As I’m sitting in my living room, a brand-new construction site is taking place right outside my window. Boring, you would say; however, what impresses me is the speed at which this project is being delivered.
Last week, we discussed how the construction industry is slow to adopt digital transformation and new technologies; however, looking at the construction outside my apartment, I wonder whether anything is changing in this industry that allows projects to be delivered faster.
Historically, construction is one of the world’s least digitized sectors. For this reason, I decided to look into recent technological advancements and understand what some digital tools used in construction are and how those are reshaping the way we see this industry. Digital transformation integrates digital technology into all facets of a business’s operations. For construction, that means implementing digital tools and technology that harness the power of data to make processes more efficient, productive, and safe.
Here is what I found:
Implement digital to promote collaboration
Construction companies usually avoid working across multiple organizations in the value chain as it increases complexity and costs. However, this usually means they miss out on a valuable opportunity, stemming from significant efficiency losses that can occur because the information isn’t transmitted effectively during handoffs between trades and functions.
It is essential to implement digital solutions that promote support and collaboration because site workers don’t send feedback to a supplier on all defects in the elements that the supplier is making. When they send feedback, it is anecdotal, unstructured, and difficult to understand. If defects persist, workers need to either fix defective products or wait for replacements. This unplanned rework increases labor costs and causes delays.
Today there is an opportunity to correct the problem by improving the mechanism for passing feedback between the site team and the supplier. The site team can use a mobile app to tag defects against specific elements for information about the project. The supplier can then monitor defect reports and run root-cause analyses with its factory team to diagnose and reduce blemishes. The results are a reduction in rework hours at the contractor’s job site and a demonstration of the benefit of smoothing communication between these previously disconnected organizations.
Reskill and redesign the team of engineers
Digital technologies have an increased impact on engineering. In this case, generative design tools, which automatically propose a range of design options, can radically reduce the time to develop plans. The ability to examine and optimize a generative design product is arguably becoming as crucial as the ability to conceive an original design.
Applying these new techniques requires designers to learn technical skills and design in new ways. Construction companies with internal design functions should equip themselves with new technical skills, such as building libraries of design elements to automate certain parts of the design process. In addition to adding new skills, engineers will have to utilize new materials and methods of the future. This is not easy as designers will have to adopt a new mindset, using their experience to validate model results and look for opportunities for standardization and repetition. This new way of working will create the capacity for designers to focus on more intellectually challenging problems.
Adjust project to capture value
Often construction executives say their companies have seen some productivity gains from digitization but little impact on the bottom line. One of the main problems is that the savings from added productivity don’t justify introducing new software and systems. Managers must reduce unproductive time and generate value to realize the full benefit from digital.
Collaboration across organizations working on a specific project is fundamental because it will allow managers to increase productivity by shortening on-site schedules, reducing nonessential resources, and restricting overtime. This sounds easy; however, it is crucial to effectively communicate with new workers about the project track and delivery across the value chain. Leading construction companies take on additional project duties, partnering with internal teams and subcontractors to meet client needs. These innovative teams use connected apps and software that enable:
- Real-time collaboration
- Improved quality control
- Collecting digital signatures
This new digital collaboration and mobility will shift projects to paperless, allowing project managers to be on site more frequently and avoid time at the office.
Connect projects across the enterprise
Leaders in the construction space need to understand the enterprise-wide use that could unlock a whole new wave of value as the company standardizes its digital tools and platforms across its various business units and shares more data from projects.
On-site workers need to take and share notes, and agile construction teams use their work execution platforms mobile apps to streamline processes to improve real-time communication such as:
- Updates from field workers
- Automated tasks and actions
- Track data and financials
With the help of advanced analytics, this infusion of data can improve asset management and decision-making across the organization.
Most construction companies have embraced the idea of implementing digital technologies and are determined to see their efforts bear fruit. But despite good intentions and persistent efforts to embed digital technologies in operations, construction companies are some of the least digitized businesses. For this reason, adopting the practices described in this blog increases the chances of a successful digital shift with tangible benefits. In the above picture, one can see the potential of the construction industry if paired with digital transformation, and I’m excited to see what the next 5-10 of digital transformation will bring to this space.