Preparing for a digital future

According to a report by Atkins, 95 per cent of senior decision makers in infrastructure businesses believe that digital innovation will be increasingly important after the current COVID crisis. Here Martin Hurn, event director at built environment event Futurebuild, explores the changes in mindset, skills and systems we need before we can fully embrace digital innovation and navigate a transformation in the sector.

There is no question that technology has transformed, and will continue to transform, businesses across a variety of industry sectors. The construction industry, in particular, has witnessed rapid upheaval over the past decade and digital technologies, such as Building Information Modelling (BIM), have unlocked unprecedented opportunities for growth.

In 2020, the industry faced new challenges and many businesses had to implement new technologies and processes, from platforms such as Microsoft Teams to Augmented Reality (AR) technology, quickly to continue collaborating. As we explore what the world beyond the pandemic will look like, we have an opportunity to start making more changes — ones that will completely transform the industry.

 

Mindset

Company culture and skills are as important as tools when planning a journey to digitalisation. Everyone in the industry has a responsibility to transform and embrace change — unless we adopt a new digital mindset, we won’t be able to fully transform.

“Transformation is not just about digitising existing processes — we need to disrupt and find better ways of doing things,” explains David Philp, Impact Director for Digital at the Construction Innovation Hub. “Businesses need to ask themselves about how to deliver better value, make a bigger impact and create better experiences for end users and society.”

 

People

Digital transformation isn’t just about technology — we also need the skills to use it to its full potential. The construction sector can level up in digital skills and knowledge by attracting new skilled workers, such as data scientists, to the industry as well as upskilling the current workforce.

“The construction industry requires T-shaped people,” continues Philp. “The horizontal represents the breadth of knowledge we need to use data and technology across an asset’s lifecycle. The vertical represents the expertise someone has in a particular discipline. The adaptability of T-shaped people can help lay the foundations for a more resilient and technologically advanced industry.”

 

Data management

Over the past few years, the introduction of a national BIM framework and standards such as ISO 19650-3 have allowed businesses to improve the information management and operational management of assets.

Now that we’ve got the basics right, we should use the data we collect to drive projects further. “Linking data from different sources, such as BIM, geospatial data, building control systems, sensors and project management data, can help us to better understand the performance of an asset throughout its life,” explains Philp. “Properly integrating tools and data, keeping them up to date can help improve data insight so that we can make better decisions during operational management of assets or projects. Taking care to integrate these tools also ensures accurate data collection without duplication that can be easily shared and interpreted.”

The coronavirus pandemic did not start a digital transformation in the built environment — we were already innovating our processes. However, it did give some businesses the nudge needed to embrace change, as 76 per cent of respondents to the Atkins survey believe that the sector will not emerge from COVID-19 the same. So, let’s use what we’ve learnt during this time as an opportunity to change our mindset, skills and systems to start a digital transformation.

Do you want to find out more about the digital innovations that could transform the industry? In December we’re hosting Game Changers Live — a digital event where we’ll showcase eight digital innovations in the industry. For more information about attending, visit www.futurebuild.co.uk.

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