on connected technologies and workflows, this episode also highlights how construction firms are connected through our values and aspirations. Whether you're based in North America, EMEA, or APAC, our discussion shows that the best construction companies are bound by common challenges and a shared desire for innovation. 

Watch the episode now

You can also listen to this episode on Apple PodcastsSpotifyYouTube, and anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We discuss:

  • The construction landscape in India, along with the biggest growth areas in the country. 
  • Tata Projects' philosophies around technology and how the company uses construction tech as a key differentiator.
  • The initiatives and steps that the firm is taking to attract talent, retain its workforce, and promote gender diversity. 

The state of construction in India

Vinayak and Rahul kick off the conversation by discussing the state of the construction industry in India. According to our guests, India's construction sector is seeing massive growth, particularly in manufacturing and infrastructure. 

India's economy is the fifth largest in the world, growing at almost 7% of GDP yearly. And a significant sector of growth lies in infrastructure. 

"What's happening in India is a tremendous amount of investment in infrastructure. I think this will lead to increased competitiveness for manufacturing in India, which is the next growth area for the country. As far as infrastructure, India is probably leading in terms of the percentage of GDP being spent. It is around 8 to 10%, which is almost $300 billion of construction happening annually," remarks Vinayak.

This focus on infrastructure parallels notable strides in the United States, thanks to initiatives like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Another thing we have in common? The increasing role of technology in the construction sector. Just as US construction firms continue to embrace digital tools and lean into innovation, India is also seeing a rise in construction tech adoption.

As Rahul puts it, construction technology in India is "catching up."

"We're still not where manufacturing could be, but we're catching up fast. Basic technologies like BIM, AR, VR, AI cameras, and drones are being deployed on most project sites."

Examining Tata Projects' tech stack

Speaking of technology, no episode of Digital Builder would be complete if we didn't discuss the digital tools that our guests are using. 

At Tata Projects, Rahul says they're focused on building a strong "digital core" from which they can extend and integrate technology.

"While we move to digital project delivery, it's very important that our digital core is set up properly instead of driving solutions in isolation. So, as far as our tech stack is concerned, we are trying to build that digital core so we can build technologies and add more things," remarks Rahul.

These initiatives are vital, especially as Tata Projects seeks to use technology as one of the firm's main distinguishing factors. 

"That's the vision. How can we use technology as a differentiator and not just use it for the sake of using it?

The three filters that drive Tata Project's technology initiatives

Building a solid tech stack that'll serve your teams long-term takes conscious effort and thoughtful decision-making.

To that end, Vinayak states that the teams at Tata Projects typically use three filters to influence their technology choices. 

The first filter, he says, is integration and ensuring that each piece of Tata's technology stack connects with the whole. 

Secondly, they look at how technology will impact Tata Projects' outcomes. 

"Technology for the sake of technology has no real benefit unless you see a different outcome regarding better safety or predictability of projects. So what is the outcome we expect to change by using this technology, and how are we tracking on that?"

Lastly, Tata's teams consider the cost of not adopting technology. 

Vinayak explains, "Most corporations make the mistake of looking at technology as a cost and evaluating the cost-benefit endlessly. We, of course, do that as well. We look at the cost-benefit, but we also examine the cost avoidance concept, which is the cost you may incur if you don't use technology." 

These filters, says Vinayak, provide a comprehensive framework that ensures Tata Projects puts the right tech to good use.

Bolstering the construction workforce through innovation and diversity

Like many other countries, India's construction sector is also dealing with labor challenges, especially when it comes to building a young and diverse workforce. 

Tata Projects' leadership team recognizes these challenges and takes solid steps to address them. 

Attracting talent through innovation

Vinayak says the firm works with top institutes in India to bring in more talent. "We are bringing a lot of young folks from premier institutes in India. We are adding almost 2 to 3 percent of our workforce every year through fresh hiring of graduates from premier institutes like the IITs. And for that, we need to demonstrate what we are doing in terms of technology," he remarks. 

Rahul weighs in and says that their initiatives to attract and retain employees are driven by three pillars: innovation, talent, and technology.

On the innovation side, Tata Projects' teams are constantly refining their execution strategies, and they make it a point to involve younger teams in their processes. 

"We spend a lot of time in our execution philosophies and invite the young teams to get a different perspective," Rahul explains. 

Beyond that, Tata Projects focuses on upskilling talent through visualization tools.

On the technology side, the firm leverages and experiments with tools like AI and ML to drive efficiency and make their team's lives easier. 

Promoting gender diversity

Regarding women in construction, Vinayak says gender diversity continues to be "a blind spot for the whole industry." 

"I must say, more so in India, and that's because of the nature of the work. We always assume that construction is not conducive to a diverse workforce."

Overcoming the lack of diversity, he says, requires commitment from business leaders.

Vinayak says, "We have made a huge commitment by having our senior leadership team have 30% diversity, which is unheard of, at least in these parts of the world."

Beyond that, the company has also executed a project led by an all-women team, and they've seen remarkable outcomes from the initiative. 

"We had a very talented project manager, and we wanted to give her a strong and meaningful assignment. While doing that, our team brought up the fact that there were other women who were equally talented, so why not put them together?" Rahul explains. 

This was fully supported by the client, The Indian Hotels Company Limited (IHCL). Puneet Chatwal, the MD of IHCL, was enthusiastic about the idea and saw it as a pioneering step towards fostering diversity in construction.

So, the team got to work and saw remarkable results 

"The moment they came together, it was like magic. They didn't miss a single beat. Their passion, energy, and commitment were fabulous," shares Rahul. 

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 interested in the state of the construction industry in India and what companies are doing to promote tech adoption and diversity, be sure to check out 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.