Why is digital transformation more important today than ever before?
Digital transformation is not some hypothetical ideal state or an outcome you can achieve – these days it is a matter of survival. Survival by overcoming hugely inefficient legacy paper-based and analog project controls practices.
At its core, digital transformation is about growing and competing as a business. It is about managing risk, conveying confidence, capitalising on opportunities, and adapting to change.
Inertia is the enemy of change, and in the Middle East you’ve got one of the world’s most competitive construction sectors. If you want to future proof your business so you can grow and remain relevant within the marketplace, then you need the organisational agility to respond to sudden market shifts.
The question is not whether your business can benefit from digital transformation or not, it is whether you will even stay in business at all if your competitors can deliver projects faster with less risk and more confidence.
What are the signs construction companies need to recognise when they are digitally deficient?
The biggest sign is if your business has difficulty understanding and managing risk and struggles to deliver projects on time and on budget.
The root cause of this is poorly understood. Historically, the finger of blame has pointed to simply ‘poor execution productivity’. But the reality is, poor productivity is the result of other shortcomings such as inefficient information flow along the entire project lifecycle; physically disparate stakeholders and team members; multiple point solutions glued together and the inability to gain timely insight into status and progress.
With a full-lifecycle digital project controls platform, budgeting and reporting can be simplified with data that give owners and contractors insights into exactly what is happening on the project, so they can track progress in real time and adjust to ensure successful delivery.
Real change and improvement will come from data insights integrated across the project lifecycle.
Instead of looking at digital deficiency as a shortcoming, view it as an opportunity to unlock exponential improvements across all aspects of your business.
Where do you begin a transformation journey?
You must first lay the foundation to be a data driven organisation in order to set the stage for a digital transformation.
The good news is, you don’t need to have an extensive in-house IT shop to make this a reality. Today, the reality is SaaS platforms are capable of providing a complete view of a project across the full life cycle, along with real-time insights into risk and profitability.
Collaborative-based planning - If you are estimating and planning in Excel, try a modular cloud-based solution that allows the team to collaborate on project plans and estimates, and provides flexibility and room to grow as business needs change.Estimators and planners should be able to request and review each other’s input in real time to help make the best decisions for the success of the project.
Single source of truth - Bring both historical and current projects into a single source of truth, ensures everyone is working from the most current information. No need to hunt down which server or cloud-based collaboration tool the project data is stored; it is always in the single source of truth and always the most current iteration.
Real-time insight through analytics - Ensure managers and executives can leverage real-time reports and dashboards to know exactly what’s happening. This will go a long way toward increasing project confidence, reducing schedule and cost, and ensuring successful completion and delivery.
What is the future state of a fully digitised construction industry in the Middle East?
We are experiencing the beginnings of major technology-driven shifts in the construction industry:
A revamp of project controls - Owners and contractors both recognise the need for a shift away from the philosophy of multiple point solutions and instead, the embracing of a single project controls platform. While this concept isn’t new, it is only in recent months that technology such as cloud-based computing and AI has facilitated such a shift. Tied to this, there is an emerging trend of greater transparency between owners and contractors. The recognition that there is a greater chance of success through knowledge sharing and removing the metaphorical firewall between these two parties that has typically existed.
Augmentation of construction - One technology-driven transformation that is resulting in very impressive productivity improvements out in the field is the adoption of the likes of augmented reality, geo-fencing and drone technology during construction and installation. Field execution personnel now have real-time information at their fingertips about scope of work to be completed and required equipment and associated quantities of installation materials. Tied to this, technology is helping optimise sequence of construction in the field as well, minimising geospatial-related delays and clashes. In turn, being able to feed back site status, issues and work completed, enables the project controls team to capture project status in real-time, reducing the cycles required to keep forecasts up to date.
Augmented Intelligence: AI-based decision making - This is being utilised both during the planning phase and during execution. For planning, AI engines are now helping us validate the plans and cost estimates that get developed. Benchmarking against prior productivity rates taking into account factors such as weather and commercial market conditions helps drive more and more realism into a forecast. Of course, the more realistic your forecast, the greater chance of success during execution.
Autonomous vehicles - While the concept of an autonomous vehicle is exciting, even more so and incredibly ground breaking for construction, is the ability for autonomous vehicles such as major earthmoving equipment used for major cut-fill type operations, to actually help in the optimisation of mass haul of materials. Previously, this has been determined by the expertise of the planner. Now even further optimisation can be achieved through the assistance of computer algorithms that account for the multiple variables such as gradient of haul, machine efficiency and even weather.
There is a misperception that technology and digital transformation pose a threat to the workforce. I believe the opposite is true.
Technology can assist the skilled workforce in being more efficient and spending less time on mundane tasks that can easily be automated. This results in the human expertise factor having a bigger influence in project-related decisions.
Next generation project controls workforce will also come easier and faster through the capturing and re-use of prior generation expertise that can now be stored as a digital asset within an organisation.
Poor productivity is not the root cause of project failure. Poor productivity is the result of other inefficiency factors including unrealistic planning and poor coordination.
The need for faster and cheaper projects will never go away, but the recognition that a third dimension in the form of “confidence” is becoming more prevalent and for good reason.
If, through continued digitisation, we can continue to improve knowledge-flow and coordination between stakeholders, we can then drive the confidence levels associated with project targets to levels that haven’t been seen previously.
Perhaps a good way of thinking about this is to consider confidence as anti-risk. The more certainty a project has, the less risky it is to its stakeholders.
The need for a heavy human influence is not going to go away. Instead, I see digitisation as an aid or a tool to assist humans in achieving project goals.
In addition, there still needs to be a sound understanding of what digital tools are actually reporting, for example interpretation. Think of this as the “what…” to the “so what…” to the “now what…”.
Digitisation can help with quickly determining the what but there is still a vital human element in interpreting the analytics and data to get to the “so what…” so that in turn the project can then make informed decisions as to the ‘now what…”.
This ability to react to information in a timely manner and respond to project changes is probably the most powerful and effective way of keeping a project on track.