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Construction technology is a long-term reality in the Middle East

by Jumana Abdel-Razzaq on Jan 13, 2018

Technology adoption has accelerated over the past couple of years, with nearly every industry in the world starting to digitise in one way or another.

The construction sector, however, has proven to be more resistant in its shift towards smarter solutions and in its acceptance of digital approaches to designing and building projects.

In fact, construction ranks 21 out of 22 industries – just ahead of agriculture – when it comes to digitisation, according to a report by McKenzie.

“This industry has historically had a very low adoption rate for technology,” says Guy Barlow, global commercial director – commercial cost at Aconex, an Australian firm that specialises in mobile and web-based collaboration technologies for project information and process management.

But the use of smart building technologies has started to pick up steam, especially in the last few years, as larger companies have begun to realise the benefits of going smart – or smarter – in the long-term.

Barlow explains that construction as an industry, whether in the Middle East or abroad, has always been reluctant to change because of uncertainty, especially when it comes to the way that projects are managed and budgeted.

“People are very comfortable in this industry, but we are starting to see a change in the use of products like spreadsheets to manage multibillion-dollar projects.”

Aconex has recently launched a new product that it says will make budgeting project finances more effective, thus allowing and organising high-value developments to avoid the common struggles of cost overruns and scheduling delays that are often seen in the construction sector.

“Clients wanted it for a better view of the financial aspects of projects – how to better manage what goes on when someone realises there is a change in the design and they need to raise a change order,” Barlow explains.

And with projects continuously increasing in size – and, as a result, becoming more expensive – the risks become even greater.

“On a limited basis, [spreadsheets] can easily manage [cost-related tasks], but when you’re dealing with billion-dollar projects, or even projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars, it becomes very complicated,” the Aconex expert says.

Barlow compares this technology to an early warning system, making it possible to get to a problem more quickly and efficiently than would be possible using more traditional tactics: “Now we start to see productivity and efficiency gains, because the information is easy to get and more easily shared.”

But smart building is not necessarily limited to software systems, and could also be said to include building materials and sustainable practices.

“When we talk about smart building materials, we are talking about something that is going to last longer,” says Omar Rathore-Rayi, global sales manager, Pultron Composites. “Something that is going to help us build more quickly and that is going to be around for generations.”