Building the new future: digital providing the answers for connected construction

The world’s biggest industry has lagged behind others in terms of transformation, operating in traditional ways and often neglecting to embrace progress. As the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic and industries attempt to recover, what now for construction companies?

Construction is the biggest industry in the world, representing 13% of global GDP and employing 7% of the world’s workers. As an industry, however, it hasn’t been growing like it perhaps should have been. Construction’s productivity growth has been just 1% per year over the past two decades, versus 2.8% growth in the overall world economy. If construction productivity performed in line with the global economy, it could grow by $1.6 trillion a year and boost global GDP by 2%. Digitalization could help it achieve that.

According to IDC’s Future of Connected Construction, 72% of construction companies said digital transformation (DX) is a key priority to drive changes in processes, business models and ecosystems. However, the majority of these companies say they are still starting out on their DX journeys. Some 58% of companies are still in the early stages of their DX, and just 13% reported being “well on their way” to succeeding on their DX journey.

Predictive analytics

The technologies exist to help construction companies transform. For example, predictive analytics and big data have become key investments for construction companies. By using current and historical data, plus artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) tools, companies can make predictions about future outcomes, which drive better decision making.

One of the biggest challenges for construction companies is project overruns, which are extremely costly. Being able to predict outcomes accurately helps mitigate risk and keep projects on track. Multinational construction company BAM Ireland is an example of how this works. The company deployed a predictive analytics tool on all its projects and realized a 20% improvement in onsite quality and safety and a 25% increase in time spent on high-risk issues. Accenture has forecast that AI could increase construction industry profits by 71% by 2035, illustrating AI’s potential.

Growth of drones and IoT

Drones are the fastest-growing new technology in the construction industry, according to CNBC. They let construction companies carry out site surveys more quickly and accurately than ground crews can and are cheaper than aerial imaging. Their high-resolution cameras and the data gathered can create interactive 3D or topographical maps and models. There’s a health and safety benefit, too, since drones let construction companies safely inspect hard-to-reach places like bridges or tall buildings. This can help reduce the need to put human workers in harm’s way.

The Internet of Things (IoT) can transform traditional ways of working in construction, too. By deploying sensors to detect noise, vibration or motion around a site, construction site managers can improve safety. They can also predict and minimize potential damage caused by accidents or natural disasters and allow site managers to respond quickly to onsite incidents. In addition, sites can use IoT to track assets, control equipment remotely and improve waste management.

Benefits digital can deliver to construction

Connected construction doesn’t just happen at a site level. It can also connect the whole industry, across the supply chain and between partners. Construction companies rely on just-in-time supplies to help them deliver projects on budget and to tight deadlines. They also often don’t have space onsite to store materials.

Construction company and Orange customer McConnell Dowell deployed a customized IoT platform to track assets such as concrete panels. The tool tracks assets from manufacturer to construction site and even into exact eventual positions in a building or structure. The solution lets McConnell Dowell stay on budget and avoid potentially expensive reworking and project delays.

An expert ecosystem helps

Construction companies can’t be expected to have the necessary digital solutions and expertise in-house, however. So it’s important to work with expert partners who do have those skills and tools. In Asia Pacific, Orange works with construction specialist GHD in the IA2 alliance to develop an ecosystem of manufacturers, logistics companies and construction firms. This collaboration enhances the economics of construction and reduces risk for construction companies.

Digital in construction can help bridge the gap between sites and supply chains, and between manufacturers and construction companies themselves. It helps eradicate inefficient ways of working, improves workflow and can bring construction companies all kinds of new, positive benefits. According to IDC, 95% of construction companies worldwide use digital solutions in just 50% or less of their projects. Only 2% use digital solutions in over 60% of their construction projects. It’s time for that to change.

Find out how suppliers, manufacturers, transport hubs and logistics firms can use real-time data to create more agile and responsive ecosystems.

Steve Harris

I’ve been writing about technology for around 15 years and today focus mainly on all things telecoms - next generation networks, mobile, cloud computing and plenty more. For Futurity Media I am based in the Asia-Pacific region and keep a close eye on all things tech happening in that exciting part of the world.