Building a technological advantage
Despite substantial investments, the construction industry is struggling to gain the full benefits of technologies, advanced data and analytics, mobility, automation and robotics. That’s the key finding from the annual state-of-the-industry report from KPMG International “Building a technology advantage – Global Construction Survey 2016”.Below are the excerpts.
The scale ambition and complexity of today’s engineering and construction projects are breath-taking. Buildings are getting taller, bridges are spanning longer and the pace of change is such that technology projects are virtually obsolete as soon as they’re completed. Also, construction is becoming greener and more sustainable,while continuing to improve social conditions and tackle human and natural disasters.
Technology plays an integral part in helping the industry realize these goals by enabling enhanced design, planning and construction. Yet, despite substantial investments in innovation, the construction industry is struggling to reap the full benefits of advanced data and analytics, drones,automation and robotics.
Why it matters
Design tools can enable bold new structures. Data and analytics can provide a real-time picture of how projects are running,enabling swift action to resolve problems. Modeling —increasingly through mobile apps — can support more informed decisions on construction, materials and supply chain. Remote monitoring can help track faults. Automated trucks and other equipment can accelerate productivity,improve accuracy and reduce accidents.
Engineering and construction companies are ahead of owners in technology adoption. This reflects the fact that, for most owners, construction is viewed more as a business enabler than a core driver of their business.
So why has the sector not fully embraced the potential of technology? For some, the cost and risk of adopting new technologies outweighs the perceived benefits. Others may be reluctant to move out of their comfort zone.
The technologies that enable firms to be more innovative require significant investment, so it’s perhaps not surprising that smaller firms are less likely to be spending heavily in these areas. What’s more interesting is the relatively high proportion of mid-size companies (with annual turnover between US$1 billion and US$5 billion) that rank as cutting-edge. These organizations seem to acknowledge technology’s potential to bring a competitive advantage and have backed up their beliefs with sizeable investments.Being of a manageable size, they’re also able to adapt quickly to new ideas.
The survey suggests that the top drivers for innovation and disruption are:
- Efficiency, planning and cost reduction
- Competition and market forces
- New markets, growth and profitability
- Client needs, meeting demand
- Technology and talent
- Increasing regulation
It’s extremely difficult to forecast resource demand fora project — ensuring the right numbers of people withthe right skills are in the right places at all times. This is especially tough for larger projects. Technology opens up powerful project tracking tools that collect valuable project data on staffing and workload.
When integrated into their planning processes, this can help organizations better manage and forecast people resources to align with project and organizational goals. For instance, the Project Management Information System lets engineers and project managers communicate project status swiftly and accurately.It can dramatically improve project planning, scheduling,monitoring, and controlling.
Technology means nothing if you don’t have the right people with the right skills and background running the project.
Plugging the talent gap
The shortage of technology specialists is contributing to the inadequate levels of data analysis, which is limiting the impact of technology investment.Clearly, training has a large role to play, which is acknowledged by the owners taking part in the survey.
Three-quarters of respondents (74 percent) say that project management process training is a key part of their governance structure. And a further 60 percent are encouraging their professionals to achieve external project management certification.
Just eight percent of survey respondents are considered‘cutting-edge visionaries’ — and only 19 percent say they’re aggressively disrupting their business models.
The key steps
To get real benefit from the tremendous opportunities that technology can bring, engineering and construction companies and major project owners have to consider how they can better integrate its use into both their processes and their culture.
- Establish strong internal controls:A system and its models are only as good as the information that goes into them; if the theory is flawed, then the modelling will be similarly defective. Before you creating modelling tools, first develop a sound basis of internal controls such as cost performance index (CPI) and schedule performance index(SPI) so that the software can enhance the process.
- Ensure your systems are related:The systems that are ‘related ‘are either connected directly or at least share common data formats. This enables, collecting data from different activities and different sources and make like-for-like comparisons. Some project managers believe in integrated cost and schedule systems,which clearly define project scope and build cost and schedule against that scope. Others may prefer two separate systems to provide a ‘stereo’ view.
- Master proven digital solutions: Before delving into new technologies, the organization should have has a full understanding of existing solutions like advanced schedule analytics, Monte Carlo simulators,computer-aided design (CAD) systems or BIM software. This helps better prepare to integrate and explore other innovations.
- Build Data & Analytics:Data and analytics is not the next big thing; it’s today’s big thing. Analysis brings a host of benefits that can transform your approach to project delivery: more precise estimating,scheduling and resource management, improved scope development, enhanced risk management & safety and increased real-time productivity analysis.Data is of little use if it’s not clean, accurate and in a common format that everyone can understand and use. This means carrying out an inventory of data to determine what’s useful and what’s not, and establishing a common taxonomy or data structure to ensure consistency.
- Develop a technology strategy:Given the accelerating pace of change and the significant investment costs its little surprise that many owners and engineering and construction executives are hesitant to plan their future technology strategy. Assess and revise/refresh the roadmap every six months to address changing business needs and economic conditions, and technology advances.
Survey new technologies
Assess the potential and viability of innovations like drones, robotics and so on.Identify key project performance objectives and known roadblocks to project progress. Then determine which technologies can help. For example, real-time reporting enables you to address problems swiftly, before they escalate.
Identify what data your organization should be capturing and any gaps.Discuss how to introduce transformational technologies and associated methods in a cost-effective and timely manner.
A futuristic industry
It’s not exaggerating to say that we’re on the edge of a revolution in engineering and construction.Drones are hovering around sites capturing highly detailed images, which are in turn transmitted — in real time — to intelligent, automated computer systems that may be able to react without human intervention. Unlike humans, drones can easily access remote or dangerous areas and will work24/7. When you’re working on a tall building, for instance,this can save time and reduce the risk of accidents.
Then there are robots. These machines can carry out all manner of tasks like drilling and digging, laying bricks and building beams, increasing safety and accuracy. The work can be overseen from anywhere in the world thanks to remote monitoring.
Add on 3D printing capability — enabling the creation of a vast array of complex designs that can shorten supply chain times and enable modular assembly — and it’s easy to understand why people are getting so excited.