Supporting Clients During COVID-19 Outbreak
By Jay Srinivasan
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, water and wastewater agencies and authorities throughout the country are facing unprecedented challenges. With infrastructure projects deemed essential, clients are juggling multiple issues simultaneously. These include ensuring employee safety, providing critical services to communities, completing projects on time, figuring out funding issues, staying engaged with the community, and communicating with internal and external stakeholders, among others.
LAN has always operated with a client-focused mentality and now, more than ever, nothing is more crucial to our business than client service. Since adjusting to our “new norm”, our engineers are focused on helping our clients adjust to theirs. Over the last decade, LAN has invested in the IT resources and training necessary to work, communicate and collaborate remotely. Through these virtual tools, we are helping our clients alleviate some of their challenges.
Some of the tools that LAN uses include Cisco WebEx (video conferencing and screen share tool), Cisco Jabber (phone and instant messaging tool), Microsoft Teams (unified communications and virtual collaboration tool), Bluebeam (collaboration tool for design and construction professionals), and ProjectWise (project management tools for AEC professionals).
Facilitating a WebEx teleconference helped avoid project delays for a City, says Christine Kirby, P.E., LAN’s project manager.
“A critical project was facing a delayed advertisement due to inability to schedule the mandatory pre-bid meeting,” said Kirby. “We facilitated a teleconference and included the web address along with the meeting information in the documents for plan holders. This was a first time a pre-bid had been done this way, and there was only a short amount of time to prepare. To ensure everything went smoothly, we worked closely with the project team to rehearse the meeting and discuss logistics. The pre-bid meeting was a success and allowed the project to stay on track and avoided a delay in the schedule that could have been up to two months or more.”
Teleconferencing also helped clients address some of their interagency coordination needs, adds Kirby.
“We setup a teleconference between the City and the local transportation department to discuss an important issue affecting a project that is currently in construction, which helped avoid costly delays,” said Kirby. “The project could not move forward without the issue being resolved, and WebEx was the solution to getting the information that we needed.”
These virtual tools have also improved project efficiencies, increased productivity and saved time for both LAN and clients, says Justin Reeves, P.E., LAN’s vice president.
“Earlier this month, we conducted a WebEx workshop to develop our analysis and design criteria for a pump station conceptual design,” said Reeves. “The interesting thing is that this workshop would have taken four hours in person with all the bathroom breaks, coffee and small talk. However, because we didn’t have to travel and didn’t have a way to generate small talk between agenda items, we were much more efficient. We ended the workshop and accomplished everything we set out to do in about an hour and a half – all by phone/WebEx.”
With community engagement and coordination playing an important role in most public works projects, that’s another issue where LAN has assisted clients.
“We’ve helped clients work through the logistics of notifying residents of upcoming construction projects,” said Kelly Shipley, P.E., LAN’s team leader. “We have also coordinated communications between the owner and residents as well as the contractor and residents.”
Ultimately, the best way engineering consultants can help clients is by delivering quality projects on time and on budget, says Shipley.
“Our client expectation is the same as it always is. Do good work, have good communication, be as timely and efficient as possible,” says Shipley. “We’ve let them all know we are here for them during this difficult time.”
“We have a number of projects in construction that are part of our essential critical infrastructure. We are continuing to review submittals and request for information without interruption, and either hosting or participating in meetings by teleconference,” adds Kirby. “Our project schedules have stayed on track, and our staff collaborates using phone, messaging and virtual sharing tools. Because of the technology framework that our firm has built, we have been able to provide a seamless transition without any interruption in service to our clients.”