Is Construction the Last Non-Digital Outpost?

What could be more traditional than the British pub? Except that in the UK’s largest pub chain you can order food and drink, and pay for it, using a smartphone app, without leaving your seat.

At home we might research information and organise our lives using a virtual assistant such as Alexa. The car we drive to work was largely built by robots. Or if you don’t own a car you might use Uber, which not only operates digitally but also uses artificial intelligence to optimise routes.

Banking, shopping, email, social media, all normal aspects of our lives where digital technology and artificial intelligence are routinely used. Virtual reality is finding new and exciting applications across many industries

And in construction, how much has changed? How much of what goes on in a typical construction project would be instantly recognisable to a construction worker of 30 years ago?

So lets talk about digital. If we were to adopt the technology revolution that seems to be happening around us, would we be a better industry? Can we envisage a future where robots are building our homes, schools and offices as well as our cars? More fundamentally, is the construction sector culturally prepared to adopt and harness advanced digital technology?

As an industry we are behind the technology curve. Yet realistically we can’t ignore it and need to catch up if we are to tackle long running problems such as low productivity, quality and our worsening skills gaps.

Experience with the adoption of BIM is probably revealing. We are some way from achieving the Government’s strategic objective of Level 2 BIM being ‘business as usual’ by 2020, and for Level 3 BIM to be rapidly gaining momentum. Why is the industry being slow to adapt?

The biggest obstacle seems to be fragmentation of the sector and the impact this has on collaboration. In particular, larger contractors working collaboratively with predominantly SME supply chains. Yet we’ve proved in our own projects how the outcomes are so much better when everyone works from a common 3D model in a collaborative digital environment.

The reality is that the digital revolution can and must come to the construction sector faster. As with other sectors, the companies that can adapt and embrace digital technology will thrive. Those who cling to old methods will struggle as time and customer expectations move on.