From high-level thinking to ground-level working
The reports that I have read offer much valued opinion and thought around the industry right now and into the future. I kept asking myself, what’s happening on the ground right now? What are the day-to-day challenges facing construction and the built environment? How is technology helping to solve these today?
There is an extensive list of solutions that will enable the construction industry to digitally transform. This includes the automation of simple tasks, with or without the help of artificial intelligence and chatbots. Also enabling the agility of staff to work remotely, flexibly and more efficiently than ever before which is likely to be more prominent over the coming years. Furthermore, cloud services will drive efficiency and increase productivity using electronic management of people, tasks equipment training, induction, materials, incidents, projects and sites which are able to capture big data and understood using analytics. This will enable informed decision making for the future and business outcomes. Ultimately, a successful transition from the now to the future is likely to occur more succinctly with the use of such technologies and for deliver ideal business outcomes.
How much actually happens at ground-level: A brief case study
I took the time to talk to a senior construction executive about the business and technology challenges being faced across planned and investment projects. The business in question is a commercial customer environment with a turnover of around £1/2bn, supplying facilities management, delivering large social housing contracts and building new homes. With a highly skilled workforce, there is a significant amount of investment in recruitment and insourcing.
Top level challenges were recognised by the company as productivity, efficiency and mobile integration. On the ground, many encouraging examples of digitalisation were provided. Examples of how the business harnesses the power of technology included the collection of asset register data via smartphones for house building programmes; 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.
The internet of things (IoT) is undoubtedly viewed as a huge opportunity (sensors in buildings for example), but there is an acknowledgement that you have to invest in both the technology and training and skills development for your people. Technology then becomes a crucial tool for people to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently.
The executive I spoke to said: “Data algorithms are good but people are key.” This is a great attitude as the construction industry moves towards the fourth industrial revolution and greater adoption of digitalisation. For too long there has been an odd juxtaposition between labour and technology, often driven by a fear that digitalisation and automation will steal people’s jobs. Many automatically drop into the mentality of people vs bots, human interaction vs machine learning, or the sci-fi trope of us vs AI. It’s refreshing that we’ve moved beyond this.
Is the construction sector capable of stepping up to new ways of thinking and working?
There is cause for optimism, according to a recent report. Developed in collaboration with The Boston Consulting Group, Shaping the Future of Construction is the outcome of a roundtable with more than 30 high-profile construction-related representatives.
In its opening, the report notes: “Transformative, technological developments such as 3D-printed houses, automated construction equipment and pre-fabricated skyscrapers have emerged. The digital transformation of the construction industry has the potential to uplift the decade-long stagnating productivity.” Its argument is that the industry needs new talent and skills to be able to fully adopt new technologies in order to carry on with digitally transforming their respective companies from these new technologies now in use. This is a factor often cited as a major hurdle for construction to achieve its own digital transformation.
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 3-4 years) will leave the country. However, a younger emerging workforce of gen Z and millennials is likely to subside any negative impact.
Moving towards the future
It’s extremely encouraging that people feature so prominently, in both today’s discourse and action.
What’s happening right now should inspire greater adoption of digital transformation but getting the right blend between technology. People interaction and behaviour is a must, which can be challenging to create a cultural shift in the workforce, to firstly accept then adopt these new ways of working.
In my next blog, I shall be looking at the future of the construction sector offering predictions and further insight. In the meantime, if you would like to find out more about Onecom, please visit our website at www.onecom.co.uk or for more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org