Unlocking construction’s digital future – a work in progress

The construction industry has often hesitated in the past when it comes to embracing digital technology, avoiding sporadic investment into emerging trends without solid evidence and proof of return. With less than 1% of revenues being spent on IT and digitalisation of operations, it’s an industry with a lot of catching up to do. With many digital technological innovations now proving their worth from conceptual design through to on-site physical construction, their adoption is becoming a catalyst for fundamental change in the way that construction projects are designed, developed and managed overall.

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ith the industry facing a paradigm shift in the design and delivery of new projects, organisations that have chosen to invest early in digital technology are leading the way competitively, already realising the value of their investment early on. Examples of this range from surveying, design modelling, mobility, collaboration, Internet of Things (IoT) and more which we explore in more detail below.

Although the benefits of digital technology use in construction are becoming clearer, many construction sites are unable to realise these benefits straight away due to shortcomings in infrastructure that directly enables and supports the digital equipment, applications and traffic flows between users, sites and third-party systems deployed off-site. A good example of this is the provision of high-quality, reliable wireless internet access, which is a vital enabler and support mechanism of the operations involving people, applications, devices and processes. Embracing new digital technology which will offer operational benefits should, therefore, be high on the agenda for the entire industry, but the infrastructure basics need to be in place beforehand, in order for construction firms to keep pace with growing user demand, retain profitability, and expansion of digitalisation.

Let’s take a closer look at the innovations leading the trends and the investments of tomorrow that will enable the construction industry’s digital future:

The changing face of surveying

Among many causes of delayed construction projects, geological elements undetected by the ground survey remain one of the greatest impacts. This cannot only affect the project through time delays but can also be one of the primary reasons that leads projects to go over budget. With new photographic and geographic information systems integrated into affordable drones and unmanned-aerial-vehicle (UAV) technology, surveying accuracy and speed has been drastically improved. Typically, drone data is captured onto a memory card, which is then transferred to a facility to be manipulated by software into usable information. However, high-quality internet connection on site means drone data can be patched directly to Amazon Web Services data storage and application hosting servers (AWS), significantly reducing report generation time.

5D Building Information Modelling

5D Building Information Modelling allows for a project to be designed digitally from start to finish before the building work begins. This ability, as a platform to fully evaluate the project before it starts, means that the risk of errors can be significantly reduced. Moreover, changes in design or process can also be run through the system to demonstrate how they might affect timescales, budgets, safety and more. This isn’t just cost efficiency, but it is both a valuable and systematic way of measuring alterations to the design. By predicting possible issues with the construction well in advance, it allows for safety aspects to be addressed before they become a concern for workers.

Whilst technologies like this are set to grow in use, the need for human intervention in the field will always remain necessary in this process, in order to ensure that the information modelling is reflective of reality. Not to mention, this alliance between human insights and the use of IoT technology collating vast volumes of data from deployed sensors, results in a model that is not only incredibly powerful but also reliable and crucially – scalable.

Mobility, collaboration and IoT

The construction industry still largely relies upon paper-based and manual processes that are inherently inefficient and prone to error. This leads to projects – large-scale projects in particular – taking on average 20% longer to finish, and up to 80% over budget.

Digital collaboration solutions are already significantly improving processes in the industry, positively impacting supply chain orders and progress reports. Cloud-based software as a service application has risen in popularity as a result of the availability of affordable wireless connectivity and ensures the efficiency and mobility of the construction team.

Deploying technology throughout the entire construction process is crucial, especially if organisations are to remain competitive. IoT developments, such as machine learning are also a valuable part of delivering this shift, as they enable data to be enriched, as well as make rules based changes in a highly automated way to systems with little supervision. Examples of this include tracking assets, controlling costs and minimising equipment downtime, thereby unlocking additional productivity.

The choices facing construction firms

Embracing disruptive change has become a necessity for organisations across multiple industries, but it is broadly recognised that the construction industry has been slow to adopt changes. But now, construction firms facing competitive forces face two choices: either dynamically embrace the investment model and cultural shift or proceed at the same measured pace and risk failing and falling behind. Although the signs of digital adoption and interaction within the construction industry are encouraging, many sites still lack the basics of infrastructure to support digital innovation. Construction companies contemplating investing in digital innovation and technology shouldn’t think that they need to do this on their own. As a first step, firms should consider working with an ecosystem of experienced and trusted providers who can supply both the digital infrastructure and the innovations, some of which are already on offer as managed services (IoT as a service as a leading example) that can be consumed via outsourcing without retraining and hiring additional headcount. The future is bright for construction firms willing to focus and harness digital technology innovation and the potential rewards that it can bring them.

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