Digital transformation in the construction sector isn’t just about BIM

The construction industry has a bit of a reputation for being slow to adapt to a changing world. And it’s got an even bigger reputation for lagging behind in digital innovation. A recent US study carried out by JBKnowledge shows that the majority of the biggest construction companies allocate less than 1% of revenue on IT. The average for large corporations in the US (with revenue over $2 billion) across all industries, is 3.2%. That means the construction industry is spending less than a third of what other businesses spend. So yes, you can definitely say they’re behind.

Here in the UK however we’re trying to be a bit more tech savvy. In 2011 the government linked the construction industry’s goal to become more digital, with their own public procurement ambitions. They announced that all central government construction contracts would require BIM (building information modelling) by 2016. Naturally the big players took up the challenge, with Bouygues, Vinci and Balfour Beatty all becoming pioneers of BIM in the UK.

Although the benefits of BIM are huge, it’s not the be-all and end-all of digital innovation. Going digital means adding digital touches to everything that could be improved or optimised. From managing people, to tracking customer relationships, tech can help. But changing the way people work can be difficult. To deal with potential internal brakes, the first step should be to start digital construction from the inside; revolutionising processes step-by step and using technology to help your team work to their full potential. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can create value and revenue this way.

According to a cross-industry report from Oxford Economics for Virgin Media Business, the construction industry has the most to gain from digitisation. Their study revealed that companies that had fully embraced digital technology had grown their revenue by 5.9%, and were optimistic about growing it even more. Fully embracing digital technology also means digitising processes.

Digitise processes is the key

Streamlining processes can make projects quicker and more successful automatically but that doesn’t mean they will. The secret to making digitisation work for you is knowing what to digitise and what not to. There needs to be a strategy behind the change and a clear reason why your chosen processes would benefit from digitisation, otherwise it could make you less productive. When tech’s used properly it can do a lot of the work for us, leaving more time for us humans to do the stuff only humans can do – communicate.

The construction industry needs a serious shakeup. If they did adapt or automate even a very small percentage of their operations related communications, like team meetings or internal events, they would be able to benefit from significant savings and optimise resources.

DariaDaria Taylor, former Compliance and Operations Manager at GRITIT

Even just replacing some face-to-face meetings with Skype meetings would save a lot of time and money that businesses currently spend on travel.

But implementing these technologies is tough when you’ve got a huge business with thousands of employees. Training people on new technology can take weeks, even months, and is generally a technological pain in the backside. But there is a way to work around this problem, and it starts with you taking advantage of the technology your employees already know their way around – their smartphones.

Make the most of smartphones

Smartphones are key to digitisation. You’ve got one, your colleagues have them and, most importantly, your employees have them too. Employers fork out a lot for the most up-to-date phones for their team, so it makes sense to use them to their full potential.

Mobile technology can transform the day-to-day workings of a business. Imagine being able to go to a site and give a customer an estimate there and then. There’s an app for that. Imagine not having to trawl through pages and pages of timesheets and being able to see it all on your computer with a single click. There’s an app for that. Imagine not having to visit different sites to see what progress has been made on your various projects. There’s an app… OK, you get the idea. There are thousands of apps that have been designed specifically for the construction industry just sitting there waiting to be used, and employees would be able to easily pick up how to use them.

Chris Cook, Director of Cooks Energy, uses apps to control and monitor his customers’ heating from his iPhone. His team use Heatmiser’s neoKIT app to detect, and often fix, any problems customers have with their heating and hot water. “With the app we can do a lot of fine tuning remotely, and that can often save hours of driving just to go and press a switch” he says.

Making the most of smartphones is a great way to digitise everyday processes, but it’s only one part of digitalisation, you can go a lot further. The next step is helping people to communicate better and technology can help.

Collaborate and communicate

Construction firms are a solitary bunch (hello oxymoron). They tend to be organised in silos with a lack of communication between teams, both internally and with other companies they work with. Daria agrees, “On most projects you’re relying on others to complete their piece of the puzzle so you can deliver on time. The challenge is creating synergies between these departments and people. One of the most effective ways we can do this is through technology.”

CDO of Atkins, Richard Cross, has a digital way of optimising knowledge-sharing and decision-making. Instead of relying on senior management to make decisions he uses crowdsourcing to find an answer to a problem. And through the use of digital tools he says he can transform business models, where, instead of it taking weeks, strategies can be developed in just an hour through a collaborative meeting.

Technology is powerful in not only saving time but also helping people come together with ideas. Online collaboration platforms like Wisembly help companies do both of these things. Making large meetings efficient is the key, and that’s where collaboration tools really come into their own.

 

Smartphone and collaborative technology is the kind of technology the construction industry should be embracing alongside BIM. And because many firms are so far behind, companies introducing even a few digitised processes can have a huge competitive edge. A competitive edge, alongside all the other benefits of better communication, better processes and increased revenue. In short, it seems foolish to stay in the dark ages.

 

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