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Inside Innovation: Delayed adoption of construction tech could be costly

John Bleasby
Inside Innovation: Delayed adoption of construction tech could be costly

In a 2017 KPMG industry survey, nearly 75 per cent of engineering and construction executives said that technological innovation plays a role in their corporate vision. Yet, of that 75 per cent, less than half had an actual technology integration strategy in place.

In fact, only a tiny number of respondents even considered themselves as leaders in the adoption of technology. Most said they were followers.

Company decision-makers need to embrace the variety of new technologies available to the construction industry. The risk is being left behind, particularly as RFPs call for ever-higher levels of client-designer-contractor communication and data interaction.

Technology can make your company a lean, mean building machine. Of course, lean business processes mean different things to different industries. In construction, it’s about reducing complexities, uncertainties, defects, waste, and no-value-added activities all the way down the line.

Processes become more stable, efficient and predictable when schedule deviations, material wait times and reworking are reduced. Assets and resources can be located using short- or long-range real-time sensors and then assigned quickly to meet project demands. An improved value-creation flow results when schedules are synchronized and move towards a just-in-time supply system.

Technology also improves project execution with better pre-construction budgeting and planning. For example, studies show that over the lifetime of an asset, total cost represented by construction can be as high as 10 to 50 per cent. Operating and maintenance (O&M) costs are as much as 40 to 80 per cent. These two major cost components are largely determined early on and prior to construction.

Addressing this in a report presented at the 2016 World Economic Forum, titled Shaping the Future of Construction, the Boston Consulting Group wrote, “To achieve substantial improvements in construction productivity and to reduce O&M costs, companies need to ensure that, during the design and engineering phase, they keep the actual construction process in mind, as well as the final operations phase.”

The authors list key players in the value chain who need to be at the table in order to achieve the required level of co-ordination: the main contractor, subcontractors, suppliers, and later the asset’s operator, owner and maintenance firms. “From the outset, stakeholders, especially of large and complex construction projects, should give prominence to project planning and scoping — for instance, by conducting sophisticated needs assessments and feasibility analyses.”

According to Resolution Management Consultants of Marlton, N.J., project management and data collection technology can also reduce the potential of costly litigation. Better planning usually means better execution, and therefore fewer disputes. Scheduling software, 3D modelling tools and data collection devices are listed as three technologies that can play a big role towards these objectives.

Of course, at the heart of today’s project design and construction technology lies Building Information Modelling (BIM). BIM has transformed the construction process by improving collaboration, increasing the use of standardized and modularized components and structures, and offering 3D walk-through designs. BIM has allowed access to everyone involved to ongoing project information on a single design platform, from planning to financial information. Using BIM even permits inclusion of complex mechanical, electrical and plumbing design work and the accompanying logistical challenges during the planning process, thus saving time and costs later in the building stages.

While BIM technology is continually evolving, it is not new. Nevertheless, some contractors remain hesitant to adopt it. Time is not on their side.

Everyone benefits from what planning and management technology offers — more accurate estimates, energy performance modelling, project cost tracking, secure data collection, easier progress analysis and more.

Yes, technology at any level requires an investment. However, the reward for contractors willing to commit is the possibility of better buildings now and the potential of additional, larger projects in the future.

John Bleasby is a Coldwater, Ont. based freelance writer. Send comments and Inside Innovation column ideas to

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