Has the construction industry got smarter? A recent report found that BIM usage is at 70% - up from 10% in 2011. BIM integration brings digital to the whole of the specification, design and build process to help projects run to time, improve safety and reduce costs. This is, of course, is a game-changer, with 80% of all large projects globally experiencing cost or programme overruns. (Mace).
However, a digital divide could be widening, with 30% of businesses still not taking advantage of building information modelling. The construction sector does have its critics for being less proactive in embedding digital into its processes. Watch this plea from a millennial, urging the sector to adopt BIM back in 2015.
The word “digital” in other industries, such as marketing, is becoming redundant as digitisation should be embedded into the entire workflow. With increased pressure to deliver faster with lower budgets, there can be a temptation to focus on tried and tested ways of working to mitigate risk. But with digital transformation offering enormous opportunities for the construction sector, the risk of failing to implement them could be higher.
Kickstarting Lobster’s digital construction series
With all this in mind, we’re running a series on digital construction, which will look at the challenges and today’s futuristic innovations ahead. To kickstart the series, here are six ideas to embed digitisation into construction.
1. SWOT ANALYSIS: BIM IS NOT A "NICE TO HAVE"
From a business perspective, it will become clear very quickly that new technologies offer huge opportunities when we carry out SWOT analysis. Keeping pace with digital construction tools will add resilience to the business and avoid complacency.
We should not assume that just because we’ve always done something successfully that this will always be the case. Digital tools are not just useful extra but can transform the sector by optimising processes - saving time and money. Managers will have to introduce them at some point to stay competitive, and it’s better to be proactive and integrate it to the strategy rather than playing catchup. One study by McKinsey found that 75% of companies have seen a positive return on BIM investments. With all these benefits on the bottom line, it could be more costly to not embed them in the project.
There’s no doubt that this can be more challenging for smaller companies. However, when you are using data to predict and eliminate problems, rather than find and fix after the fact, it is worth the investment.
2.Prove that it works
A vital benefit of smart tools is that they can prove their worth. They produce data allowing you to analyse the outcomes and continuously improve. When you have strong results, these can be shared with the senior board and wider company to encourage buy-in.
Rather than a wholesale digital transformation, for some more risk-averse businesses, it can be useful to test and adopt these tools in stages. It is worth establishing clear metrics at the beginning of the project to demonstrate what is working. If it improves the bottom line, it will be easier to embed digital further.
When industry leaders are asked why embedding digital is such a challenge for construction, culture and attitudes come up as a recurring issue. Digital champions are indispensable to change internal cultures.
These advocates can help to educate staff and contractors about the benefits of digital and encourage change, not just from the top-down, but from the ground up. First steps include inviting a representative to join the board or create a steering group. Then digital is kept at the forefront of business planning.
4. Industry-led training
Training and where the investment comes from is an issue that affects all industries, not just construction. With increased digitisation, a skills gap between what people learn in formal education and what they need on the ground can widen in a generation.
The Construction Leadership Council argues that HE worldwide had been slow to react to construction’s needs for BIM skills. They recommend that businesses switch the focus to collaborative training with their supply chain, which rather than looking at the modelling tech itself, contextualising BIM and data management. (Construction Leadership Council) If we return to our SWOT analysis, failing to recruit and foster the right skills is a threat to the business in the digital economy. In addition, studies show that a critical factor in millennial staff retention - who will make up most of the labour market - is training and engagement.
The digital maturity of the project is only as high as the part of the supply chain that is least technologically smart. Construction brings together a cast of interdependent players from architects, quantity surveyors, construction workers, contractors and sub-contractors. Thus, digital transformation is a big challenge. Could we join forces and create a joined-up approach between partners to invest in digital and reap the joint rewards?
Perhaps this is a step too far, but collaboration plays a big part here. Interoperable systems which allow all stakeholders to collaborate in real-time and have the digital data post-project are invaluable in helping to prove the worth of digital and embed it sector-wide.
6. Sell it in
Ultimately your end-users may not be interested in your digital maturity as a business. The fact that BIM was not a priority for clients was one of the reasons cited as holding back its usage. (NBS BIM Report 2019).
When marketers promote tech, the motivational drivers for their audiences are not about the spec so much as what the tech can achieve. How can it make us do our jobs better? How can it make our clients happier? For stakeholders and clients, it is the positive results and outcomes of using technology, which should be drawn upon to educate and win clients. For instance, to show how BIM usage has improved the end-product and offered added value by reducing defects in buildings or improved energy efficiency.
The challenge is on for construction to exploit the benefits of digital, but the results of the digital construction champions are already inspiring. As Mark Boyle, Global Design Director at Robert Bird Group says:
“If we don’t do it, we’ll get external disruptors, digital innovators will come into our industry and change it from the outside. That’s a real danger.”(Building.co.uk)
Which methods for embedding digital and new technology have worked for your business? Do share in the comments below and follow the blog for the next part of our digital construction series where we’ll be looking at the challenges of big data and privacy.
Interested in how BIM usage can help your business? Find out more about our Lobster Vision and BIM integration: