In the chase for higher productivity across the entire construction lifecycle, InEight Industry Solutions Vice President AJ Waters says nothing spells success better than connected data.
The construction industry does not have a great track record when it comes to digitisation. Despite its sheer size and scale, construction is among the least digitised sectors in the world, according to McKinsey Global Institute’s digitisation index. In Australia, the Office of the Chief Economist categorises construction among sectors with the lowest rate of digitisation, behind sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, and mining.
But when KPMG released its 2021 Global Construction Survey results earlier this year – an annual survey it has been conducting for the past 20 years – it hinted positively towards an accelerated pace of change within the sector, partly as a result of measures taken by companies to help them deliver on projects despite the challenges they faced with COVID-19.
More importantly, the KPMG report found that increasing project complexities, plus the pressure to build bigger, faster and more cost-effectively, has outpaced the ability to control risks, costs and schedules without help from digital tools.
Signs of optimism were also evident when InEight – a global leader in construction project management software – launched its first Global Capital Project Outlook in July of this year. The report, which gathered inputs from the world’s largest capital project owners and construction professionals across the Americas, Europe and the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region, found that 78 per cent of respondents in APAC considered digital transformation as their biggest short-term source of opportunity.
While technology continues to make data more accessible, AJ Waters, Vice President of Industry Solutions at InEight, says merely gathering data is not enough.
“Unless this data is connected to provide a complete picture of the entire construction lifecycle, you may end up making past mistakes,” he says.
With complex, multi-year and mega projects weighing heavily on both owners and contractors to manage risks differently, Waters says that connected data and integrated technology solutions can help ensure that projects are delivered on time, on budget and with minimal risk.
The journey to date
As the global head of InEight’s solution engineering team, Waters has been in a unique position to observe the sector’s digital evolution over time. He says the fault for a slow uptake of connected data by the construction industry in the past falls partly on software developers.
“Construction software has not, in the past, been as intuitive and interactive as those available across some other industries. If you look at some of the major players within construction technology, their software still has somewhat of an old feeling. The buttons on the programs look old, it doesn’t work on your phone, it doesn’t work like your browser,” he says.
“We, as an industry, were also slow to adopt solutions like Cloud. And then when people were getting onboard with using mobile phones and apps, we were just figuring out how to work without being ‘on-premise’ by taking things to the Cloud. So, the tools for the construction sector were always two to three steps behind those in other sectors,” he adds.
Finally, when the technology caught up, the solutions were still disparate, he says.
“When technology providers finally caught up, that’s when point solutions popped up. For example, now there is a very good time-tracking app on the market or a great cost control app, but when the user tries to get these point solutions to talk to one another, it becomes a big challenge. So how do you break that silo to get a complete picture of the entire construction lifecycle?”
Changing the game
Waters says the InEight solutions have not only overcome the barriers to adoption that existed in the past but have also helped break the silos by connecting all these disparate solutions via an integrated platform.
“One of the first things that the InEight team did was to make our solutions user-friendly. So not only are the InEight tools connected to the Cloud and accessible from anywhere via mobile phones and tablets, but we also looked at the things that mattered to the construction crew on the ground,” he says.
“Much of our product team has a background in construction, so we understand that for a construction software to be easy to use, it has to work in a certain way. The person in the field might be wearing gloves or other personal protective equipment, they might have issues with connectivity. We understand all of those challenges and we have considered them while developing our tools.”
An example that Waters provides helps clarify this further.
“For example, we have a contract management product for subcontractors and material contractors called InEight Contract. We also have a project cost management product called InEight Control. The feedback we were getting from the market was that, in order for this to be a complete cost control solution, contractors wanted tighter connection with the budget to get more visibility for each line item on the contract.“As a result of implementing those ideas, now the InEight cost management solution allows contractors to see actual costs and invoi
ces against each line item on the contract, within the context of the master budget. That’s just one example of the deep integration that’s allowing users to see the whole picture without having to jump between different applications,” he says.
The perks of higher visibility
What this added visibility means for the both the contractors and project owners, Waters says, is less risk of falling behind project commitments.
“If you look at some of the large capital projects that are being announced in Australia, they are 10 to 20-year programs of work. So, there can be huge snowball effects in the downstream if you fall behind in the early stages of the programs,” he says.
“Luckily, what we are seeing in Australia, which was also highlighted in our Global Capital Project Outlook, is that owners, like municipalities and government authorities, are starting to dive in and dictate to the contractor to purchase the software, because they want to access data faster.”
With this, he says, comes better, more transparent, communication between the owner and the contractor.
“With connected data, when it comes time for the contractor to communicate things to the owner, they have a more complete picture to share. This means the owner gets more up-to-date information, that is also more accurate, and it helps avoid surprises,” Waters says.
“For example, everyone always talks about change orders and how frustrating they are from the owner’s perspective. But change orders are just as frustrating for the contractor. It slows them down, it takes time to negotiate, and it leaves a sour taste in their relationship with the owner. So, the more that you can avoid those problems through data transparency, the better it is for both parties.”
Apart from building a transparent relationship between owners and contractors, data connectivity can also help boost productivity within the organisation, as Waters points out.
To elaborate, he uses an example from InEight’s Field Execution solution.
“We found this very interesting that when foremen on a construction site began using our mobile-based time card solution to track their time and quantities of work for each day, it created a fun competition among the teams. Because they could see a live feed of their productivity, with a green box meaning they were ahead of schedule and a red box meaning they were behind, they began competing to see which team could be more productive. After the first week of trying this solution out, you couldn’t rip the iPad from their hands,” says Waters.
“Now imagine, across the company, if the men and women working on the ground can see how they are performing at the end of each day, how it can add to their level of productivity.”
Finally, what Waters says companies risk missing out on without a connected data platform, is attracting good talent.
“When someone has graduated from the university and is looking at two or three different job offers, they will probably favour the company that is modern rather than the company that’s behind times. With the current labour shortage, it’s a risk that you run if you don’t modernise your systems,” he adds.
With stakeholders counting on the contractors to deliver infrastructure efficiently and safely, Waters believes it’s time for digitally mature construction companies to take the next step and work out a connected data solution.
“The bottom line? The more integrated your technology solutions are, the broader line of sight you will have across your business. This kind of connectivity fuels smarter insights and ultimately better outcomes for you and your stakeholders.”
This article was originally published in the November edition of our magazine. To read the magazine, click here.