a maturing view on construction digitalisation

The construction industry is changing how it thinks about, and approaches, its most essential processes. There is a clear demand in construction for more accessible and actionable insights among employees, and digital transformation is now seen as the greatest opportunity for future growth.

In the InEight Global Capital Projects Outlook (GCPO) report for 2021, APAC was the most technologically forward-thinking global region surveyed. Yet this is an achievement the region has been curiously unable to replicate according to this year’s 2022 report.

Is this a case of first-mover disadvantage? Or perhaps experience has given a more informed, mature view that has tweaked the balance between enthusiasm and realism?

A realistic approach

According to this year’s GCPO report, which surveyed construction professionals from the Americas, Europe and APAC, APAC respondents are now the least likely to have a clear digital transformation strategy, yet they are most likely to take a disjointed approach where different parts of the business invest in technology according to their own needs. This contrasts sharply to last year, when the region had more organisations with clear integrated digital transformation strategies.

Rob Bryant, EVP for APAC at InEight, offers an explanation. “What we’re seeing is a bit more sober thinking. As recently as last year, there was a lot of buzz and excitement around digital transformation and digitalising processes,” he says.

“Now respondents are seeing the reality of what’s involved and that it takes a lot more than just installing software. It’s changing organisational processes. It’s considering everything right through the supply chain to the construction methods used on-site. So perhaps last year, we caught the tail-end of a wave of initial enthusiasm that led to a lot of investments in point solutions, and now the next step is to recapture that enthusiasm and momentum and apply it to more integrated thinking.”

Working to enhance communication

Disconnected digital adoption is also impacting APAC communications, efficiency and project performance. When asked about the biggest challenges to projects being completed on time and on budget, APAC organisations are now most likely to cite communication gaps and/or inadequate communication with stakeholders and inefficiencies arising from non-standardised systems and processes.

APAC respondents are also most likely to want their organisation to fund technologies that help keep them updated with real-time information, a feature of organisations with more integrated digital strategies and connected data.

Brad Barth, Chief Product Officer at InEight, weighs in on these developments. “A patchy approach to digitalisation hampers project-wide collaboration, communication and standardisation. It also prevents organisations connecting the data dots to identify broader growth opportunities,” he offers.

“Progressive project delivery models such as design-build and integrated project delivery increasingly demand a level of multiparty visibility, collaboration and integration that will require more integrated digital strategies. A typical project we worked on in Australia required real-time communication and oversight across a complex partner network spanning 12 design and delivery organisations.”

APAC companies also now prioritise narrow, short-term concerns such as organisational efficiency or cost savings over holistic, higher-order needs such as improved productivity or preserving knowledge when it comes to the benefits of a greater technology investment.

“When organisations see technology as delivering short-term individual benefits such as time or cost savings, this leads to suboptimal implementations,” Barth continues.

“Those that view technology as fundamental to scaling the overall business, informing smarter decisions, and identifying broader business risks and opportunities adopt more holistic, joined-up strategies.”

Encouragingly, however, the region is now most likely to cite digital transformation as the biggest growth opportunity in the coming year.

Improved data analytics is seen as the technology most critical to success over the next one-to-three years.

Stepping up sustainability

One important field in which APAC leads the world is sustainability. Eighty-three percent of APAC organisations have invested in improving sustainability compared with 74% in Europe and 82% in the Americas. They are most likely to achieve this through lean construction, internal training, or collaboration with external partners such as consultants to improve processes.

For Bryant, this is an exciting development. “There are a lot of sustainability leaders in APAC, and the recent election in Australia, for example, shows how the tides are shifting in the region. That said, in terms of construction, we’re at the start of this journey and a lot will depend on effective standardisation,” he says.

“At the moment, stakeholders are pulling in different directions and lack a unifying framework for what good practice looks like. For example, owners prioritise things like energy efficiency and sustainability in the operational performance of the finished project, whilst contractors are more interested in the materials and construction processes used. There’s a big role for technology and data to provide some alignment right from the beginning.”

Looking to the Future

APAC’s early digital lead has eroded somewhat as others have caught up. The next step will be for the region to regain its momentum and adopt more integrated approaches to digital transformation based on holistic thinking and higher-order needs. This will unlock the heightened efficiency, transparency, standardisation and collaboration essential to many modern project delivery models and contracts.

Fortunately, there is clear and unabated desire in APAC for new technologies among employees. The key will be aligning digital transformation across all departments and divisions based on a holistic view of technology as fundamental to collective performance.

About InEight

InEight provides field-tested project management software for the owners, contractors, engineers and architects who are building the world around us. Over 575,000 users and more than 850 customers worldwide rely on InEight for real-time insights that help manage risk and keep projects on schedule and under budget across the entire life cycle. From pre-planning to design, from estimating to scheduling, and from field execution to turnover, InEight has powered more than $1 trillion in projects globally across infrastructure, public sector, renewable energy and power, oil, gas and chemical, mining, and commercial.

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