A Glimpse Of Digital Transformation In A Mid-Sized Construction Company
The construction sector is often considered to be one of the least digitally transformed industries globally. While big players may be able to allocate a portion of their wallets to experiment with digital tools and techniques, a good majority of mid-size companies are not really in a position to adopt that stance.
A combination of factors such as harsh and remote work environments that take away the ability to set up a feasible digital infrastructure, limited R&D budgets, entrenched working practices, and an inability to hire technical staff hinder the growth prospects of digital considerably for mid-size companies in the construction sector. This is even truer of construction companies located away from the East and West Coast tech-centers like Silicon Valley or New York.
Additionally, this sector is also widely regarded as one of the most fragmented businesses in light of its operational model. Every project may involve different suppliers, vendors, designers, contractors, and sub-contractors all following their own decentralized processes and standards in operations. Unifying operations through digital solutions thus become a challenge as the IT team, such as it is, may have to continuously engage in on-boarding new stakeholders after every project and this will in turn require more training and infrastructure costs.
But all is not gloomy as several businesses in this space have tasted success with their digital aspirations. It could either be a digital transformation of the whole business or parts of their operations or departments or some business units within the organization. So, how can others catch up with these winners? Here are 4 ways that have proven to work successfully in transforming mid-sized construction companies into digital-friendly enterprises.
Improving productivity through collaborative platforms.
Studies have shown that digital transformation can improve productivity by around 15% in the construction sector. Field workers, supervisors, engineers, and contractors often have different checklists to validate for their daily tasks. These tasks are interconnected in several areas and delays or obstacles faced by one party can slow down the entire system. Collaborative work is highly impactful for enabling the timely completion of projects by helping boost the productivity levels of all stakeholders. By deploying digital platforms like BIM that automatically track and record progress, identify dependencies, manage schedules and notify relevant stakeholders of challenges, there can be huge improvements in collaboration as it brings about transparency and visibility into tasks of each. This allows for better management of resources and more effective work outcomes.
Every engineering and construction project has a fair amount of unique needs and requirements be it in architectural planning, materials used, and labor skills needed. Many modern construction projects involve the installation of pre-built structures or units in the construction site under supervision for example steel frames, glass partitions, doors, and much more. The pre-built or prefabricated components are often built simultaneously with the construction progress but at a different location and finally transported to the construction site. The real-time visualization of spaces where structures will be installed, training for workers to install the pre-built structures, and eliminating manufacturing defects during prefabrication are very important in this aspect. By using digital platforms like BIM that integrate with tools that utilize Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), it is possible to address these challenges. From providing virtual real-time guidance and enabling workers to quickly learn about installation through interactive demos, construction companies can address the complex requirements of each project.
IoT for employee safety and pro-active maintenance
Safety laws are evolving to provide better working conditions for employees involved in dangerous roles like in construction. This change is being accelerated to accommodate the COVID-driven social distancing and contact tracing efforts. As a result, there is an increased focus on bringing in more safety management and automated maintenance equipment to the field to make lives safer for employees. From a digital perspective, Internet of Things or IoT enabled hardware sensors can relay crucial information such as temperature, air quality, hazardous material management, proximity alerts for dangerous places, etc. in real-time to help companies plan for emergencies and ensure the safety of all working in the field. IoT sensors also help in ensuring that construction equipment deployed in worksites such as heavy-duty cranes are in optimal working condition and get timely repairs. In fact, studies show that the market for IoT in the construction sector is expected to touch a massive USD 16.4 Billion by 2024.
The growth in smartphone adoption amongst employees can help in accelerating digital transformation at a construction project. Expert guidance or instructions can be provided in real-time for complex engineering tasks through real-time conferencing. This allows companies to facilitate field workers to get access to live guidance and information about their work from specialists who may be located remotely thousands of miles away from the work sites. Besides, there are digital solutions that help field supervisors track the progress of every task, assign remarks on progress metrics, report daily operational status to senior managers, request for allowances or assistance, and much more. In the past, all these required stakeholders to come together physically in one place, usually the construction site, to facilitate smooth operations. With the advent of digital, this whole process becomes less complex and more manageable remotely. BIM is a great example of such a solution that is designed for use offsite in collaboration with the onsite team.
With the construction industry in the US alone expected to build nearly USD 1.3 Trillion worth of structures yearly, there are plenty of opportunities for mid-size and small construction companies to benefit from using digital for their operations. By leveraging the right technology for the right context and with the right advisory, digital transformation can become a crucial aid in helping construction businesses grow sustainably amidst tight competition.