Two weeks ago, the Digital Construction event took place in Brussels. Last week, the Digital Construction Week gathered a massive crowd in London. The numbers are staggering. The construction and big capital projects industry offers 1.6 trillion dollars of opportunity, with projects valuing over 50 trillion dollars expected in the coming years, in line with forecast GDP growth.
The construction industry today has a seriously outdated approach to digital technology. The industry is reluctant to implement new tools in design, project implementation, or management of operational structures. These new tools, if adopted, would positively revolutionize the sector. For example, workers in the construction industry are currently 50% less productive than those in other industries. This is not because these individuals are less skilled, but simply because they are inefficiently utilized by their organizations.
A McKinsey analysis highlighted 5 key areas in which savings could be made. The first of these promoted savings through more efficient design (3D, BIM, etc.), to better showcase build projects. The second encouraged healthier collaboration during the construction phase - across project management, documentation, and so forth. The third area focussed on the operational phase of structures; while the average construction project lasts around 1 to 3 years, the operational phase, within which the structure is useful, lasts for 30 to 50, or even 100, years. Imagine the potential gain during lifespans such as these, if the health of structures were better monitored. The final 2 areas highlighted were innovation in the construction process, such as the increasingly popular 3D printing, and the use of new materials.
How can digitalisation improve the Whole Life Cost?
Having hosted booths at both events, we identified a notable contrast between the two. Although both events bear the same name, and seek to bring a more ‘digital’ approach to the industry, the mind-set at each was entirely different. The Brussels event focussed almost entirely on improving design and project implementation – a ‘lighter’ digital development. The London event, in comparison, had much more of a buzz. The long-term vision presented in London was clear. Large projects such as Tideway, HS2, and other rail schemes, grabbed a lot of attention.
From their conception onwards, these projects have not been defined by the physical properties of the structures involved, but instead, by their end goals. These end goals include the safe and efficient transport of more people into and out of London, and the safe and ecologically sensitive removal of London waste water. Such projects are designed to offer enduring benefit, extending many years beyond their completion.
This focus, on role over form, has led to a drastic shift in mind-set. The entities responsible for building and maintaining these assets understand that for structures to fulfil their function, efficiently and over an extended period, conscientious follow-ups are required. No more surprises. No more expensive, superficial, and sometimes dangerous, inspections. The solution? Making the structures, themselves, smart. This vision extends beyond the here-and-now.
Essential change cannot come from the industry alone. Whilst the industry must be proactive in adopting modern technologies, great responsibility also lies with governments, authorities, utilities companies, and other developers. Gains resulting from new approaches must be shared, and such approaches incentivized, to reward the sector for their associated risk.
On the Brussels floor, construction professionals were shown how 3D modelling and project management could streamline project execution. In London, industry partners learned that BIM and data exchange, digital project management, and smart structures, would form the 3 pillars of the UK construction industry’s role on the international stage. The success of the UK aeronautical industry was employed as a template.
Finally, as always, the early bird catches the worm. Your competitors will no longer be the likes of BAM, Besix, or Drace, but instead Google and its fellow intrinsically-digital organizations.
They have the tools. They use the tools. They know how to scale.
The choice is yours.