Construction tech makes business sense in the GCC
No longer considered an expendable overhead, technology systems are claiming greater space within the GCC’s construction market, experts tell Neha Bhatia
The use of high-tech solutions has been advocated by professionals in the construction sector for at least the last 30 years – if not longer – in global markets, but the past decade has seen a considerable uptick in the deployment of technology in the GCC.
The economic crash of 2008/09 compelled decision-makers across the Gulf to seek out cash-saving construction processes, and tech tools have consistently risen to the challenge in the years since.
Dubai’s victorious bid to host the World Expo 2020 has also raised development expectations so that construction technology – once viewed as an avoidable expense - has now become a crucial component of large-scale project designs.
Nic Jacobs, regional director for digital and technology at Faithful+Gould, says that while regional outfits faced some obstacles on the road to tech adoption, the industry’s future prospects are bright. “We notice that clients have learned the hard way over the past five years,” he tells Construction Week.
“Substantial investments were made in project management information systems without giving consideration to the real business requirements of their operations. [Now,] we notice the shift from IT-led business system selection, to a business-led system selection.
“We always urge clients to deploy technology to serve the business needs, and not for the business to operate as dictated by the technology. Selecting a technology solution is a phased approach, with the selection of the actual software [being] the very last step in the process.”
Jacobs says that Faithful+Gould, having “invested heavily in technology and automation”, to improve efficiency and quality, “can see the return on that investment”, adding that clients are seeking the same result. To Jacobs, the regional construction industry has “reached the start of a massive revolution”.
He continues: “We are working on all fronts to leverage developments in the wider digital and technology space. With our global reach and internal collaborative working infrastructure, we are able to share ideas and have teams from different parts of the world working on projects and initiatives. This allows us to bring new and fresh ideas to the Middle East.
“We are working with tech start-ups as well as established powerhouses to change the landscape of our service delivery. Concepts such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics are not foreign any more, and are driving our innovations.”
Start-ups – as well as small- and medium-enterprises (SMEs) – are driving technological advancements both globally and in the GCC, and their impact is visible on the construction sector, specifically within the 3D-printing segment. This March, construction start-up Cazza revealed its plans to develop the world’s first 3D-printed skyscraper, using a technique called crane printing.
More recently, the firm launched a line of automated construction machines capable of 3D printing entire structures, including houses, villas, and office buildings.
Another such start-up is Dubai-based Immensa Technology Labs, which launched the UAE’s first 3D-printing factory in July.
According to chief executive officer, Fahmi Al-Shawwa, Immensa, which specialises in additive manufacturing activities, is well-placed to succeed in Dubai, which is a major proponent of 3D printing.
“Dubai is one of the forefront markets and adopters of 3D printing,” Al-Shawwa tells Construction Week.
“Because we can create the technology, we’re looking at at working with contracting companies to develop their own 3D printers for concrete, leading to more homegrown innovation in the sector.”
However – much like in any global market – technology uptake in the GCC’s construction sector will depend on proof of efficiencies. In the current global economic conditions, technology must deliver savings in terms of time, material, and expenditure. Faithful+Gould’s Jacobs thinks this is achievable: “The more the industry is able to standardise, the more efficient the entire construction delivery process will become.
“Don’t think of construction just as the design and delivery of a building, since there are numerous services or jobs that can be standardised and automated at various stages of the [project’s] life cycle.
“We do not foresee machines taking over our jobs just yet, but we do foresee added value as a result of the savings generated through better processes and procedures, more informed decision-making, [better] utilisation of staff, [reduced] waste, [lower]environmental impact, and so on.
“The secret is to find ways of measuring these improved performances and savings, which in turn will prove the return on the initial investment.”
Jacobs says Faithful+Gould’s core strategy is centred on data, with its digital platforms and products “developed to support our project teams delivering our core services: project, programme, and
He continues: “In order to fully utilise the data generated and captured through our day-to-day jobs, we have developed an in-house Cloud-hosted suite of products and platforms to benefit us and our clients.
“Dynamic Insight is a product we are particularly excited about. The product enables data aggregation and visualisation across a client’s projector project portfolio. Visualisation may take the form of standard dashboard reporting, through to more interactive 3D models or a geospatial interface, such as Google Maps. This provides our clients with a modern reporting user interface displaying project health status and project controls, and has added functionalities such as forward-trending visualisation and scenario planning.
“Another example is Incontrol. We worked with Oracle, one of our digital partners, to develop a project controls solution comprising Oracle Primavera Unifier P6, and an analytical reporting interface.”
Incontrol, Jacobs explains, offers integration of cost and schedule. The resultant cost transparency and custom reporting allow “efficient and effective management of projects and programmes for on-budget and on-time delivery”.
For Jacobs, the future of construction technology is bright – within Faithful+Gould, and outside it too. A “behavioural change”, he says, is gaining momentum in the market, adding: “Standardisation, automation, and implementation form the basis of our approach to achieving improved service delivery, [and] innovation [is] the glue that holds it all together and provides a unique selling point.”