Digital transformation in the construction industry: there aren’t many in the industry who would deny that introducing some level of digital technology into construction businesses would unlock great benefits. Whether that’s from cost savings, increased productivity, or improved health and safety: whatever the challenge, technology can bring value.
It’s a no brainer, right? Why wouldn’t you embrace digital transformation in the 21st century?
Apparently that view isn’t held by everybody. A recent global survey run by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (PDF) for construction companies at the end of 2022, showed that over 56% of respondents ranked ‘cost, effort and changes needed’ as high on their list of blockers to digital transformation. This was closely followed by ‘shortage of skilled persons’ (50.1%) and ‘no clear demand from clients or stakeholders’ (46%).
It seems that although technological advances in this sector are now moving at pace and have the capability to pull the construction industry out of its digitally-lagging state, many businesses aren’t investing due to lack of time, budget, know-how, and buy-in. We can only assume SMEs are among the most disadvantaged here.
The question, however, is - what is the cost of NOT investing? And is there a way to make it achievable to ensure your construction company gains maximum returns and minimises (costly) failures?
Discover your pain points
The answer comes back to something we talk about a lot at Switchplane. Start small, and start with the data. You need to know what the ACTUAL problem is that you need to solve with technology. To find it out, you should make it your mission to define the exact pain points in your business.
Whilst your intuition may well be correct - if it’s that painful, you’ll know about it! - but really it’s not driven by a hunch, or an inkling. It’s about capturing the actual data and looking at the facts. And in real time, so you can make quick and precise decisions that make a difference there and then - not just gathering everything at the end of a project when you’re already locked in to the end result.
There are companies already doing this
The good news: data gathering is possible, improvements are happening, and there are companies already working collectively to achieve this.
Back in 2020, BimPlus reported on the set up of the UK’s first Construction Data Trust (CDT). Pioneered by Grant Findlay and Martin Paver from Sir Robert McAlpine and Projecting Success respectively, the Trust is made up of a consortium of construction companies who are collaborating to anonymously share data to enhance industry efficiency through artificial intelligence.
The project is still in its infancy, but with the further purpose to solve shared problems, they have already pooled some data to run community ‘hackathons’ across the construction industry and with partners in other organisations to try to solve some challenges at speed.
Practical examples of what has been achieved in these hackathons include the development of an app for a smartphone which allowed a user to report a safety incident by describing it to their phone: anyone on site could narrate the safety observation directly into their phone, and download the structured data into a file, which could then be further analysed.
Additionally, AI solutions have been used to predict loss-making projects in advance, enhance schedule estimates, and create custom project communications automatically.
The companies getting involved in such innovative projects are just like yours, and they’ve taken that first step forward into tech having looked at pain points and data within their businesses.
Get prepared with your data
So what can you do to prepare yourself for adding some shiny new technology? Get your data in order. This is what that can look like and believe us, it is worth getting this right:
- Check your data: Look at how you currently handle information. Where is it kept? Who uses it? What kind of data do you have? Project plans, financial records, quality control reports?
- Bring it all together: If your data is currently sitting in many different spreadsheets, reports and platforms, is there a way to bring it all together? This will enable you to review it more regularly and spot patterns. Explore tools that could help you do this or consider having a custom system built. This is the first investment, but if you have the right data at your fingertips, it could prevent expensive errors of judgement down the road.
- Tidy up: Before moving data to new tools, clean it up. Get rid of duplicates, fix errors, and make sure everything is consistent. This prevents mistakes later on.
- Look for gaps: What information are you not seeing that could lead to better decision making? Work out how you will gain access to that data and how regularly it needs to be reported on and reviewed.
- Identify the issues, and focus: By looking at all the data in one place, you should be able to either prove or disprove your initial thoughts on which parts of your process need the most attention. You can then refine how the data works for you to build up a stronger picture of that specific element going forward, and cut the noise of some of the other data points that don’t need such in depth attention.
- Set your goals: What improvements would you like to see, and to what degree?
- Keep improving: Keep an eye on how you handle data and make improvements. Listen to feedback from your team and clients. Stay up-to-date with new tech and trends in construction.
- Check data quality: Make sure your data is accurate and reliable. Use checks and audits to ensure everything is right.
- Grow gradually: Start by using digital tools for one project or part of your business. Once you see good results and gain some return on investment, you can reinvest into other areas.
In summary, if you do only one thing this year in preparation for your digital transformation journey, get your data in order. Make it someone’s responsibility, or find someone to help you. Then, start small. One small improvement at a time, before reinvesting in another. You don’t need to trigger a major overhaul to make a difference, and you don’t have to have all the knowledge to make it happen. You just need to know your business.
How Switchplane can help
If all this data talk is too much, don’t panic - we can help you with that! We can create tools for you to get your data on track, review, and help you to prioritise your next steps. With any software we introduce for you, it’s small steps rather than sweeping change, based on the data and what your top priorities are. Nothing should be so overwhelming that you can’t ever take the next step forward - it’s all about bitesize chunks, small iterative changes, and return on investment at every decision. Why not get in touch today and make that first move forward?
We build custom software with your team, for your team. Our apps and web platforms bring about meaningful change for businesses across the UK.