Construction is behind the times when it comes to the successful integration of technology. While there has been some introduction of innovative approaches – drones on site and 3D printing, for example – cases of sustained incorporation are few and far between. So why is the sector so adverse to tech?
Money, money, money
While there are multiple possibilities banded around the market, much of the arguments have an element of financial scrutiny. The fact is, tech costs money, and quite often this figure alone is off-putting. For those able to see past their bank balance, the value of the outputs creates another level of concern.
Indeed, according to insight from McKinsey, where engineering and construction companies have invested in software and digital tool collaboration, very few have done so on a large scale. The result is a rather modest return on investment that doesn’t demonstrate why on-going investment is beneficial. And herein lies the crux of the problem.
I’d argue that where there have been previous examples of firms leaping before they can walk by integrating ‘impressive’ and rather expensive tech such as drones and 3D printing, the financial impact has created a level of caution across the sector that’s stalling progress. Construction needs to consider mimicking the actions of other industries and, rather than seeking high-profile and creative incorporations of tech, start small. Investing in minor changes that deliver the highest return on investment with minimal disruption will be beneficial in numerous ways. In the first instance, this will help shift mindsets to ensure all stakeholders in the firm can identify the value of tech incorporation. Perhaps more importantly, starting small minimises the risks and uncertainty, so if things do go wrong, it’s likely to be easier to rectify with less impact on the bottom line.
Secondly, but arguably crucially, the best ROI can often be delivered through the incorporation of tech in back office activity. Starting here allows firms to get their house in order before they expand their investment into other areas of the business.
The other barrier to technological success is the lack of experts available in this field. Tech skills across all sectors are in short supply and high demand. For construction, the misconception that it is an industry with fewer career prospects means sourcing the required professionals is extremely challenging.
There are of course ways around this. It’s not necessary to have all of the tech skills in-house, for example, and it’s possible to make the software do most of the work in many cases, just as a drone would on site.
In my view, while inhibitors such as money and skills have stalled digital evolution in construction, the fact that there are solutions around these suggests a more complex challenge: human nature. It’s in our DNA to be wary of change and given how stretched the UK construction industry is at the moment, it’s understandable why some decision makers haven’t focused all of their attention on introducing tech developments. But with project costs spiralling out of control, skills shortages impacting forecasting and the next generation of the workforce demanding greater digital innovation, businesses simply can’t continue with this caution.
What we need is for more organisations to lead the way with demonstrable results from the adoption of tech to get others to follow suit. The question is, who will be the Pied Piper?
Drey Francis is director at Engage Technology Partners