Dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion of the con­struc­tion in­dus­try

Sas­san Hatam ex­am­ines the big­gest tech dis­rup­tors and their im­pact on pro­duc­tiv­ity

Gulf Business - - CONTENTS - Sas­san Hatam

THE GLOBAL CON­STRUC­TION

in­dus­try is known for its poor track record when it comes to driv­ing change. Con­struc­tion to­day works the same way it did sev­eral decades ago, and un­like in other in­dus­tries, no fun­da­men­tal pro­duc­tiv­ity im­prove­ments – if any – have been achieved. Cost and sched­ule over­runs re­main com­mon, and dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion is in many cases no more than a buzz­word.

But just like in any other sec­tor, tech­nol­ogy will fun­da­men­tally re­shape con­struc­tion around the world – driv­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity and ef­fi­ciency, redefin­ing the pro­ject life­cy­cle and cre­at­ing new win­ners and losers. The ques­tion is when, and which firms will be will­ing to spear­head the trans­for­ma­tion.

The power of dig­i­tal

Mov­ing from to­day's pa­per-based pro­cesses to dig­i­tal so­lu­tions can help ad­dress many of the typ­i­cal pain points, be it manag­ing the sup­ply chain or track­ing crew pro­duc­tiv­ity to name but two of the many chal­lenges.

Large con­struc­tion projects are in­cred­i­bly com­plex and re­quire per­fect syn­chro­ni­sa­tion of peo­ple, equip­ment and ma­te­rial all the way from plan­ning to on-site ex­e­cu­tion. Ex­ist­ing dig­i­tal so­lu­tions al­low real-time and gran­u­lar trans­parency on ‘all the mov­ing parts', pow­er­ful and timely an­a­lyt­ics on progress and risks, en­hanced co­or­di­na­tion and, ul­ti­mately, bet­ter end-to-end man­age­ment.

Build­ing in­for­ma­tion mod­el­ling – BIM for short – will likely be the most dis­rup­tive dig­i­tal in­stru­ment in the in­dus­try. It en­ables a 3D dig­i­tal view on the phys­i­cal and spa­tial di­men­sions of a pro­ject, fos­ter­ing bet­ter plan­ning and de­ci­sion-mak­ing. At a con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mate, BIM can re­duce to­tal pro­ject costs by at least 10 per cent.

Re­gard­less, many con­struc­tion firms do not yet use 3D BIM, or have only started pi­lot­ing sys­tems. Imag­ine if BIM was adopted as a sin­gle shared plat­form be­tween dif­fer­ent stake­hold­ers such as pro­ject owner, ar­chi­tect and con­trac­tor along the full pro­ject life­cy­cle. Add in pro­ject sched­ule and cost pa­ram­e­ters to cre­ate 5D mod­els, and BIM's full po­ten­tial can be un­leashed.

The power of new con­struc­tion tech­nolo­gies

Tech­nol­ogy in­no­va­tion is about more than dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion – ad­vanced build­ing ma­te­ri­als; mod­u­lar con­struc­tion and au­to­mated con­struc­tion all prom­ise an op­ti­mised cost-time-qual­ity equa­tion.

Much has al­ready hap­pened, with new ad­vanced build­ing ma­te­ri­als be­com­ing com­mer­cially avail­able (e.g. aero­gels), and more is to come.

By con­trast, ro­bot­ics and 3D print­ing are still in their in­fancy and are so far tech­ni­cally lim­ited to niche ap­pli­ca­tions. This could change fast – for ex­am­ple, ev­ery new build­ing in Dubai needs to be 25 per cent 3D printed by 2025.

Equally, the pre­fab­ri­cated mod­u­lar con­struc­tion (or more specif­i­cally PPVC) of high-rise build­ings is al­ready a suc­cess in coun­tries like Sin­ga­pore. This has not gone un­no­ticed in the in­dus­try. Par­tic­u­larly, GCC coun­tries with a large need for so­cial hous­ing projects are look­ing closely at how to lever­age off-site man­u­fac­tur­ing to ben­e­fit from ac­cel­er­ated time­lines and re­duced cost.

Call to ac­tion

The con­struc­tion sec­tor, whether it is in the GCC or else­where, recog­nises the dis­rup­tive po­ten­tial of tech­nol­ogy. The prob­lem lies with im­ple­men­ta­tion.

There are many hur­dles to adop­tion. Some are be­yond the con­trol of an in­di­vid­ual com­pany. Take BIM as an ex­am­ple – it is not easy to have all key pro­ject stake­hold­ers in­vest in BIM adop­tion, par­tic­u­larly if tech­nol­ogy and con­trac­tual stan­dards are still evolv­ing.

Gov­ern­ments can be im­por­tant cat­a­lysts, ei­ther as reg­u­la­tors or as pro­ject own­ers. For ex­am­ple, by en­forc­ing the use of BIM, re­think­ing con­trac­tual frame­works and as­so­ci­ated risk-shar­ing mech­a­nisms, or set­ting up in­cen­tive schemes to trial new tech­nolo­gies.

Yet the real is­sue is sim­ple: It is dif­fi­cult to teach an old dog new tricks. This holds true in con­struc­tion, whether at su­per­vi­sor level or in top man­age­ment. A shift in mind­set is re­quired.

A sim­ple recipe to start the trans­for­ma­tion jour­ney for an E&C com­pany could look like this:

Hire a small team to drive change, po­ten­tially even just a sin­gle in­di­vid­ual wear­ing the chief tech­nol­ogy of­fi­cer hat

Start small and then scale up. Ini­tially fo­cus on tri­als in no-re­gret ar­eas, build suc­cess sto­ries and show­case the ben­e­fits to the or­gan­i­sa­tion

In par­al­lel, de­fine your long-term dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion roadmap

Dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion is a key en­abler to drive up pro­duc­tiv­ity, but it is not a panacea. Con­trac­tors need to de­sign and im­ple­ment broader trans­for­ma­tion ini­tia­tives to fun­da­men­tally trans­form the way they op­er­ate, be it in pro­cure­ment, pro­ject plan­ning and mon­i­tor­ing, lean on-site con­struc­tion, or sim­ply up­skilling bluecol­lar work­ers.

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