Across the UK, the construction industry is facing some peculiarly modern problems.
It’s losing expertise for a start, with many workers retiring and too few young people stepping up to replace them. The reasons for this vary, but include issues such as wage erosion that have plagued the industry for years.
On a day-to-day level, this industry also struggles with the need to communicate and review project drawings and share reams of associated documents that are typically too large to send by email. Profits can be eaten away by these practical challenges – delays in receiving drawings, using outdated data, and the inability to access information quickly can all affect margins.
Compounding these issues is Brexit, which is causing many companies to recalibrate their presence internationally. This partly explains the rise of global projects, as boundaries and barriers fall away. For example, it’s not uncommon for an engineer in London to be liaising with contractors across Europe to build a new hotel in Berlin.
To top it all off, Grenfell and Carillion have called into question the industry’s credibility in the eyes of the public and government.
As such, construction firms need to find fresh ways of working that encourage a new millennial workforce and facilitate greater global collaboration – all the while reducing risk and maintaining the bottom line.
As a $10tn industry that currently spends less than 1 per cent of revenue on IT, a technology-first approach can no longer be ignored.
Cloud-based digital strategies and connectivity between remote sites are two key aspects towards achieving this. Sites have historically been siloed from one another, but technological progress means they can now be connected.
For example, using cloud-based applications allows offsite workers to stay connected with other sites and offices, sharing vital data and communicating whenever needed.
“Relationships will always be important, but enabling digital data to flow freely yet securely ensures these relationships can drive efficiencies in the industry”
Of course, this type of data-driven flexible working must be protected, too, and so any cloud strategy should be combined with robust security measures. Technologies and systems are emerging that are capable of monitoring for compliance to multiple standards, from best practice through to PCI-DSS and ISO 27001.
It’s also now possible for such technologies to access multiple systems. Such real-time monitoring offers relief when adhering to regulations such as GDPR, allowing consistent compliance to be proved to anyone from regulators to suppliers – and at a time when supplier relationships have never been more important.
Being held back
At the same time, when it comes to digital transformation, it’s common for concerns among construction firms to turn into fear of trying new methods – and of failure. Resistance to change is understandable, but will only continue to hold the industry back.
Ultimately, technology can foster collaboration between construction professionals working on projects, allowing them to record and share information that helps create successful outcomes.
As a people-powered industry, relationships will always be important, but enabling digital data to flow freely yet securely ensures these relationships can drive efficiencies in the industry.
This will enable firms to concentrate on the core of their businesses: delivering high-quality work on time and to budget.
Fabian Saverimuttu is construction and engineering business development manager at cloud and network provider Exponential-e