Leaders UAE 2020: Traditional construction v/s tech adoption

Cundall’s Lee French and Mott MacDonald’s Farah Kurdi on whether COVID-19 will revolutionise the industry

Cundall’s Lee French and Mott MacDonald’s Farah Kurdi speak on the Technology Acceleration panel on Day 1 of Leaders in Construction UAE Virtual Summit
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Cundall’s Lee French and Mott MacDonald’s Farah Kurdi speak on the Technology Acceleration panel on Day 1 of Leaders in Construction UAE Virtual Summit

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has redefined normalcy as we know it. UAE's construction industry, which is otherwise known to lag in its use of technology, has been "forced to adapt to the new normal", Construction Week's editor Ashley Williams said in his opening statement of the 'Technology Acceleration' panel on the first day of the two-day Leaders in Construction UAE Virtual Summit.

As part of the panel, Cundall’s operations director, Lee French and Mott MacDonald’s territory manager Farah Kurdi shared their insights on whether COVID-19 is the opportunity to revolutionise the industry in terms of technology adoption.

"Change is not easy, it is difficult, especially given that we are in a traditional industry. The focus should now be on what can we do to make construction activities more efficient in a post-pandemic world, and COVID-19 is the catapult for this change," Kurdi said.

Efficiency aside, technology adoption helps "create transparency for clients," French said, adding that Cundall has employed machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to weather the challenges associated with the ongoing pandemic.

Moreover, adoption of tech tools ensures reduction of project errors. "Technology, automation in specific, will redefine - not eliminate - human roles, thereby reducing [project errors]," French stated, speaking about BIM models and cloud services as contributors.

The overarching sentiment throughout the debate, rather discussion, was inclined towards the need to have an education around the use of technology in the construction industry. 

"Education and knowledge share has definitely kept us from advancing when it comes to technology implementation. When I look at the bottlenecks of the industry, it's definitely due to a lack of education and knowledge sharing," French said.

Education and/or awareness plays crucial part even in terms of cyber attacks.

For instance, as a consultancy, Mott MacDonald took an educated and informed decision to "offer additional services to clients, identifying the gaps and risks associated with cyber security, given that part of the firm's services are driven by technology," Kurdi said.

As a closing topic, Kurdi and French discussed that the 'smart cities' model that is often referred to as the future of the overall built environment is driven by technology but governed by a variety of factors including connectivity, humane elements, safety and environmental footprint, among others.

Both panelists on the session shared their insights on technology acceleration as the current need of the hour in the construction industry as well as the impact on employment and industry efficiencies. 

The question remains: what emerges victorious in the battle between traditional construction and tech adoption? 

"I'd vote for technology for sure, but we must realign our philosophy a bit and maintain a strong focus on knowledge sharing and education," French reiterated. 

Day 2 of the conference will begin with Stakeholder Collaboration with ALEC’s CEO Kez Taylor, Cundall’s managing director and partner, Richard Stratton, and Pinsent Masons' head of Middle East, Catherine Workman.

The conference will end with the Knowing Your Rights panel featuring HKA’s partner Haroon Niazi, Reed Smith’s head of Middle East, Sachin Kerur, and Pinsent Masons' head of risk advisory services for the Middle East, Mark Raymont.

To register, click here to make sure you are part of our exciting conference.

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