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Digital Disruption in Construction: Cutting Through the Hype
Ben Senior, Project Director, Arcadis [AMS: ARCAD]
We have long been told that construction is ripe for disruption. One of the last industries to be impacted by the digital revolution, new tools and data-centric approaches have promised to transform the sector, generating ever greater efficiencies, productivity and safety. As far back as in 2016, many were warning that those who didn’t embrace this digital future were likely to suffer the same fate as companies like Blockbuster, Nokia and Blackberry; once leaders in their field, but soon obsolete thanks to a failure to keep pace with technology.
Fast forward three years and has anything changed?
Fragmentation, the trend to multiple subcontractors, individualistic projects and different regulations across countries and regions are all powerful opponents which work against digitalizing the industry. Some believe it is simply too hard to digitize, and the game-changing nature of how we’ll do things in the future has been overstated. Yet we live in a world where we expect everything to happen instantly. Short-term hype is nothing new, and we shouldn’t underestimate the impact of digital technology in the longer term.
Short-term hype is nothing new, and we shouldn’t underestimate the impact of digital technology in the longer term.
Data is the New Oil
Heading into 2020, we are on the cusp of significant change. We have more and more data available, not only about the planning process but also about how built assets are used. Meanwhile, cloud computing is a big enabler for different technical solutions, allowing the scalable application of technologies like BIM and advanced data analytics. From automation to using image recognition for road inspections, technology is rapidly evolving.
Data is integral to all of this. It is one of the most important and lucrative assets of modern times and being able to visualize and interpret it using new and improving technologies is key to success.
There are many solutions which demonstrate how data driven insights can lead to smarter decisions that help save time and money. Virtual reality, for example, can be used as a design tool allowing clients and end users to fully immerse themselves inside any future built asset. Not only does it help bring a project to life, allowing for better discussions, more efficient and productive design meetings and more creativity, but it also means any risks can be identified and immediately fixed. This avoids potential problems on site and improves safety and efficiency even further.
Big Data will be the cornerstone of transforming the whole industry, but it will still take time. Unfortunately, there is no one silver bullet for improving productivity in construction and, while technology is a valuable tool, we also depend on having people with the right skills to be able to apply and use it effectively.
Digital technology is already being used successfully in the construction industry, for example we are deploying IoT (Internet of Things) sensors into infrastructure to enable predictive maintenance and predictive and prescriptive data analytics modelling on projects, but we still have some way to go in terms of transforming how the sector operates. Indeed, there is a risk that due to the interoperability of platforms used by a fragmented supply chain, technology could even cause more problems than it solves, at least in the short term until we have reached some form of standardization.
The construction industry is still finding its way. Yet the potential inherent in digital technology is huge. Much of what we are already doing falls under the digital sphere, and we need to recognize and celebrate these wins. The step-change will be gradual but, as we continue to push the boundaries of our industry, who knows what the future will hold?