Insights and best practices for construction management technology and project delivery

Middle East construction sector eyes innovative technology to improve operations

Andy Sommer
Senior manager, communications

The Gulf Capital SME Awards were launched in 2012 in partnership with MEED to highlight “growth champions,” i.e., those small and midsize companies that are contributing to the ongoing development of the region’s economy. The awards offer a unique platform for such organizations to highlight their work, brands, products, and services.

In the Middle East, small and midsized businesses represent more than 94% of companies operating in the region, providing jobs for more than 86% of the private sector’s workforce. Such companies comprise nearly 95% of all companies in Dubai alone – contributing around 40% to Dubai’s GDP*.

So, what does the future hold for innovative engineering and construction (E&C) technology in this part of the globe? We spoke with one of the awards program judges, Sherief Elabd, Oracle Construction and Engineering director, industry strategy and innovation, to hear his thoughts about innovative technologies in the Middle East.

1.    What technology-related solutions are small and midsized companies finding to address construction challenges in the Middle East and globally?

There are numerous challenges these companies are focusing on globally. Here are a few examples:

a.    Quality control and assurance

Robots, as well as a variety of remote visual tools, including drones, laser scanning, light detection, and ranging technology (LiDAR), can carry out site inspections, reducing manual human error and streamlining quality control processes.

Machine learning- (ML) trained models can detect quality defects to help streamline site inspections and speed up quality control processes, reducing manual human error.

b.    Environmental health and safety

AI can detect potential environment, health, and safety (EHS) violations; provide visual analysis of hazards and risks in real time, and connect to back-end project controls systems to gauge the impact on site operations.

c.    Bridging the gap between upstream and downstream supply chain management processes with jobsite delivery and readiness

Material tracking and readiness is an area that’s covered by different technologies and vendors today - from barcode scanning to radio frequency identification (RFID) and internet of things (IoT).

These technologies leverage specialized backend supply chain management (SCM) systems and provide real time material status to construction operations, planners, and inventory managers of an engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) company or general contractor to keep them in the heart of their project.

d.    Construction workers safety, timekeeping, and tracking  

IoT is playing an important role in this area, replacing form-based manual entry sheets that have proven ineffectual in the past.

2.    What trends are you seeing in terms of startups focusing on construction technology? Are there more solutions coming through? Are there particular construction challenges that startups are prioritizing or focusing on? Why do you think these are?

We have been seeing interesting technologies such as IoT, AI, ML, point cloud, and blockchain being used in the industry.

Unlike the past, where the digitization of projects has been almost geared towards only project office solutions, most of these technologies focus on where projects are being delivered – the construction jobsite.

a.    Virtual Design Center: Teams can compare design drawings and models by using drones, high definition 360 cameras, or mobile phones (for less complex interior details) for reality capture.

ML trained solutions can automatically spot variances, deficiencies, and defects of execution, and streamline the quality control process by overlaying the design against what’s really happening on the project.

b.    Material tracking and delivery: Organizations are using RFID and barcode scanning to keep project delivery teams informed about material readiness and availability onsite.

This technology also supports project planners and schedulers to proactively assess multiple scenarios of their project’s critical path based on material availability, recalculating revised planned dates of their installation activities.

c.    IoT enabled sensors: Used for timekeeping and GPS tracking of jobsite workers on large projects, this emerging technology complements—and sometimes replaces—the traditional approach of manual-fed timesheets entry across the team.

IoT sensors can be found in the screw fix of a hardhat or a device that can be worn in a worker’s belt. The sensors send real-time data of the active versus idle time of a worker against tasks assigned to the individual.

These technologies complement a task management application to help supervisors and managers evaluate their direct reports’ performance. Regarding these trends, Oracle Construction and Engineering performs scouting and provides guidance and mentoring for technology startups.

Oracle helps these startups pilot their solutions with our customers who have the chance to realize value on a smaller scale before deciding to roll it out across their portfolio of projects.  

3.    What do construction businesses need to think about now that they didn’t a decade ago?

a.    Standardizing and reviewing their processes and standard operating procedure (SOPs) to be digital ready.

There can be no digitization success without processes in place. Construction stakeholders must rethink upgrading or re-engineering their process to leverage the digital technology available to the industry.

This initiative must be led and monitored at the board level and the project management office (PMO) or equivalent should play a major role in the execution.

b.    Restructuring project teams to embrace change and innovation.

Reluctance and resistance to change will always be there. Executive management should always create an environment that supports embracing change.

c.    Working with industry partners and software vendors to create a bespoke plan of digitization.

Many times, our clients are in a state of: “[I] don’t know what I don’t know.”

Most leading technology vendors have team(s) of industry and domain experts that can help their clients create a roadmap for incorporating innovations throughout their digital transformation journey.  

A team of industry experts at Oracle Construction and Engineering is engaging in strategic digital transformations with the following criteria in mind; process, maturity, and innovation.

We work out an assessment with our customers to build realistic and fit-for-purpose roadmaps for their digitization and transformation.

4.    What are some key elements you look for in terms of innovative ideas when you’re judging the SME Awards?

The key driver is providing a solution against compelling use cases by delivering a clear value proposition that either replaces or complements a legacy system that fits into an organization’s IT landscape, eliminates manual work and errors, and automates and streamlines the current processes.

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.

* https://sme.meed.com/about-awards

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