Embracing Digital
Technology in Construction

Why firms need to double down

Getting the full value of digital in construction – why it’s so hard.

Innovation in construction gets a bad rap. Which feels somewhat unfair, after all, it is a ‘bricks and mortar’ industry, heavily reliant on equipment, machinery and a ‘hands-on’ workforce. The industry is often flouted as falling behind others in how it has embraced technology. Yet in recent years in particular, many forward-looking construction companies have deployed innovative solutions to better, and more safely, construct buildings.

But few companies have captured the full benefit of digital, and some have questioned whether they have the right approach. Piloting is one-thing, getting company-wide adoption is another. And it’s not hard to see why. As construction projects are typically fragmented, there are a number of hurdles for companies to overcome:

Data, DataEverywhere
Data, Data
Everywhere

Making good decisions relies on insightful data, and construction sites have a lot of it. In fact, the volume is simply staggering. However, it exists in siloed, distributed forms. There isn’t a single source of the truth.

Complex Supply-Chain
Complex
Supply-Chain

The success of a new build relies entirely on the strength of the team, more specifically the flow of data between all parties. With multiple layers of contractors and subcontractors in the project delivery supply-chain and with constant moving parts, tight collaborations is essential. But many firms struggle to operate a common data exchange.

Stuck inAnalog
Stuck in
Analog

The construction process remains one of the least digitised industries worldwide. Many processes are still manual, error-prone and have a not-so-hidden penalty cost (there’s a 3 in 4 chance the scheduled completion date will delay by 40% or more on mega projects).2 Disputes, claims, fines – the risks of delays and cost overruns are a reality for many construction firms who have failed to automate.

Digital Isolation
Digital
Isolation

As projects vary greatly, it’s hard to develop tools and methods that can be applied repeatedly. Teams or business units may develop their own subscale solution, without co-ordinating with others. Despite an influx of new technology providers to the sector, many of them offer stand-alone solutions that are not integrated within the wider use of technology in construction companies.


With the global population predicted to hit 9 billion by 2050 – and two out of every three people living in cities by 2050 – the demand for better, faster greener construction has never been greater. In addition, due to the pandemic, there is increased pressure on the construction sector to help ‘level-up’ the economy. Innovation and pace are needed. Could digital technologies, well-chosen and well-deployed, provide the key?

BIM is the right direction, but isn’t the whole answer.

According to the Future of Construction, Building Information Modelling (BIM) is the centre piece of the construction industry’s digital transformation. Over the last decade BIM awareness and adoption has grown from little more than 10% in 2011 to over 70% in 2020. And the benefits speak for themselves: NBS reports that adopters report greater predictability of building performance, price and programme; as well as reduced risk and increased profitability.

Yet while BIM standards are becoming embedded, and thankfully fewer people see BIM simply as ‘3D modelling’, there is still work to narrow the gulf between ‘BIM engaged’ and ‘BIM laggards’. Deploying cutting-edge technology is only one aspect. Having the mindset and approach to collaborate is what will really unlock the value of the tech.

At the core of BIM success is collaboration. In fact, you can’t really ‘do’ BIM if you don’t have the entire team on board in the earliest stages.
NBS

Paving the way to success: why you need a holistic approach.

Aside from BIM, there are a number of connected construction technologies that are being adopted to streamline and ease the process of constructing our built world. But given the array of new technologies on offer, where’s the best place to start?

When the pandemic hit in 2020, and ‘working from home’ just became ‘working’, we all realised the difficulties in communicating and collaborating with remote teams. Add to that the challenge construction professionals already had of multi-layered teams, and it’s easy to see where the friction could be.

What makes construction complex is not the complexity of the building, it’s the number of people that are required to work together to make it happen.
Nathan Wood, Executive Director, Construction Progress Coalition

While it’s tempting to cherry-pick solutions that fix a particular problem, developing narrow use cases may mean missing out on the wider opportunity. But by taking a collaboration-first approach and starting with technology that improves knowledge-sharing, smooths interactions and boosts interoperability, this could have significant knock-on effects to address other challenges, too.

For example, selecting tech that has the potential to integrate well with all other platforms means you’re not facing digital isolation. And by putting data transparency and data collection first by choosing tools that create 3D maps, this data can in turn, be used as the anchor for better decisions between all parties. And in unlocking collaboration barriers, this could be the key to creating lasting value.

In ‘Decoding Digital Transformation in Construction’ McKinsey & Co., cites how one collaboration tool drove down rework costs for a leading contractor. The quoted example talks about the contractor’s process for collecting comments on defects found onsite. Workers typically provided anecdotal, unstructured or difficult to act on feedback, which resulted in unplanned rework and delays.

This radically turned around when the contractor introduced a digital app to tag defects against specific elements in the BIM model and store them in a common data environment. A simple but effective collaboration solution that on-site teams could easily adopt. It smoothed out communication plus reduced rework and improved the bottom line.

