To recover from the pandemic, the construction sector must modernize its approach
While Covid-19 has undeniably slowed down projects over the past 18 months, it’s fair to say construction has been plagued by productivity issues for years. According to the Oxford Global Projects Database (OGPD), which contains data from nearly 12,000 different projects, only 7.8% of all projects are delivered on time and on budget.
In my experience, some of the key problems facing the construction industry today are largely caused by two overlapping factors: a reliance on siled working methods, with reduced inter-company collaboration; and the inherent complexity of relying on the abundance of data collected from sites everywhere to improve project performance.
Construction sites provide a wealth of data which, if properly harnessed, could provide the secrets to improving the productivity of projects across the country. At our fingertips are clues about the optimal times for on-site deliveries; indications of the parts of a project that could benefit from additional labor; and the information needed to automate critical but time-consuming back office functions.
So far, Construction has failed to overcome the issues that hamper access and sharing of this information. In fact, according to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, 95% of the data generated at the project sites is not being used.
By deploying this data, the possibilities for the long-term evolution of the industry are limitless. The benefits are not only improved efficiency, but also help work towards a greener future by reducing the amount of wasted materials and energy. With the climate crisis only getting worse and built construction currently accounting for 45% of the UK’s total carbon emissions, these changes are vital and must be made now. Anything that helps speed up work will inevitably help reduce emissions.
Deploying data is not a revolutionary concept: not only does data already exist in abundance, but a multitude of other sectors – whether financial, healthcare or even legal – are unlocking the benefits of people-based ways of working. data. It’s time for construction to join the pack.
No one is an island
But therein lies another challenge: it is one thing for individual companies to improve their use of data; it is quite another thing for an entire sector to improve. But if we are to generate real productivity gains across the sector, that is precisely what will have to happen. After all, it is said that a rising tide lifts all ships.
Simply put, businesses need to improve the way they share data. If the industry is reaping the benefits of collaboration, the benefits are obvious: duplicate efforts could be avoided; shared productive work methods; and efficiency is enhanced everywhere. Covid-19 has forced companies to collaborate, to which Nightingale Hospitals are testifying to what can be achieved.
Of course, an immediate concern is that small businesses that don’t have access to a wealth of data will be sidelined by larger competitors. This is where collaboration is essential. Sir Robert McAlpine actually took steps to prevent small businesses from losing out by setting up the Construction Data Trust. This trust brings together data from across the industry to improve data quality, unlock profitable innovation, and create a cross-sector response to common challenges.
Solve the image crisis
If these changes are taken into account by construction, the resulting image change for the industry can be just as impressive as the efficiency and durability gains that can be achieved. The OGPD reports that only 0.5% of construction projects are completed on time, on budget and provide all of the “expected benefits” for which they are intended. Projects require data implementation and collaboration at all levels.
As the worst of the pandemic seems to be coming to an end in the UK, now is the perfect time for construction to broaden its perspective on what the industry can achieve. What was good enough to run the industry twenty years ago is no longer good. Let’s be an industry that has the data to support the end of a project and the technology to make sure it happens on time, and public trust will follow soon enough.
*Paul Hamer is Managing Director of Sir Robert McAlpine
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