Construction: improving innovation

Digital revolution

20 December 2017

How do we make the most of innovation to improve construction, asks outgoing RICS President Amanda Clack?

With an emphasis on improving productivity in construction, the industry is looking to ensure recruitment of skilled workers, enhance innovation and get the technology in place needed for change.

Digital construction is central to this. The UK’s productivity is poor compared to the other G7 countries – currently, it sits 35% behind Germany and 18% behind the G7 average. The UK’s 2016 Autumn Statement from Chancellor Philip Hammond suggested that as little as a 1% rise in productivity every year would within a decade add £240bn to the size of the economy.

Digital technologies and techniques will improve efficiency

This is a fundamental ingredient in the fulfilment of the aspirations expressed by the government in the Infrastructure Delivery Plan, the Industrial Strategy and of course the Housing White Paper.

No time for complacency

But what do we mean by 'digital' and how can we use it to help us close the productivity gap? It is clear that reducing complexity, lowering costs and shortening the time taken to complete projects, and making quality enhancements are the most likely ways we will become more productive. The construction industry expects digital innovation to be transformative.

Where it starts to have particular advantages is in lowering costs and improving scheduling. Enabling smart customer interactions and ensuring data transparency are other benefits that the greater adoption of digital technology can provide.

Promoting a digital strategy is key, as is early adoption and a strong digital brand presence – there is no time for complacency, the revolution is already upon us. But the reality is that construction companies are not so far advanced in terms of digital innovation as they should be.

Constructing proper context

To stimulate innovation in this area, the proper environment needs to be created. With construction margins so low, it is essential that we offer a level of certainty for the pipeline of projects, both public and private, to bolster confidence throughout the sector. This needs to be coupled with policy incentives being put in place by the government, while hoping that clients have realistic expectations about procurement.

The adoption and use of digital technologies and techniques in manufacturing will help improve efficiency. The construction industry may be slow to change itself, but there is certainly potential for digital innovation in this regard.

Traditional construction with its bespoke processes is invariably the least productive approach. If we aim to drive up volumetric approaches – standard solutions and processes – or componentisation – standard solutions and bespoke processes – efficiency will rise by 10–20%. The value lies in a manufactured approach in which bespoke solutions and standard processes improve efficiency by up to 40%.

Digital enablers?

Building information modelling is being used more frequently, but its full potential has yet to be realised. Building a structure before visiting a site must be a way of driving efficiency, improving safety and reducing time and cost at the same time as enhancing quality.

But digital horizons do not end there. The use of virtual headsets, hand-held technologies, drones, analytics and the cloud will help to enable the digital construction revolution. This is necessary to create a sector that is fit for the future.

As we evolve with this movement, we need to ensure 3 things to realise the digital vision:

  • investment in innovation by companies
  • leadership from government and inside industry, and
  • skills enhancement and development.

Watch this space.

Amanda Clack is RICS President 2016-17

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