Digitising Construction: Culture, Leadership and Willingness

Mainer Associates recently held a round table discussion on the digitisation of the construction industry. We welcomed fellow industry professionals to join us for an evening discussion and dinner to converse on the current digital technologies within construction, and create debate on why construction lacks digital uptake. The potential for digital disruption to improve construction is huge, we need to develop a culture within the industry to embrace it.

Representatives from CBRE, Allied London, Turner and Townsend, Manchester Airport Group, Network Rail and Bruntwood came together to discuss this increasingly important topic. Here’s some interesting highlights from the discussion:

“As a sector we are poor at using technology. Contrast what I can do on my smartphone with what I can do at work”. A sentiment that echoed round the room was that the construction industry has not taken the steps that other sectors have done to embrace new methods, new technologies and more modern working cultures. Rather than seek the opportunities in digital and in sustainability, our discussion highlighted that these are seen as costs, not positive investments.

“Why are we transporting air?” One hears a lot about modular manufacturing and how it might disrupt traditional construction methods. Indeed, the control, standardisation and repeatability of modular manufacturing may bring many benefits. However, our guests made clear that the manufacturing is just one part of the cost chain. One comment recognised that “builders and contractors are very old-school and run on small margins” but that they still have “loads of inefficiency”.

We’ve become data junkies thanks to our partnership with an analytics company”. Some of our guests pointed to areas where they have seen change and rapid improvement. One clear area was in the use of data analytics and its application to, for example, understanding the detailed impact of retail footfall or even of the Manchester weather on rents and revenues. One guest’s firm has gone so far as to “disrupt ourselves” by considering the question, “If we were starting from scratch now, with the technologies available and coming soon, how would we go about it?”

This big question goes well beyond the use of tools like Business Information Modelling (BIM) and working in more flexible, “hot desking” ways. Underpinning it all, though, was a recognition that the largest part of any change programme is the culture, leadership and willingness to bring about such change. One can have the shiniest technology tools in the world, but without strong leadership and strong workforce engagement, the tools will soon be sitting on a shelf gathering dust.

It was a great discussion, and many thanks for our expert guests for being so engaged in the discussion with their knowledge and insights.

Digitisation has the potential to vastly improve how work in construction and sustainability is done. Mainer Associates are ourselves pursuing avenues into developing an App to improve our service delivery of BREEAM assessments. We intend the app to primarily offer project teams a one stop service for Man 03 site impacts monitoring and Wst 01 waste management. Watch this space!