Construction: How do you embark upon digital transformation when legislation is ever-changing?
The idea of business-as-usual across most industries has been dramatically altered over the past year. The impact of the Coronavirus pandemic and the associated restrictions, not to mention the challenges of navigating a post-Brexit landscape, have resulted in a massive acceleration of transformation and digitally centric projects. However, technology alone cannot drive innovation: the culture of the construction industry and the people within will be vital to the success of any transformations.
The construction industry is not one noted for its ‘digital maturity’, relying as it does upon individuals, personal relationships and siloed data ownership. The tragedy at Grenfell has highlighted in sharp relief the need for a means by which to review and improve processes and practices, and the subsequent introduction of legislation looks set to have even more impact on the industry as a whole.
Along with these external forces, there have been significant advances in technology over the past few years, and development in how these technologies can be applied to the sector. The concept of a Digital Twin, for example, has been brought to the forefront, and in emerging markets has become something of the norm for new builds. This technology is critical to the future success of the construction sector in the UK. Viewing the Digital Twin as a problem-solving approach rather than a standalone product or a confusing buzzword, can help organisations visualise a way forward. In order to get the most from this concept, businesses will need to ensure they have a strong digital strategy, with connected systems and data.
Data is widely recognised as a key tool, and in such historically analogue sectors (construction included!) it can be difficult to understand where to start to harness this resource. Understanding where there is existing data. How this is being collected, ad how this is being stored is a good starting point, and it is common to find the resulting data points are held is various and separate areas of an organisation. This ‘siloed’ data can also be difficult to access or derive any meaningful conclusions from. The real value can be found when consolidating and combining data, allowing companies to understand past trends and performance, and better predict future outcomes and influence decision-making.
There is a clear move in the industry towards standardising data management processes. Indeed, the Construction Playbook released by the UK government in December 2020 covers the lifecycle of a construction project, promoting the UK BIM Framework in an attempt to standardise the industry’s approach to generating and classifying data, data security, and data exchange. This Construction Playbook will not only foster the use of new leaner business models, but also goes a long way to promoting a culture throughout the industry dictated by a ‘digital first’ approach.
Digital transformation can often be an imposing concept to face, up-ending business and operations in one fell swoop, however a more palatable first step is to consider moving the organisation to a digital-first approach. Making technology and digital strategy central to any business strategy can help position the business to be more agile and able to respond to the changing demands of the market. In uncertain and challenging times such as these, ‘agility’ and ‘flexibility’ cease to be buzzwords, and are nothing short of essential for survival. Building a digital strategy means innovation, simplified processes, and significant efficiency gains can be incorporated and developed across all areas of an organisation.
Moreover, the concept of digital transformation as one single ‘thing’ loses sight of the evolving nature of technology. Organisations today have a range of tools and systems at their disposal that would have been simply unimaginable even a decade ago. A truly digitally centric business should look to develop their digital strategy on an ongoing basis, evolving alongside new technologies and possibilities.
A central digital strategy can mean the difference between a reactive approach, simply responding to external impulses, and a proactive and innovative organisation that is ahead of the curve, and benefitting from what technology has to offer. Whereas a less digitally enabled setup is often encumbered by process and can be unwieldy and slow to respond to changes as they appear (be it a new system, or a global upheaval), a digital-centric organisation, is positioned to make the most of technology and pivot to whatever position is required, giving a serious competitive edge. Never have examples of this been starker than over the past year of uncertainty and change.