Sector - Software & Technology

Can Digitisation Set Construction Firms Apart

David Hose is CEO at AirMap, in this feature he writes about how digitisation has the ability to set construction firms apart and strengthen their position amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recent industry reports indicate that the UK construction sector may be on the cusp of a revival following a period of uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the latest IHS Markit/CIPS UK Construction Purchasing Managers’ Index, construction activity in the UK rose to 55.3 in June 2020, signaling that companies are getting back to work.

These findings align with analysis from the Office for National Statistics, which recently reviewed the business impact of COVID-19 on the UK construction sector and identified an increase in the number of construction companies operating during June. But despite these gains, economic recovery will not be instant, and construction output in the final quarter of 2020 is widely estimated to fall below pre- COVID-19 levels.


Could cutting edge technologies play a role in helping the construction sector get back on its feet? Paul Cuatrecasas, founder and CEO at advisory firm Aquaa Partners, thinks so. Cuatrecasas is calling on the UK government to form a specialist taskforce to encourage the nation’s construction industry to adopt leading technologies. He argues that UK construction firms can increase efficiency and recover revenue by digitising their operations and partnering with, investing in, or utilising new technologies such as drones, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence.

The construction industry lags behind other industries such as manufacturing when it comes to adopting automation technologies that improve productivity. But COVID-19 has started to change that. Construction companies both in the UK and around the globe are beginning to realise how virtual construction tools such as drone technology can keep their projects on track despite work from home and social distancing mandates.

With drone technology, construction professionals can monitor project progress without ever leaving their desks. They can conduct virtual site visits and provide regular updates to investors and other stakeholders. This is particularly prevalent in the current climate where social distancing regulations remain in force in the UK. Drone technology facilitates compliance with social distancing measures as it allows construction teams to conduct contactless inspections that keep workers safe by limiting their interactions with each other and with shared equipment.

Furthermore, images captured by drones allow construction firms to view their job sites from all angles, gain increased visibility, and unlock critical business intelligence that saves both time and money. Construction firms that regularly survey their sites with drones benefit from access to 360-degree images, orthomosaics, and image series captured over time. This data, or ‘drone capture,’ enables construction professionals to make observations that would not be seen from the ground or during a standard inspection. As a result, mistakes are easier to identify, defects quicker to eliminate, and issues resolved as they occur.

Rework is an expensive part of the construction process, extending project timelines and contributing as much as 5% of a project’s overall contract value. But rework can be reduced by using drone captures to identify errors, report on productivity pitfalls, and ensure that a project meets pre-defined and agreed-upon standards.

Construction disputes are costly and time-consuming: according to the Arcadis 2019 Global Construction Disputes Report, disputes cost global construction companies an average of $33m in 2019 and took approximately 17 months to resolve. Drone technology can help resolve disputes and lessen the cost. Drone captures provide an objective, unambiguous record of progress, from initial site survey through to project completion. With the right software solution, construction companies can ensure that their drone-captured data is stored in the cloud and accessible to key internal and external stakeholders. They can also use their data to settle disputes and avoid potentially costly legal fees.

All these gains translate to economic benefit. PwC released a report last year highlighting the potential for drone technology to revolutionise industrial inspections, especially within the construction industry. In the report, PwC estimates that widespread adoption of drones could contribute an £8.6bn uplift in GDP by 2030 thanks to productivity and efficiency gains.

In order to get maximum value from their drone operations, construction companies should seek out solutions that allow them to automate high-precision image capture and deploy smart data processing in order to generate insights. These solutions ensure airspace safety and compliance and are integrated with widely used project management tools. Using an integrated software platform allows construction companies to complete drone inspections safely and efficiently and gain insights at scale across their entire project portfolio. UK construction firms can also choose to work with hardware retailers that offer access to construction-specific software solutions for automating drone operations.

Drones are no longer the next frontier in construction; they are the here and now. By harnessing automation, integrating drones into day-to-day operations, and finding the right software solution, UK construction firms can gain actionable site intelligence, increase efficiencies, and keep their projects on track at a time when operating remotely is critical to business success.

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