Insights and best practices for construction management technology and project delivery

Mace on Improving Outcomes with Emerging Construction Technology

In Part I of our Trailblazers interview, Matt Gough, innovation director of Mace, discusses Mace's approach to innovation and fostering a creative culture, as well as E&C technology trends.

In Part II, Gough discusses the construction industry's role and responsibility in minimizing climate change. Gough also talks about how the industry must standardize before automating with the help of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other technology.

Dr. Burcin Kaplanoglu, executive director, innovation officer at Oracle Construction and Engineering, leads the conversation.

BK: Which emerging technologies do you see presenting the best opportunities for our industry?  

MG: We’re more interested in the product than the technology. What emerging technologies would help us create better products?

There is a huge amount of potential around automation and robotics, but let’s be honest, we’re not there yet. The concept of taking work away from risky job sites into safer and more controlled locations and environments is important.

We’re making a start by trying to standardize some of our products and creating a controlled process environment to employ some of that autonomy. We did a report back in 2017 on Industry 4.0 for construction and it highlighted just how broad the technological change will be in our industry.

If you work in banking or finance, there will be deep impacts from things such as blockchain and artificial intelligence, which are a given. But it’s unlikely these industries would be impacted by drones.

AI, drones, sensors, IoT, and more

In construction, on the other hand, these new technologies are going to have an impact, including: blockchain, AI, drones, 3D printing, robotics, automation, sensors & IoT, augmented reality, automated vehicles.

They’re all coming, it’s just a matter of how fast and who’s ready.  

The construction industry and climate change

But perhaps the biggest shift is coming from the climate change emergency. The construction and operation of buildings accounts for somewhere between 30-38% of all embodied and operational carbon.

And we must reduce the rate we are emitting carbon into the atmosphere immediately. How we capture, store, and use renewable energy in the future is very important to the construction industry moving forward.

This includes whether we can accelerate the application of new materials, like cement-free concrete, in addition to how we can reduce the massive amount of waste that we continue to generate as an industry. These are all very interesting trends for the built environment going forward.

BK: Because our industry is so wide and deep, there are many different ways you can impact the industry. Returning to AI, where are you on data?  

MG: I'm of two minds at the minute; one mind is, we should start applying AI and machine learning now and we'll learn loads along the way. The power of data in many other sectors is enabling us to make better decisions at our fingertips.

And then the other part of me, which is somewhat more cynical, thinks that we're not quite ready for this stuff yet. I say this from the perspective of the industry, and Mace as a business and consultancy for the projects and commissions that we work on.

Moving from a project to enterprise-level business

Every project that you go to is running a discrete set of processes that are tailor-made and customized based on how that project has been defined and ran.  


"If every project is different, how are we going to be able to learn from it? This concept of moving from a project-led business to an enterprise-level business is an important one for the industry to get right."

-Matt Gough, Director of Innovation, Mace


We've just done some research as part of a project with the i3P in the UK, which is an infrastructure industry innovation partnership. It's a client-led and supplier-supported innovation collaboration program that researches where the industry needs to innovate and what’s important.  

Repeating, iterating, documenting, and optimizing processes

One of the interesting things that came out of the research is that this supplier site needs to industrialize, right? Within industrialization, there's a four step process that we need to follow, and most of the industry is not even on step one.

We need to standardize to control those conditions of operation. This involves doing the same process repeatedly, iterating, documenting, and optimizing.

Once you've got there, you can automate. You might start to enable some of the stuff to do with artificial intelligence, machine learning, etc.

Realizing the potential for technological advancement

The industry needs to remind itself that we must do some hard yards if we're going to truly realize the potential for some of this technological advancement. At Mace, we’re grabbing hold of this opportunity with both hands. But we also recognize that it's not a quick fix.

This is something that we are going to have to invest a lot of time and energy into to succeed. But succeed we must. The world needs a better construction industry to help tackle some of the challenges we all face moving forward.  

Read our eBook: "Innovation in Construction: Perspectives from AEC Innovation Leaders"

Oracle Construction and Engineering, the global leader in construction management software and project portfolio management solutions, helps you connect your teams, processes, and data across the project and asset lifecycle. Drive efficiency and control in project delivery with proven solutions for project controls, construction scheduling, portfolio management, BIM/CDE, construction payment management, and more.

Read more Trailblazers posts here.



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