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November Overview – Kevin Harris

Was this the year that construction companies finally modernised and went digital?

Every organisation, regardless of sector, goods, or service, is now an information company and data owner. From relationships with stakeholders, supply chain and customers, to internal operations, digital technologies are changing how we do business and how our valuable data assets are processed, transmitted, and used.

Modernising business at the same rate as technology advances is no mean feat and not every digital solution is the right one. Options vary from bespoke vertical products and platforms to generic sales, service, and delivery tools. So, how do companies in the built environment get it right when customer delivery, health and safety, information security and operational resilience are held equally important, and the pressure is on to keep ahead of the competition?

In my experience, construction is led by the people rather than by the technology and hard hats and clipboards are consistently more available than connectivity and tech! Thus, many firms may need to tackle resistance to change before being able to explore and quantify the primary benefits of digital transformation. When decision makers do venture into digitisation programs the realisation comes quickly that every job function within every company becomes vulnerable to some manner of digital disruption. It is then the risk of change that gets the spotlight, rather than the productivity, profitability, and innovation improvements.

In Spring of 2021 Britain’s construction sector saw its fastest rate of growth since 2014. Despite the record lows in the preceding year and the challenges of material shortages, the sector has enjoyed solid annual growth and holds a prosperous commercial pipeline. One of the keys to this success was the contribution from firms able to rapidly deploy new ways of working. Those that got it right replaced traditional delivery methods with remote oversight and digital collaboration tools, all enabled by project management over integrated gigabit technology.

It is predicted that if the digital transformation trend continues, the construction sector could see a £3bn uplift by 2040.

Whilst there are some clear successes, few construction companies can demonstrably evidence they have captured the full benefits of the digital age, and many attempts to try scaling up have failed. Why is this?

Unfortunately, when going digital, buy-in is often assumed from stakeholders, making initial implementation challenging. Office workers can feel bombarded with the latest piece of hardware or software, and site workers are constantly asked to adopt new technologies with little communication, training or structure.

In addition, many construction projects are still planned on paper, which creates a further disconnect between site operations and office workers.

When you consider that the industry is quite fragmented by nature, with construction projects made up of many moving parts, from many different companies, it’s easy to see how even the most basic of attempts to digitalise can go awry. Multiple parties coming together for a single project, with different solutions and processes, then going their separate ways on completion.

Therefore, construction professionals struggle to align on process, tools, and digital skills.

How should construction companies approach their digital transformation plans?

Executives and managers should be able to clearly define and communicate how DT will create value and spend an equal amount of effort and resource on operational change, people’s behaviours and information security. Working digitally can create significant benefits but it also pushes information security right to the top of the resilience and risk assessment in terms of potential impact.

With many years construction industry experience and more recently the world of technology, my firm view is that digital transformation should only be undertaken with information security at the heart of the design.

Like every other sector, the construction and built environment industry is constantly evolving and embracing new technologies. In the Fourth industrial revolution companies are now relying on digital collaboration tools and standards, and the construction industry is no exception. Industry leaders and contractors are moving towards Construction 4.0. It is an evolving concept but, generally, it refers to the use of digital innovation within the industry – embracing digitisation and modern, smart technology to connect all aspects of a build so that work is completed more efficiently and effectively.

For example:

Offsite production – With offsite manufacturing and assembly, sections of prefabricated buildings are created in warehouses before being delivered to a construction site. This saves time and money and means that structures can spring to life much more quickly.

Digital technologies – Digital techniques such as building information modelling (BIM), digital scanning, cloud computing and artificial intelligence (AI) are transforming the ways new structures are planned and designed.

Improved connectivity means that 3D simulations and augmented or virtual reality (VR) allow people to view and test a building’s ‘digital twin’ before construction work begins. Data can be captured, analysed and stored ahead of a build, – speeding up processes and resulting in higher performance structures.

Cyber – Construction manufacturing is increasingly turning to sensors, robots, and drones, as they are often faster and more reliable than traditional methods.

The sector is also making greater use of the Internet of Things (IoT), employing software, sensors, and other technologies to transfer data with devices via the internet.

Construction 4.0 promises increased efficiencies, enhanced and optimised productivity. Not to mention savings of time and money through reductions of labour, material, and processing costs.

There are multiple barriers that keep companies from digital transformation, with some companies possibly in the slow lane while others are speeding ahead. Regardless of whether your proposition has a traditional basis, or a futuristic slant digital transformation is already helping to improve sector revenues and profits so if you haven’t already it may now be time to embrace the need for change.

Kevin Harris

Managing Director

Bamboo Technology Group Ltd

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