The tech to enhance collaboration and transparency in the construction industry post-Covid-19

Embracing innovative technology is needed in a time of uncertainty and to navigate an ever-evolving landscape, says Heriot-Watt University’s Dr Anas Bataw

Dr Anas Bataw, director – Centre of Excellence in Smart Construction (CESC) and Associate Professor – Smart Construction at Heriot-Watt University Dubai sheds light on the benefits of technology as a means for collaboration and transparency in the construction industry.

Technological advancements have been somewhat elusive when referring to the construction industry. According to a report by Deloitte, the construction industry was among the least digitised sectors globally with IT investments being historically low – only 1.2 per cent of revenue is allocated for IT, compared to a 3.5 per cent average across industries.

With minimal adoption of technology, the industry has seen a sudden rise in the need for digitisation as a result of the global disruption caused by COVID-19.

Before the pandemic 93 percent of construction industry players agreed that digitisation is essential to enhance the way we work and deliver projects, according to a Roland Berger survey for developed countries, and yet only 6 percent of construction companies made full use of digital tools.

The pandemic has certainly fast-tracked digital transformation and showcased the possibilities that technology can offer to enhance and support the future of the construction sector.

Technology can not only increase collaboration but also create transparency within the industry, a much-needed factor in these times of uncertainty and ever-evolving landscape. Driving digitisation and lleveraging technologies such as Building Information Modelling/ Management (BIM), robotics, virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI), 3D printing, GIS (geographical information systems) and Blockchain has become exceedingly important.

Using BIM Technology to Support Collaboration

A cloud-based BIM technology is becoming essential in the work-flow to support the shift to remote working and to increase collaboration, better manage risks and better plan for sustainability. This collaborative approach enables data management and data to be shared globally in a virtual environment thereby facilitating a smarter more enhanced way to work together despite of geographical or other constraints.

Use of Artificial Intelligence, Automation and Robotics

Adopting other smart technologies such as Artificial Intelligence or AI can also prove beneficial as they introduce transparency and real time updates. Specifically, when it comes to designing, the AI technology can be truly leveraged as it uses big data and complex algorithms to build designs in a more collaborative and transparent manner. These designs can be experienced and tested virtually to confirm their feasibility and cost implications. As it can be done via virtual platforms, members involved in the project can have easy access to discuss and make decisions in less time than traditionally required. AI can accelerate the work process by automating the designing process. On similar lines, robotics too is making its presence felt. Although the idea seems like it has many years to embed itself into the industry some construction companies globally have begun using it by introducing automated construction techniques. According to a report by MarketWatch, the Global Robotics Market is expected to increase at 28.51 per cent CAGR. Valued at USD 43million in 2018, it is expected to reach USD 181,028.6 million by 2024.  Automation can be a useful tool to speed up projects. Some of the different examples of how robotics can be applied within the industry are 3D printing and the ability to build large-scale projects through pre-programmed instructions.

Leveraging Project Management Tools

Software and project management tools are also slowly but surely making their way into the industry as most organisations realise the importance of adopting easier ways to oversee teams, better their task allocation process and track budgeting and scheduling.  A global report by MarketWatch, noted that the global construction project management software market was valued at 1030 million in 2018 and is expected to reach 1620 million by the end of 2024.

Drones to Minimise On-Site Dangers:

While looking at the industry in its entirety we also see that the construction industry is one the most dangerous work sectors. According to the United Nation’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) the top three causes of construction related deaths are on-site falls, electrocution and crush injuries. Introduction of drones to the work sites can provide respite to workers from dangerous tasks. Drones can survey and record data of locations that could be harmful or hazardous for workers to recce. They also allow project leads and supervisors to keep up with projects in real time thereby facilitating stronger oversight and more efficient surveillance.

Underpinning the above is the need to keep up with the new normal for a resilient future. With investment in next generation technology, not only will key players create a sustainable work-flow but also be ready to face future disruptions. These massive changes can be achieved through industry, government and academic partnerships as we also need to enhance the work-force of tomorrow. Heriot-Watt University Dubai’s Centre of Excellence in Smart Construction is one such initiative working towards advancing industry-led innovations in construction by collaborating with organisations and governments to lead transformation in the construction industry.

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