It is well recognised that there are other sectors that have digitised faster and more effectively than construction. It has been on the industry’s agenda for a while, with report after report exploring the benefits that a more digitised construction industry will have on project delivery and the outcomes that are provided for end-users and communities.
So, what’s the hold up?
How much and how long before digitalisation?
We carried out research* with DCW Connect to explore this issue in more detail. It was clear that cost was a major factor. Nearly 40% of respondents in our research survey said that a lack of funding availability or investment was the primary barrier when it comes to implementing new technology. When exploring further, it wasn’t just software or specialist equipment that was the issue; one in four respondents said that it was a priority for their organisation to invest in mobile devices. With something so basic not in place, it shows that there is still a way to go before full digitalisation in construction is achieved.
It wasn’t just cost that was an issue. One in three people said that challenges around employee training and change management were discouraging leadership teams from implementing change. With that in mind, it would suggest that there is an element of confidence building required; companies need to be clear on what they are buying, what the return on investment is and how rollout can be managed most effectively with minimal fuss.
Pandemic response drives change
Of course, major external events can also influence this decision-making process. The COVID-19 pandemic is one such event driving a large shift in mindset in construction, with digital solutions suddenly needed to underpin a more flexible industry.
Whether using technology to support social distancing on construction sites or shifting office staff to remote working, new workflows and tools have been added rapidly, creating opportunities for businesses to improve.
And, as competitors and partners make these improvements and benefit from new technology, the changes will start to stick and spread throughout the sector. Those who don’t invest will inevitably fall behind.
Our research provides a good benchmark for the state of play. Around 70% of respondents are planning, piloting or have adopted some digital workflows/processes recently. And, for those companies that have started the journey, it doesn’t stop with a single solution. For 17% of them, it is now about scaling up what is already in place and integrating the solutions further within the business.
For the latter, that commitment following some initial technology-led improvements will hold them in good stead for the future. For those at the beginning or yet to start, it is important to take control and move this reactive process into something more strategic and proactive.
Safety, quality and value will be key areas of future policy for the sector. Technology has an important role to play, and it is the right time for leaders to consider what that might be, using the lessons of the previous year to guide decision-making.
Going for goal
Goal setting is a good place to start. What is the purpose of digitalisation and adopting new technology? What existing workflows and processes can be improved by technology? And what can be removed altogether? Understanding this will set the right context before any changes or investments are made.
Our research offers some useful places to start:
- 48% said that software tools should help them simplify and automate processes
- 47% said that technology should help them improve tracking and increase visibility throughout a project
- 46% said it should be used for quality assurance
Arguably, this shows that there is a level of support within businesses for this change to happen, coupled with some clear areas of benefit. However, the research also reveals the obstacles. The top three issues all relate to people – with lack of training, poor adoption or aversion to technology and human error highlighted as problems. As mentioned earlier, this is a big barrier. However, the right rollout can overcome this.
The key to any new software rollout is to ensure that you have the right technology partner. You need a company that can offer the style of training and support that suits your company culture and team. Ideally, they will understand the construction sector and have tools built specifically for the industry – that will build the team’s confidence in the solution and should make for a much smoother rollout.
You will want the provider to engage with your team as early as possible. Small working groups with pilot projects is a good way of doing this. This allows for testing before the full solution goes live and builds internal advocates and champions. These people will be crucial to your long-term success as they can help with peer-to-peer learning and support. It also allows both sides to fully understand the processes involved, flagging any potential issues and ensuring that the desired objectives and what is an achievable match (more on this here).
Once the people are in place, it is about tracking the performance of the new tool against the original goals, adjusting as and when required. This will ensure that you get the desired ROI and also grows support for further changes and improvements in the future.
Taking the leap to embracing technology and digitalisation opens the door to growth and success. Learning to use technology in the best way – by optimising and standardising processes and working with your technology partner – will help yield even greater returns.
(*Survey: Increase Productivity Through Tech Adoption Survey 2021: DCW Connect and Bluebeam).