Maria Chiozzi is a consultant with PCSG Australia and a cheerleader for a digital approach to the planning, building and maintenance of our infrastructure. She chats about growing up in Milan, her work to build a stronger community in her neighbourhood – and why yoga was her top lockdown tool.
Q: Construction – a lifelong love?
A: As a child, I was always fascinated by construction sites, the big machines, the cranes, people who by comparison looked like little Lego men, but with a great knowledge and an ability to build entire cities.
As I grew up, I was particularly attracted by buildings as physical environments in which people live or stay and their impact on society.
I ended up studying Building Engineering, which takes the creative side from Architecture and combines it with the engineering aspect.
Q: You are a cheerleader for the ‘new world’ of digital construction – what inspired this?
A: During my Masters, at the Politecnico di Milano, I was presented with a great opportunity to be involved on a national research project, founded by the Italian Ministry of Development.
It aimed to develop a national digital platform to support BIM-based project delivery. It marked a push towards radical innovation in the Italian construction sector. I really enjoyed it and it opened my eyes towards a new world and a new approach in the construction sector.
Once finished, I started working as a research fellow for two years on the same project.
I started to gain an interest in the procurement side and legal considerations when digital technologies and processes are applied. The Italian contractual systems were not really digitally enabling. They were dominated by very traditional contracting form and a high number of contract disputes.
I started asking myself questions about how an efficient flow of data and information could be generated if the contract and procurement model did not support the level of collaboration and trust needed? What are the legal barriers that stop models and data being effectively used? How can more innovative contracting and procurement models leverage digital practices and inform the value that has been created for the Government as a client?
When I came across concepts like Alliance Contracting, Integrated Project Delivery and Lean management, everything started to make more sense.
Q: Two life-changing decisions followed: A decision to complete a doctorate – and a move ten thousand miles to Australia to complete it….
A: Australia is the country which pioneered alliancing contracting, and once I started to think about a PhD (Building Information Modelling, Integrated Project Delivery and Lean Construction) as my next move, Australia was the right place to do it.
I was also curious to know how the other side of the globe was moving towards a more digitalised approach to construction.
When my contract ended at the Politecnico, I decided to move to Australia to pursue my goal.
I received a PhD scholarship at the Queensland University of Technology.
Q: The PhD award – an emotional moment?
A: Yes, a mix of excitement and relief and pride. It was a beautiful and challenging journey and a huge commitment. Research stretches the mind and challenges and tests you to think of new ideas, new reasons, and new possibilities. It pushed me outside my comfort zone.
I sometimes miss the opportunity to have time to be able to think deeply about a subject I am passionate about. Sometimes I get the crazy idea of doing another PhD…..
Q: The excitement must have been tempered by the fact you couldn’t celebrate?
A: I am surrounded by beautiful and supportive people here in Brisbane, Queensland and I did get the chance to celebrate with my university’s colleagues and friends. Fortunately, Brisbane has not been hit so badly.
On the other side, Australian borders have been closed since March and I do not know when I will be able to celebrate with my family in Italy. Coping with the uncertainty is a real challenge.
Q: How are you managing the challenges of the pandemic?
A: I do 45 minutes of yoga and meditation every morning. It helps me to keep my mind calm and to re-centre. I have found it very useful during this unusual time.
I have also spent most of my free time in the past nine months outside work activating and bringing to life the community in my neighbourhood.
We have planted a verge garden, organized regular family-friendly jazz events on street corners, a street library and a neighbourhood tool sharing initiative. All these activities energise me and fill me with more life and joy
I’m also able now to return to sailing, swimming and sports that involve water – a real passion for me.
Q: What level of maturity is digital uptake at in the Australian AEC sector?
A: There is extensive adoption of digital engineering processes and technologies in consulting and contractor firms which need to remain competitive in the market
There are also several initiatives within state governments, which is very encouraging – but it is a much longer journey for them. They have many departments and external stakeholders that need to re-adapt to what is a massive change. This requires a strong vision and a leadership commitment to be able to articulate that clearly. It is not technical stuff, and it can’t be communicated on a technical level. It is a business outcome and a business change that can only be achieved if new skills, new processes, and new leadership capability are developed in parallel.
Q: What level of digital know-how does an engineer/construction need today?
A: Construction is going through a radical period of innovation. Advanced digital technology, big data, IoT, AI and machine learning have finally landed in our industry. They will greatly improve how we create, manage, deliver, and operate our built environment and it is time for the sector to catch up.
Engineers today must have an understanding of digital technology capabilities to be able to find new opportunities to improve how the whole sector is working.
As technology is progressing fast, so they also need to develop an agile mindset, cultivate a high degree of curiosity, and have an appetite to try new things and learn from success and failure. I know it is a big shift, but it is vital for today’s engineer. As an industry, more than ever, we need to support each other and share our knowledge, experience, and capabilities.
Q: Who or what has had the most influence over your career and why?
A: I grow up with a strong female role model, my mother, Luisa. My father stopped working to follow his dream, when I was 15 and my younger brother was 7. He was tired of living in the city with all the noise and smog – he had grown up in a family of farmers – and wanted a healthier life. So he decided to work the land, produce wine and enjoy his life.
I grew up with my mother as the income earner in the family. From her I learnt perseverance, resilience, determination and compassion. She is inspiring me everyday.
Q: You have achieved much already – have you an ultimate career goal?
A: A broad goal – to fully understand and use technology in the right way to make our cities a better place for citizens and to create a more inclusive, sustainable and liveable society. It is not the technology per se we must focus on, but our responsibility to understand why and how we must use it to address current environmental, social and economic challenges.