5 ways a collaboration-first approach can transform Construction

Companies that take a collaboration-first approach put themselves in a much stronger competitive position. Not only can they get first-mover advantage, but they can boost productivity at the same time as keeping costs down:

Save Money
Save Money

Construction has a long record of poor productivity and firms experience delays on a quarter of their projects, with nearly one fifth of projects going over budget. But with the wide adoption of mass data collection technologies, site workers can now carry out a weekly, or even daily, ‘as-built’ scan of a site which highlights any discrepancies or defects during the build. NBS research suggests that 3D modelling technology can deliver cost efficiencies (60%) and increase speed of delivery (55%).

Unify Delivery Teams
Unify Delivery Teams

With multiple stakeholders engaged at various points of the project lifecycle, having “one source of the truth” such as BIM, enables greater collaboration and more informed decision-making. Data is brought out of silos and there’s a consolidated view of all critical information, that everyone can see, in real-time. This improves workflow, predictability and removes bottlenecks. Critical to this is having a mapping tool that accurately captures the data in 3D model form and provides an anchor for all data extracts.

Automate Construction
Automate Construction

AI-powered solutions not only automate but accelerate non-value-add tasks across teams. This helps improve site efficiency and allows site workers to expand their capabilities. For example, on site, AI can provide real-time alerts in the event of safety violations, such as if PPE is not used at all times. And in the back office AI can easily reconcile budgets and billing by matching what happens on the ground to what’s been billed.

Improve Data Integrity
Improve Data Integrity

To be able to make better decisions faster, construction professionals need to know they’re confidently working with the most accurate data. A Common Data Exchange, such as the one being trailblazed by the Construction Progress Coalition will not only transform project collaboration but address the common data dilemma of getting the right info to the right people at the right time. It will also improve overall data integrity, data usage and make it easier to evidence compliance.

Perfect the Model Virtually
Perfect the Model Virtually

Being able to create an exact mirror of the asset in a digital twin, means you can spot and correct irregularities before building work starts, as well as monitor and correct defects on-site. This enables clients to mitigate some of the risk, time and cost impacts of complex construction projects. IDC predicts that companies that invest in digital twin technology improve cycle times of critical processes by 30%.

We make it, before we make it

Royal BAM Group has a phrase that has become synonymous with the company which is, ‘We make it before we make it’. This digital-first approach enables the company to easily visualise the construction schedule, flag any potential problems and get back on track – while saving on rework.

This type of approach which aims to manage and share data between all key parties, is especially helpful when regenerating buildings or constructing new builds in busy cities. Aside from operating on constrained sites in busy locations (e.g., where the site footprint is the building footprint), sites are often live environments, with businesses in occupation. Staging construction offsite, or ‘just-in-time’ construction enables all stakeholders to virtually test the stress factors and tolerances of an asset in multiple ways, before the asset is built.

How a leading UK contractor uses collaborative mapping technology to keep complex projects on track with daily scans

Wilmott Dixon is a privately-owned construction and interior fit-out specialist renowned for working on large and complex projects across the UK. To keep projects on-track, the contractor wanted to equip on-site teams with user-friendly mapping technology that could be quickly adopted and used by anyone. Scanners needed to be mobile, lightweight, and fast – and work in any weather. Mapping software needed to be automated, accurate and easy to interpret. GeoSLAM’s Construction Progress solution ticked all the boxes.

This innovative solution combines hardware, advanced SLAM and automated analytics for smart progress tracking. Site workers ‘walk-and-scan’ with a handheld SLAM scanner, and by simply plugging the scanner into a computer, the data is automatically processed using GeoSLAMs smart data platform, Connect.. This is digitally compared against the 3D model on record, and within minutes an automated report will show you the percentage of work complete/incomplete and a simple visualisation of the site, highlighting 3D changes.

The data is centrally stored providing a clear and reliable audit trail and remote teams can confidently share progress updates knowing they have a central source of the truth. Teams can continuously collect data as often as they need to, in some cases several times a day. The automated solution not only saves time and money but enables Wilmott Dixon to be on the front foot and proactively address any issues. It’s just one way the national contractor delivers lasting value.

The key unlocking value in construction

Like many industries, the future of construction is firmly rooted in leveraging the benefits of digital technology to deliver better outcomes. While building sites will always be an organised chaos of physical, tangible assets, there’s still a huge opportunity for technology to transform the way buildings are constructed. But if you’re not getting the full value from digital technology alone, don’t give up. There is a better way.
Given the history of fragmentation and siloed working in construction, it follows that any, and every, digital innovation should seek to address this traditional way of working. And in doing so, will not only be a single-use case, but will have ripple effects across the whole value chain. Now really is the time to double down on digital efforts, collaboratively, of course.

References

  1. Reinventing construction through a productivity revolution | McKinsey
  2. McKinsey Global Institute: Reinventing Construction – A Route to Higher Productivity
  3. Top 4 Challenges Facing the Construction Industry – Future of Construction
  4. An Action Plan to Accelerate Building Information Modelling (BIM) Adoption – Future of Construction
  5. NBS’ 10th National BIM Report | NBS (thenbs.com)
  6. Decoding digital transformation in construction | McKinsey
  7. Smart Market Report – Mitigation of Risk in Construction
  8. NBS – National BIM Report 2019
  9. Innovation Enterprise: Guide to Digital Twin Technology

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