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Breaking ground on smarter approaches to technology in construction

The way we construct our built environment has always been driven by creativity and innovation – right back to the invention of the wheel and the first stone axe.

Advancements in technology have helped us to develop techniques such as modular construction, sustainable building and computer-aided design. But these improvements are not just about revolutionising the tools and materials we use in the construction itself, but also the techniques we use to work and collaborate with people too.

The pandemic sped up the adoption of digital solutions in the construction industry, as collaboration tools and cloud-based platforms helped teams of architects, engineers and stakeholders to continue work on projects despite on-site restrictions. But, whilst the industry has stepped up its approach to technology, there continues to be problems with fragmented working, secure management of data and investment in digital knowledge.

With growing pressure on the industry to make projects even more connected, efficient and sustainable, in this article, Shirin Arnold, Industry Lead, Construction at Dropbox provides some tips on how businesses can better adopt tech solutions that help them better serve their business – and their people.

Start small, with accessibility in mind

Whilst bigger corporations have more money and resources to experiment with technology, smaller firms are not as lucky.

Many have struggled to embrace digitisation due to a lack of resources, lower digital expertise in their team or the inability to anticipate the potential digitised futures of their business. As a result, it has been harder for them to keep up with the bigger players in the industry.

So, with this in mind, adopting accessible technology that adds the most value for the least money is essential. At the moment, construction companies that cannot transition from disparate, slow legacy systems will find it harder to succeed when it comes to industry challenges such as labour shortages, supply chain disruption and economic difficulty.

Starting with smaller changes like introducing cloud-based collaboration tools can help firms begin digitising their paperwork and implementing better processes for managing projects – especially as UK construction workers spend an average of 91 hours a year, per employee, on paperwork. That includes 15 hours just searching for mislaid documents.

With this foundation, businesses can begin to automate more of their administrative processes, to not only free up more time to invest in greater technology training, but also reduce the time it takes to solve problems. By building on these solutions with incremental changes, it can also better stand up to traditional mindsets in the industry, that seem resistant to change.

Clear up your approach to data

One of the most significant benefits of embracing digital technology is that it enables you to collect data across the business. But just because you have data, doesn’t mean you know how to handle it.

With more data generated during construction projects, the demand for businesses to better manage their data is growing. Many construction companies today are still storing siloed files of large data in their on-premise servers. This not only makes the data more time-consuming to process but it also creates even greater risk for businesses by increasing the chances of data fragmentation in siloes, and data loss. These not only increase the chances of errors and version conflict, but also mismanagement and wasted time.

On-premises file storage can also run into significant backup challenges if there is no recovery solution in place. Some businesses find that due to the age of their servers, issues are often raised during security audits, this can slow down construction projects even further – wasting time and money that businesses simply do not have.

Using secure technology that allows you to access your files from anywhere, with a centralised process of data management, is key to helping manage your data effectively. Once you have this foundation, it can help you do more to leverage it for data-driven decisions.

Integrate your software to improve productivity

Many firms have one significant issue in common when it comes to technology: their industry tools don’t communicate with each other.

It is easy for construction firms, especially when starting out in their digital transformation journey, to overwhelm their business – and workforce – with multiple software programs for managing their projects. But, this fragmented way of working can actually take away from the powerful insights that can be derived from having data in one common environment. As a result, it can actually hinder business performance, and cause unnecessary frustration for employees.

These disjointed approaches to project management are preventing many companies from taking advantage of the resources they have. One survey administered by PlanGrid, and FMI Corp, found that construction workers lose almost two full working days each week solving avoidable issues and searching for project information.

This is often due to a lack of visibility that can lead to inefficiencies, delays, and potential errors. If businesses utilise technology that can connect and integrate into their existing technology, they can boost more connected processes that speed up project delivery and improve the quality of service. That means they can enable anyone to gain access to project files from anywhere.

That means that when changes occur with the critical field teams, all stakeholders can immediately become aligned with real-time updates.

Honing your approach to data and technology is one of the smartest investments construction leaders can make in today’s economy. Making sure they take this time to figure out how technology can work for them, will see more innovations in our built environment that bring us closer to a more sustainable, more prosperous future for society.

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