There’s a real appetite for digital transformation in the Middle East, with the PMO driving progress, says Gavin Britton, technology director, UAE at Atkins, a member of the SNC-Lavalin Group
There has long been a call for digital transformation in the built environment industry, hailing the potential efficiency and productivity benefits. Yet progress has lagged behind industries such as automotive and manufacturing. In a research conducted with 200 UK construction decision-makers, 54 per cent cited the built environment industry’s slow adoption of digital technologies.
However, change is happening and we are seeing real appetite for the digital agenda in the GCC, supported by the region’s faster pace of change and swifter decision-making. This approach aligns with countries’ strategic vision frameworks, supporting their emphasis on economic diversification, talent development and sustainable futures. Governments are therefore keen to lead the way, by harnessing digitalisation on their own construction projects.
In the GCC, the programme management office (PMO), with its digital leadership function, is evolving in tandem with the region’s wider digital agenda. Both are gaining traction locally, driving built environment projects’ planned strategic outcomes. The successful PMO is instrumental in furthering digitalisation throughout the design, procurement and construction processes, as well as supporting the digital transformation agenda of the client organisation.
Commonly cited barriers to digital transformation include fragmented supply chains, transient project teams, and lack of project replication and organisational processes. Critically, there has also been a lack of understanding around what can be achieved by digital innovation. It has therefore been perceived as a costly extra, competing with other strategic priorities such as profit, risk management, or health and safety imperatives—rather than as an integral means of introducing innovation and resolving problems.
Digital maturity of the PMO
It is vital to begin with a clear definition of how digitalisation will create value for the PMO. At programme level, the organisation might ask itself, is the intention to increase the programme’s productivity, quality, best value…what are the issues and how will technology address them?
Some organisations will restrict themselves to digitally optimising selected business processes in the first instance. Some will choose one or more pilot projects from their programme. Others want the long-term benefits of the most agile methodologies throughout their programmes, and are prepared to invest in achieving this via a fully digitalised PMO approach.
At project level, digitalisation might begin by replacing manual data capture entered in a spreadsheet with data entered on a cloud-based platform. The next progression could be to create a full data value chain for the whole lifecycle of the building. The use of predictive analytics, via artificial intelligence, replaces reactive client decision-making with earlier, more proactive decisions. Next comes prescriptive analytics, where the technology makes recommendations for action.
At present, the majority of organisations are operating in the earlier stages of this digitalisation maturity progression, where the automated properties of the systems nonetheless allow less time to be spent on routine operational tasks, releasing more time for strategic approaches.
Success of the digital PMO
A successful PMO creates an effective data management and reporting framework, including standardised forms and templates for use by the supply chain. This contrasts with the unwieldy volume of data and reports traditionally created on programmes, and instead provides accessible programme-wide information that supports the client’s operational and management teams, and its Board of Directors. The PMO also offers an excellent opportunity to explore and adopt wider digital transformation, as outlined in our eight steps to creating a successful PMO.
As PMOs mature, the data becomes richer and exponentially more valuable, forming a real-time resource that supports greater surety around time, cost and quality outcomes, during construction and in the future asset operation and maintenance phases. This enables clients to make more informed decisions and take earlier corrective actions where necessary. Similar digital maturity can be expected to grow in tandem throughout the wider built environment.
Embracing new norms
Covid-19 further intensifies the need for the innovation, efficiency and best value that digitalisation supports. Our team has been helping clients ensure they have optimal infrastructure and methodologies for remote working, and we can expect to see greater use of technology on construction sites, to support distancing and reduced attendance (drones for site inspections, for example).
The impact of digitalisation on an organisation’s staff is usually under-estimated—they may not be immediately convinced of the benefits and it is realistic to expect supporters, resistance and everything in between. Significant change management efforts should be anticipated, beginning with top-down buy-in, and incorporating good communication, support and training. Other challenges that our team helps resolve include measuring and monitoring the success of digitalisation, via clear KPIs and critical success factors.
Digital PMOs drive efficiencies in design, delivery and operational management. At Faithful+Gould, a member of the SNC-Lavalin Group, we draw on our change management, technology and domain expertise to implement robust digital solutions. For example, our in-house solution, Dynamic Insight, provides our clients with a cloud-based reporting interface, displaying project and programme data which can be overlaid on a 3D graphical visualisation of the project. This enables our clients to benefit from improved levels of governance, process and systems automation, and integrated, real-time project reporting.
As the region progresses through its digital transformation agenda, organisations that will adopt a digital PMO model will be better placed to navigate industry challenges and drive operational excellence and cost efficiency in their built environment programmes and projects.