Despite its scale and size, the construction industry is highly fragmented. Labour remains a key problem area, and finding skilled workers is a huge challenge for companies. As a result of these and other operational inefficiencies, a number of large projects experience delays and run massively over budget. But these issues notwithstanding, the construction industry is also in the midst of a boom. By 2030, the global volume of construction is forecasted to grow to $15.5 trillion, according to a benchmark global study by Global Construction Perspectives and Oxford Economics. And technology has a key role to play in this growth, by introducing more collaboration, increasing efficiencies, upping the safety quotient, and focussing on quality and sustainability. Technology is slowly but surely transforming this $10 trillion industry. It is embracing newer ways of delivering project output and everything from strategy to business development, operations, and functions are being digitized. Sensors are driving work pipelines, algorithms are being used to design estimates, and big data is a powering schedule. The result is a more profitable, resilient and agile industry, and better output.
KPMG’s Global Construction Survey 2019 takes a look at how the construction industry is preparing for the future by investing in cutting-edge technology, innovation, and people. According to the survey, the top 20 per cent of ‘future-ready’ organizations in the sector are already actively investing in innovation and adopting new operational technologies like building information modeling (BIM), drones, virtual reality and augmented reality (VR /AR). They also believe that within the next decade, the sector will see the influx of more intelligent equipment, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI).
Today, one of the major challenge that is being addressed through technology is that of fragmentation. Typically, the process involves multiple stakeholders who tend to work in silos across each stage, right from planning, to design to construction. As a result, lack of coordination, miscommunication, and delays are commonplace. With the introduction of BIM, a collaborative software platform, now all stakeholders can get visibility and relevant information on the project in real-time. The integrated platform also facilitates more informed and collaborative decision-making, thus avoiding potential delays and huge budget overruns.
Another area where technology has been helping them cut costs and save time is in the usage of drones for surveying and inspecting construction sites. Earlier, manual mapping meant that a number of workers had to be involved for several hours. Drones can do the same job in minutes. Not only do they send back photographs and other important data, but some can even create accurate 3D models of the work in progress, which makes it easier to monitor the site on a regular basis.
While robots are not yet a common sight on construction sites, which are still heavily reliant on human effort, automation is slowly making its presence felt. It is also possible to delegate repetitive tasks such as pouring concrete, laying bricks and excavation to autonomous or semi-autonomous machines, which are programmed to perform the task as efficiently, if not more, than their human counterparts. The human effort can be applied where there is a greater need for it, in the actual construction work itself, making the project more efficient and productive.
We have already spoken of the marvels of 3-D printing on a mammoth scale. Even on a day-to-day basis 3-D scanners that create digital models of complicated designs can help bring the overall vision to life more efficiently. What’s also important to remember is that even with the advent of technology, the human element is at the core of the construction industry. The findings of the KPMG survey also validate this with 46 per cent of respondents of the opinion that people are the most important factor contributing to a project’s success. Another 28 per cent attributed it to technology and 26% to good processes and governance.
Today, the task at hand for the industry is to understand how best it can integrate all of these elements smartly while bringing in the much-needed technological intervention. This will help them shed the tag of being a traditionally fragmented sector.
The author is the Co-founder of Housejoy