Tech Has Revolutionized Construction Industry: Ashwinder-Bhartiya Urban

--By Ashwinder R Singh, CEO-Residential, Bhartiya Urban & Best selling author

Visualize it. It is year 2000.Google has announced the launch of Adwords and now the marketers can target potential customers online. Gladiator has won the “Picture of the Year” award and you would have watched it on your DVD players at home, if not in theaters. Sending SMS is already a year-old practice. While the year 2000 was a launch point of technology for many sectors, construction was not one of them. Most EPC companies were still using paper for their day-to-day operations – from engineering drawing to specification books, Bill of Quantity (BOQ), Bill of Material (BOM), RFIs, Permit to Work, DPR, and other submittals. The organization using a spreadsheet such as MS Excel would have been considered advanced. A similar was the situation with onsite jobs with job activity logs being maintained on paper and reviewed by visual observation. In construction, the drones were almost mythical as a tool and the alternative to drones were images taken from helicopters, which only the large enterprise could afford, and the quality of the image was only as good as the camera that the company-owned.

The number, diversity, and interdependence of stakeholders in the construction projects across planning, designing, engineering, construction, and commissioning has been the prominent reasons of this slow technological adoption in the construction space.

Although AutoCAD was being used since 1980s by advanced designer, after Circa 2000, AutoCAD was revolutionized to become a multi-document interface tool. Similar was the evolution of Microsoft Projects and in 2002, it became user-friendly with its new update that could integrate calendars, tasks from Outlook, and easy data import/export to excel.

In 2007, With the advent of smartphones that included music players, cameras, GPS navigation and web browser, weather report, texting, vocal diction, the stakeholder management was poised to get simpler.

Suddenly, we were roaming around with mobile as minicomputers in hands. The tech companies had realized that what at that time required physical site visits and manual intervention could now be controlled at a remote location.

By 2010, the production of tablets which happened a large scale, opened way for hundreds of technology companies to develop and enhance the project management tools. One package that got extreme popularity was Primavera as a handy enterprise project management tool.

Though the technology had advanced a great deal, its usage did not scale up as expected, due to factors like poor bandwidth of network at remote construction sites, digital illiteracy of the site crew members, inertial mindset, and inefficient change management at the organization level. Inefficient utilization of the technology and its adoption in silos has resulted in decreased productivity and increased costs, exactly opposite to the intent of its existence and use.

According to COAA (Construction Owners Association of Alberta) report 2013, more than 60% of the mega projects incur delays in construction and more than 50% of projects incur cost overruns due to several factors including productivity, rework, reduced tool time, material delay, labour shortage etc.

After 2010, what followed was an opportune time that revolutionized the industry with schemes of technologies such as Building Information modeling (BIM), drone technology, 3D printing, laser scanning, modular construction, precast slabs, IoT to name a few.

If we try to connect the dots and find the driving force behind the rapidness of evolution, we will find connectivity as the answer.

To answer what lies ahead is hyper-connectivity. McKinsey cites onsite execution, back-office integration, and end-to-end digital collaboration as the 3 key clusters where hyperconnectivity has toplay a crucial role.

Today, with adequate adoption at the enterprise level, there have been several case studies where the savings on time and cost, increased productivity, and reduced expensive rework as an outcome of technology usage have been reported. Today, with a host of integrated technologies at play, your mobile/tab can enable you to share real-time progress on the site, its deviation from the drawing, measure the impact of your decisions, and fly your fancy drone. If executed properly, the technology aims to reduce human intervention, similar to the Japanese ‘Poke-Yoke’ concept, locks the occurrence of errors and finds faults early for in-time corrective measure.

EPC or construction companies of today that aspire to be competitive in the marketplace need to strive not only for technological adoption but regular updation for everything from real-time monitoring of the worksite to making mission-critical decisions. Technology today is not to be considered to simplify siloed operations but an assessment on how it impacts the business ecosystem is critical.