I recently sat through a press interview with Leigh Jasper, co-founder and CEO of Oracle’s Aconex, for Construction Global magazine. The conversation drifted towards Construction 4.0 and it got me thinking about whether the engineering and construction (E&C) industry was ready for a new evolution or whether it needed to catch up with the technology advancements currently available.
There’s so much finger pointing from outside about how slow the industry is to adopt technology, but having recently moved back into the construction industry it surprised me because all I’ve seen are innovative businesses embracing digitisation.
Different organisations are, of course, at different levels of digital transformation maturity. Some are innovating, some are taking a more cautious approach, some are very complex organisations that struggle with the agility required to make such wholesale changes to the business, and some are much smaller businesses ready to pivot at a moment’s notice.
The challenge companies are going through in the E&C industry is not dramatically different to those that other industries are going through when it comes to technology. Technology innovation moves so rapidly that quite often we’re talking about new tools and methodologies before the market is really ready for them. Is that the case with Construction 4.0?
Essentially, it’s the E&C industry’s version of Industry 4.0, a move towards greater digitisation. It encompasses the stuff of science fiction past such as prefabrication, automation, 3D printing, virtual reality, drones, sensors, robots for repetitive or hazardous processes, and data - lots and lots of data - used to help the industry know itself better and to shape the decisions it makes today and tomorrow.
It’s an exciting time for the industry, but unlike other sectors such as manufacturing, E&C is challenged by the very thing it’s often celebrated for: bespoke projects, one-off designs. It’s not like you’re producing the same nail or screw over and over again. Many buildings are unique, many projects tailored to suit.
It’s going to be about finding process repetition in the industry if we’re going to see the benefits of prefabrication, automation, robotics, and to a certain extent 3D printing.
The industry is certainly moving in the right direction. We’ve seen advancements in the digitisation of the supply chain and associated processes such as workflows and approvals. We’re now seeing more digital skills coming into engineering and construction.
There are new job titles now focusing on digital transformation such as Innovation Director or Digitisation Director. These roles are shaping the future of digitalisation within the industry with the skill sets they bring becoming much more recognised and valued at the ‘decision making level’.
Companies are starting to see the opportunities technology brings to reduce wastage and duplication as well as control quality, time, and budget on projects. They’re seeing how this impacts the bottom line as well as the company’s reputation.
These things are critical for success in such a competitive market with such narrow margins.
As the industry becomes more connected, though, one thing that Leigh said in his interview that resonated with me was the importance of cybersecurity, which needs to be considered as an incredibly important part of the business now. When you look at construction projects, they’re made up of multiple teams from global companies to small double digit sub-contractors.
With such diversity, it creates a real challenge to lock up data on a project completely. That’s why having a common data environment to store, share, and collaborate with information used by teams across the entirety of a project is key.
Cyberattacks are becoming much more common, and when you look at critical infrastructure projects such as nuclear power, emergency services and Government facilities, it’s so important to keep data and project information locked down and only available to those who should have it.
Absolutely, if you want to continue to be in business. Digitisation is about having visibility into your business, so you can instantly recognise if a project is going over budget or is delayed.
As margins continue to pinch and competition intensifies, finding those incremental productivity or profitability gains will be vital. Read about how to create a digitally savvy workforce here. Download the Global Industry Council report on ‘Five Keys to Unlocking Digital Transformation’.
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