Digitalisation is a necessity for improving productivity in the construction

Timo Makkonen
Congrid Oy

Country Manager
SmartCraft Finland / SmartCraft ASA

The productivity of the construction industry lag compared to other industries. While other industries have increased productivity construction sector hasn’t been able to keep up the pace. Improved productivity builds up from many sources and utilizing digitalization on improving operations will have a major impact on productivity. Digitalisation itself rarely solves any problems. The benefits of digitalization are built on top of the ways of working. Therefore, it is important to evaluate and improve the ways of working while taking the advantage of digitalization.

Digital tools are widely in use for construction design, but the adoption of digital tools in construction sites remains low. The situation builds a risk of an information gap between the design and production. Practically the gap means that the information isn’t where it is needed (at the site). The latest designs in the BIM model won’t update themselves to the paper printed on the wall. The feedback loop from the site to the office remains slow when the digital information flow is cut. Problems remain hidden and as-built implementations won’t find their way to the designs. In an ideal case, the information flows seamlessly between the project stakeholders transparently enabling fast reactions and corrections without any delay.

Digital workflow also enables data collection to support process visualization and improvements. Without data from the construction process, it is impossible to recognize and fix the problems in the ways of working. Information flow using paper forms is slow and collecting an overall picture from the different data sources is time-consuming or impossible. Therefore, the digital journey of the construction industry must start with building up the data collection capabilities and ways for information sharing. Building the data collection capabilities will lead to defining standardized processes and harmonized data structures which will enable enterprise-level data visualization.

One may claim that building standardized data structures for construction is impossible as each project is unique. Naturally, projects have their unique features. Still, each project shares similar materials, implementations and designs. The companies and industry need to find common nominators and standardize on a level which is wise for the production flow. It makes no sense to design similar details again for each project or use several installation techniques for the same task. Standardization of design and work will make all phases in the process easier to follow and control. The whole chain of construction will benefit from standardization as the standard ways of working create predictability. Design, material supply, scheduling and resourcing become less complex.

Just moving from paper-led production to digital will improve the profitability as in improved information sharing and feedback loops. The first steps of digitalization don’t mean 5-D (3-D Design Schedule and Budget) production control with fully standardized processes. Simple improvements may have a significant impact on workflows and productivity. Site workers do have the devices to work with digital tools, but the tools aren’t always used actively. If the solution is difficult to use or important information isn’t available digital tools remain unused. The user must get value from digitalization. Simple matters such as digitalised hourly tracking, reporting, and invoicing will speed up the work reducing the administrative task of a contractor. Tools to solve practical problems help the individual contractor to save time while standardizing the way of working. Tools can also help the contractors to build standardized offerings which will lead to fewer surprises in projects leading to better margins and time savings. Any improvement in data collection and visualization will help the individual company to learn from the data and lead the business based on facts.

After the implementation of data collection and visualisation, the individual company and industry can take full advantage of data-driven process control and improvements. Learning from data will open new areas to improve. Removing the pain points from the flow will gradually show better productivity, lower cost and better quality. Taking the control of processes and managing with digitalisation industry will take a productivity leap. Process improvements must lead the digital path.

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