Favorable regulatory trends, failing U.S. infrastructure, and innovative use of technology will provide plenty of growth and margin improvement opportunities for industry participants with the discipline and foresight to take advantage.
Together, these multi-faceted industry drivers are expected to provide opportunities of scope, scale, and operational efficiencies to TIC sector participants. As markets grow, and new TIC services are required, the method by which these services are provided will benefit from technological advances not previously possible.
Addressing U.S. infrastructure
Every 4 years, America’s civil engineers provide a comprehensive assessment of the nation’s infrastructure via the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE’s) Infrastructure Report Card. This report addresses 16 major infrastructure categories, each of which receives a letter grade of A to F. After decades of underinvestment, the most recent report, issued in 2017, gave the U.S. infrastructure an overall grade of D+. Furthermore, the ASCE estimates the U.S. needs to spend $4.5 trillion by 2025 to fix the country’s roads, bridges, dams, and other infrastructure.
Importantly, without addressing its glaring infrastructure deficiencies, the U.S. risks falling behind on the global stage, as deteriorating infrastructure impedes its ability to compete in a thriving global economy.
Determining which projects to invest in for optimal return will be critically important to deploying capital to fix, update, and upgrade the U.S.’s infrastructure. TIC sector companies will benefit from this requirement to make critical, informed decisions using data collected via non-destructive tests and field examinations.
Automation through augmented laboratory work streams
Traditionally, TIC services are highly labor intensive, and the sector will continue to rely on talented analytical professionals. However, certain tasks will be augmented, or partially automated, by artificial intelligence (“AI”) programs and algorithms. AI systems will have the capability to analyze copious data sets for trends and then self-perform procedures (e.g., report and technical recommendation drafting) previously requiring skilled technicians’ time.
Large industry players have begun to adopt and implement AI systems to analyze data, especially for highly repetitive laboratory tests, which follow very specific – and thus easily automated – protocols. Possible applications include recognizing and honing better preventative maintenance approaches based on identifying differences amongst large data samples.
Use of this technology allows expert analysts to spend less time on simple, repetitive tasks and more time on high-risk tests. In turn, experts can thus provide their clients with recommendations that have higher expected value.
Virtual site review
Emerging technology provides a variety of ways to perform on-site assessments, including remotely. Drones provide new vantage points, allowing for aerial views previously only possible from expensive helicopter rides or satellite images.
In addition to providing new evaluation possibilities, these technologies may usher in innovative solutions to reduce expenses through remote assessment. For example, instead of the full evaluation team traveling to a client site, some members can forgo physical travel and utilize on-the-ground cameras, microphones, and speakers/headsets manned by their mobile team members. Clients are expected to be receptive to such virtual inspections, as they reduce costs and allow for more flexible scheduling.
Blockchain traceability and data storage
Blockchain technology is revolutionizing product traceability, providing corporations and consumers with transparency into the entire chain of ownership, workmanship, and conveyance. Though widespread adoption has yet to permeate most supply chains, blockchains offer immutable, accessible, proven traceability solutions, the extent of which was not previously possible.
In addition, cybersecurity and data privacy concerns related to publicly available, decentralized node blockchains creates new validation opportunities for TIC industry participants.
Smart homes and buildings
The introduction and proliferation of building management systems (BMS) for both residential and commercial applications have made homes and buildings more connected, integrated, and interactive.
Accordingly, new data privacy challenges have been encountered. Cybersecurity audits related to these smart systems, which can, among other things, remotely monitor and control building systems (e.g., door locks, lights, and HVAC units), need to be certified as safe from hackers and other bad actors.
Push for responsible sourcing (a.k.a., ethical sourcing, sustainable sourcing, conflict-free sourcing, and eco-sourcing)
Responsible sourcing is most relevant for commodities and raw materials, often derived from emerging economies with less developed regulatory controls (e.g., mines, farms, and labor-heavy factories, where human rights violations are more common).
Globalization has caused consumers to demand that products (and all their inputs) are made with responsible and sustainable methods. This includes ensuring workers are paid a fair wage, all human rights are met, and worksites are safe. The push for responsible sourcing has led to new regulations, such as the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, Duty of Diligence (Vigilance) regulations in France, and the U.K. Modern Slavery Act.
Many of these regulations push top-down responsibility for this sourcing requirement, meaning that branded B2C corporations are being held accountable by the public – a change to the status quo.
As a result, large corporations are increasingly leveraging third-party compliance assurance experts to keep up with transparency, certification, and assurance requirements. Multi-level supply chains in the following industries are particularly susceptible to supply chain risks: automotive, electronics, consumer, agricultural, and cosmetics.
Digital cars with self-driving capabilities and vehicle connectivity
Autonomous vehicles have begun to disrupt automotive products, services, and business models. Digital systems have largely replaced their predecessor analog or mechanical counterparts; the driver is next.
Risks of this paradigm shift include personal (i.e., driver and/or passenger) safety; cybersecurity across the entire value chain, from individual vehicles to the car company servers remotely linked thereto; and connected cars’ data privacy, which is subject to an increasing number of regulations (e.g., the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR).
Information generated as a byproduct of vehicle connectivity (“V2X”) is subject to testing and certification that is best done by impartial third parties, versus by the car companies themselves. V2X data must be kept safe from hackers, who could use it to endanger passengers or disable autonomous vehicle networks in a new form of cyber terrorism. Notably, several companies are developing blockchain solutions for this purpose, although none has proven the ability to scale to handle the massive volume of implied data storage required for this purpose.