To explore how the fourth industrial revolution will have a positive impact on the construction sector, we speak with Lucien Wynn, Chief Operations Officer at Olive Communications, a leading managed cloud communications provider.
The future of the construction industry is a highly debated topic. In a world where embracing disruptive change is a necessity to survival, it is widely accepted that the construction sector has been slow to adopt. McKinsey’s report – Imagining Construction’s Digital Future – is a great example of the discourse on the digitalisation of the construction industry.
The report sets the scene well. Cost and schedule over-runs are the norm, while labour productivity has not kept pace with economic productivity. McKinsey’s authors accept there will be many technical challenges when rolling out new technology at scale across a complex supply chain, but they also note that it is unlikely that these shifts will get easier in the future, due to the sheer complexity of projects and the unforeseen issues that inevitably arise with each one.
There are, however, numerous technologies available to help companies to digitally transform, with many more in the pipeline. Embracing these technologies, with a positive mindset towards change, will be key to success and widespread adoption and ensure that the construction industry stays in line with its vertical peers.
Technology in a sustainable world
The growing demand for environmentally sensitive ‘green’ construction solutions means that the industry will further look to implement processes that are resource-efficient and environmentally responsible to ensure lifetime sustainability of the building. These processes include: building operations, site design, maintenance, repair, and demolition with the least harm on the environment.
Some examples of innovative technology that will continue to drive sustainable construction include self-powered, ‘architectural solar system’ buildings, zero energy buildings, sustainable indoor environment technologies (building, heating and cooling technologies) and water efficiency technologies, using smart devices.
The focus is on efficiency: smart use of energy, water preservation and reduced waste and pollution. The aim is to ensure that the chosen materials are cost-effective, durable and will reduce the impact on the environment and people. Also, whilst a lot has been written about the IoT (internet of things), there are some clear examples of how using smart devices can create greener, more efficient, zero carbon environments plus ensuring that working spaces are fully optimised and effective at the right times.
Collaboration for a paperless future
During the implementation of these projects, collaboration of all parties – the construction engineers, the client and the architects – is a must throughout. Collaboration is essential to heighten productivity and efficiency and is fundamental to success. Collaborative technologies are a proven way to improve communications, increase efficiency and ensure that governance, health and safety and compliance are adhered to. Notwithstanding, the future is paperless and transitioning to less paper is a protracted process, especially in a paper-heavy business like construction. By fully embracing these technologies now, companies can futureproof their business against uncertainty, change and competition.
Whilst delivery over the cloud has created enormous changes to working life and the ability to share, we are also seeing some of the Tech Titans applications starting to be adopted. For example, we are seeing global enterprises starting to fully embed Microsoft Teams (the hub for teamwork in Office 365) into the workplace. This platform spells a new age for collaboration and sharing by allowing teams to communicate globally, over a single space and fully utilising the Microsoft 365 suite of applications.
Mobility, agility and better safety
Empowering the workforce to work remotely, flexibly and more adeptly will be ever more important over the coming years. Increased uptake of cloud services will drive efficiency and increase productivity. This will be enabled by using construction management solutions that incorporate electronic human resource management tools such as training and competence software, online site induction software, materials management plans, risk, incident and hazard analytics that can capture and analyse big data and health and safety information management tools. This in turn will aid informed decision making for the future and continued business success. Most applications have a mobile first strategy and the FM world have led the way, through companies like Infor and Click, in terms of remote working, especially when scheduling large volumes of mobile engineers.
Automating to enhance the customer experience
AI, bots, and chat options enable businesses to digitalise and automate the front office. When your customers want to speak to someone, they can. Likewise, should they want to interact online, they can. Automation should be valued as part of a positive experience so that your customers receive a
service that is expected through the solutions that they choose to interact with, at all stages of their journey with your organisation.
For example, construction businesses can harness the power of automated technology to be leaner and more cost efficient through asset management software and the use of digitally enhanced mobile devices to better manage and track planned works; automated processes driving self- service; and leading-edge APIs that integrate different stakeholder systems and share vital information.
An empowered workforce in a skills shortage industry
It has been predicted there will to be a shortage of skilled labour in the construction industry and the supervisors to manage them. This means that the industry will inevitably require new ways of thinking and working.
One executive I spoke to commented “There are undoubtedly many pressures when it comes to sourcing construction talent and skills. In the UK, the potential labour skills shortage as a result of Brexit will only compound the pressure. An estimated 50% of EU labour is set to return to Eastern Europe. This means that highly skilled people (and those most likely to stay in jobs for three to four years) will leave the country. However, a younger emerging workforce of Gen Zs and millennials is likely to subside any negative impact.”
Mace’s report, Moving to Industry 4.0: A Skills Revolution, claims that up to 600,000 jobs in the construction sector could be replaced by new technology in the next two decades. To keep the existing workforce, there will need to be an emphasis on reskilling workers to enable them to manage the technology that replaced their original role.
If workers are reskilled, says the report, the construction industry could provide a projected figure of £25Bn per year to the UK economy by 2040. But this will only happen if the sector reskills to move to industry 4.0 and embraces productivity-improving technologies. By proposing such large-scale reskilling, with a major monetary injection into the economy, Mace’s report helps to reimagine construction’s digital future, with technology and skilled people central to success.
Technology for efficiency, technology for the future
Whilst the BIM initiative has gained much media attention over the last few years and the internet of things (IoT) is undoubtedly a huge opportunity (sensors in buildings for example), it is acknowledged that you have to invest in both the technology and training and skills development for your people.
What’s happening right now in the world of digital technology for construction should inspire greater adoption of digital transformation but getting the right blend between technology, people interaction and behaviour is a must. It can be challenging to shift the cultural mindset of your workforce, to first accept and then adopt these new ways of working but, once this challenge has been overcome, the rewards and benefits that new technologies can bring to a construction company will make the time spent on adoption worthwhile.