by Ben Highfield
As we progress in this fourth industrial age, technology is fundamentally changing the way that we live and work, and is determining how businesses and industries grow and innovate. The UK construction sector (which accounts for 6% of the UK economy1) is advancing on this journey, and workers in this sector are in tune with how technology is boosting productivity and efficiency. However, our research2 has shown that leaders are still resistant to the change which is critical to business survival in this industry.
Putting people at the centre of technology
Our customers are increasingly leading the curve by putting people at the centre of their digitisation strategy, and this is in turn allowing them to reap huge benefits for their clients and business alike. Suffolk Construction3 has been able to bring people together through remote collaboration tools that facilitate conversations between colleagues and clients, as well as enabling greater building visualisation. The ability to better visualise ideas, concepts and buildings is also bolstered by the company virtualising plans and collaborating in real time. Similarly, Gensler4 has implemented technology that strengthens the ability to visualise and collaborate in order to improve the entire design experience for its customers. The technology allows members of the team to work in real time, alongside clients, to evaluate designs before they have even been built, and to instantly modify and improve plans to keep the whole process running as productively and efficiently as possible.
It’s clear that visualisation is essential in the building design community, and building information modelling (BIM) is critical in enabling architects, engineers and designers to execute alongside client’s briefs, make better design decisions, and collaborate more effectively throughout the project delivery process. On their own, however, specialised software tools such as BIM applications or computer- aided design (CAD) might not seem revolutionary. Yet, coupling the software with the power and versatility of mobile devices means that employees can work from wherever they are, whenever they please. The synergies between software and mobile devices are enabling teams throughout the entire project life cycle to be more agile, whilst also removing the need for employees to be bound to a traditional workstation
Embracing change. Leading the change
We know that workers in the UK construction sector are open to, and embrace, digital ways of working, and the outlook is positive as employees often spearhead new ways of working and experiment with new technology. But business leaders are more reluctant to embrace digitisation, whether that be due to concerns about resourcing and budgeting, or because they see it as a business risk. Yet, we know from working with our customers in the industry that the benefits of technology are exponential. Business leaders in the sector have a pivotal role in leading the change, in order for their organisations to continue to thrive in the face of disruption. The key lies in learning from a business’ greatest asset: its people. Leaders need to be proactive in giving the workforce the time and space to experiment, to find solutions and new ways of working with digital technologies that best work for them.
Vitally, there needs to be open dialogue, and a working environment in which employees can share best practice and work together to find solutions that accommodate the needs of every employee. Ultimately, leaders need to take a business-focused approach to digital transformation. ‘What is the mission, and what are the goals that you want to achieve?’ ‘How will embracing digital change improve the working lives of your people?’ Developing a strategy around these fundamental questions allows businesses to measure value and success, and to better understand the processes and areas within the organisation that need improving. It’s also important to accept failure; learning from our mistakes is key to developing more robust ways of working, and allows your organisation to continually improve the way that it works as a collective and with clients.
Embracing a culture of digital transformation
In a constantly evolving digital climate, it can be difficult to know which digital trends or opportunities to capitalise on. Yet we already see that the organisations leading the charge have made one critical change – these businesses do not view digital transformation as ‘nice to have’, but rather a ‘must-have’ in order to stay at the peak of the competition. The key is for business leaders to create an environment where professionals are empowered to explore new ways of working, where they are given autonomy to change, and where they are provided with the right training and tools to succeed.