Digital transformation in the workplace is on the steady increase all over the world, across all sectors, as companies look to boost productivity, save costs and retain their competitive edge. Yet the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) sector is notoriously slow when it comes to adopting new technologies.
Inertia to technology adoption should not come as a surprise given the complex, long-tail nature of the industry, where project delivery involves a multitude of dependencies. Infrastructure contracts are often defined in segments and delivered in stages: design-bid-build. With little understanding of a project’s overall vision, contractors are not incentivised to do anything beyond fulfilling the basic requirements of the “job”, delivering the bare minimum as quickly as possible. There is also doubt in the ultimate feasibility of the technology given the challenges of implementing them on the working level and even in the field.
One global survey by Ernst & Young in 2017 found that only 25% of AEC companies had a clear digital strategy and less than 10% are confident on their current level of digital readiness.
Further findings revealed that only 9% of companies felt that the winners in the digital age would be the first companies to adopt an innovation. In contrast, 60% felt that early adopters of new technologies would find the optimal competitive advantage.
In other words, be an early adopter of new technologies, just don’t be the first.
But the AEC sector is slowly and surely waking up to the potential of digital technology. One US tunnel contractor brought onboard almost 600 vendors on a single platform solution for bidding, tendering and contract management. This saved the team more than 20 hours of staff time weekly, cut down time to generate reports by 75% and sped up document transmittals by 90%. Another contractor reported saving more than AU$160 million (US$110 million) in a $7.3 billion rail project by using automated workflows for reviews and approvals.
Rather than simply overhauling all existing systems, it is vital that organisations take a holistic view and consider how technology can enhance every aspect of their business, by investing in the right mix of products. By embracing technology solutions and innovative digital tools, you can be sure you’ll stay ahead of the curve and be well on your way to realising your business potential.
3 technology trends in the AEC industry
- Smart communications
One survey estimates that miscommunication and inaccurate and inaccessible data cost the US construction industry more than $45.1 billion in 2018. It also found that construction project team members on average spend more than 14 hours a week dealing with conflict, rework and other issues, taking them away from higher priority activities.
Some companies have started by integrating the use of simple video conferencing technologies so reporting directly from the field is easier. The more popular solutions include Skype and Google Hangout, which enable both audio and video communication while allowing images and documents to be sent in real time. There are also communications companies like Redback Connect with servers located within Australia for more reliability and uptime.
Other companies have begun implementing a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy, enabling employees to access the company network with their personal mobile devices.
- Collaboration with cloud technology
With project sites and offices located hours away by drive or even flight, AEC workers often lose valuable parts of their day just travelling around. Cloud computing and 24/7 connectivity can ensure that downtime is kept to a minimum. Being able to work on the go or when onsite will help to reduce unnecessary project delays.
Some companies have begun migrating part of the company’s database to the cloud, and then providing mobile access to employees. With cloud hosting, all key personnel have real time access to crucial data from any site. File-sharing software such as Dropbox and Google Drive enable team members to share large files easily, while at the same time restricting user access when needed.
Other new developments include cloud-based quality assurance (QA) software which allow contractors to report and get sign-off on changes in their contract while still onsite. Another up-and-coming solution is cloud-based software platforms that allow contractors to manage their company’s workforce, assets and compliance in real-time. Cloud printing enables employees to efficiently send jobs to the large format printer from any device on the network, reducing time wasted waiting around for print jobs to be completed. Print solutions tailored to the needs of AEC firms are a key driver of digitally enabled growth across the industry.
Increased connectivity does come with its risks, particularly exposure to emerging cybersecurity threats. Be sure to pick a reliable technology provider that has prepared for these security risks, particularly endpoint security.
- Real-time updates from the field
Speculation on the potential of internet of things (IoT) and blockchain technology is rampant within the global AEC sector. While Jetsons-style smart construction solutions have yet to be commonplace, there are some startups and ideas making headway.
In Seattle, construction tech startup Unearth uses a combination of drones, remote sensors, satellite imagery and IoT technologies to provide a real-time digital snapshot of the project. This serves as a central communication point between team members. The platform even records historical data, making it possible to resolve disputes over back up payment, change order requests and so forth with accurate data. As proof of the potential to go far, it raised $4.4 million in 2018.
Other IoT applications include wearable safety sensors of employees on the field and onsite IoT sensors which provide real-time environmental data such as temperature, humidity, air pressure and even vibrations. These could have an enormous impact on the safety of construction projects located in areas prone to natural disasters. Blockchain applications in the AEC are in even earlier stages due to the complex nature of the technology. But there is promise – Probuild, one of Australia’s largest construction firms, is partnering with Brickschain, a South California-based data management and blockchain firm to track its supply chain from China.
Blockchain technology accurately tracks chains of transactions in the form of ledger entries. It is thus one innovation that is undoubtedly suited to the construction sector where large numbers of teams with diverse skills come together with the goal of designing and shaping the environment.
Blockchain could help to reduce confusion and resolve disputes quickly by recording every single transaction that ever occurred in the course of the project, enabling truly cohesive end-to-end design and build workflows
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