Sector - Sustainability
Three Predictions for Successful Construction Rebound
Mike Smith is Managing Director (Direct) of Virgin Media Business, in this feature he shares his predictions for a successful construction rebound in 2021.
Covid-accelerated digital transformation revolutionised construction in 2020.
The speed of change was extraordinary. When the first lockdown struck in March, construction businesses had to switch to remote working overnight to survive and stabilise.
But according to our research and interviews with industry leaders, not all of them were prepared for this upheaval. Just 20% told us they were ready to adapt to the pandemic. 30% said that the speed of change left them unable to consider security risks. Lack of integration was also an issue, with 25% pointing to incompatibilities as significant problems. Supply chain delays and the suspension of some site work also created difficulties, especially during the first national lockdown.
But as the year closes, the mood among construction leaders is more optimistic. 67% believe the industry is well-placed to recover. With the Chancellor’s Stamp Duty Holiday in effect, the Government’s extension of the Help To Buy scheme and construction sites remaining open, not to mention the Covid-19 vaccines, this positivity is well-founded.
I believe 2021 will be full of opportunity for the construction industry, as it switches from surviving and stabilising to thinking about rebound and growth. While there is still a lot of uncertainty in the air, we think three technology trends will be important as we leave this revolutionary year behind.
From universal homeworking to Operate From Anywhere
Before Covid-19, only 30% of decision makers in the construction industry ranked mobile working as a top priority for their organisation. This has since skyrocketed to 70% of leaders.
Research from Sir Robert McAlpine found 66% of construction firms want to retain remote working options beyond the end of the pandemic, while a further 63% intend to keep flexitime working.
This is a positive development because studies show workers are more productive when operating from home and feel more fulfilled. As one C-Suite leader put it, “Covid has positively forced us to do what we always thought was impossible: give our workforce the freedom to work remotely”.
But in 2021, a key challenge for the construction industry will be shifting from mass homeworking to a hybrid model. Mass immunisation will mean that many workers – engineers, architects, and project management staff – will be able to return to the office, while frontline workers continue on site.
In this “Operate from Anywhere” model, employees will need to be able to collaborate seamlessly and securely across multiple locations.
And this will elevate the importance of advanced connectivity solutions. Especially those capable of providing greater flexibility and agility for organisations, such as SD-WAN, which provides network managers with greater visibility and control over their bandwidth.
Our research suggests construction leaders now see advanced connectivity as a priority for their organisation. 50% now regard SD-WAN as a critical to their future, compared with just 30% before the pandemic. And 80% now say network capacity is fundamental to supporting flexible working in their business.
In 2021, we will see these attitudes translate into willingness to network investment, as more construction leaders recognise their fundamental role in powering hybrid working.
Emerging technologies will be embraced
The construction sector has made many years of digital progress in just a matter of months.
McKinsey found that Covid-accelerated digital transformation has improved planning and resource monitoring processes. By drawing on e-Sourcing and digital stock management systems, end-to-end software platforms are enabling construction companies to better control and integrate value into supply chains.
The success of these digital initiatives is fuelling more open, optimistic attitudes towards emerging technologies. 55% of construction leaders told us that they are more open to IoT and analytics solutions to help with employee safety, automation, and predictive maintenance. So, in 2021, we expect to see an increase in adoption of these innovative technologies.
We will also see immersive technologies become more commonplace in 2021. Already, some organisations are adopting virtual and augmented reality to support virtual tours of sites, helping reduce on-site footfall, and keeping staff safe and projects moving.
And smart helmets and rugged wearables are providing workers with instant on-site feedback, helping them benefit from safety features such as health trackers and emergency alerts sent instantly to their field of vision.
The risk is that a critical part of these emerging technologies is overlooked. Connectivity, of course.
Our study of 252 senior IT managers recently found that although there is widespread enthusiasm for next-generation technologies, only 48% are actively planning to upgrade their networking infrastructure to support them.
It is important that construction decision-makers make the link between future-proofing their organisations and upgrading their networking technologies. This recognition will be critical in enabling their businesses to rebound and flourish beyond the pandemic.
A challenge the construction industry has faced in the past is fragmentation, hindering project management.
The number of parties involved in construction projects can mean that ensuring a consistent quality of work across the supply chain can be challenging for managers and senior stakeholders.
As one construction leader we interviewed put it, “there is little ability to fact-check information regarding delivery time, completion status, or anything else, as (managers) don’t have access to subcontractors’ systems or supply chains”.
But cloud-based project management and collaboration software, the adoption of which has been accelerated by Covid-19, is helping to address the problem. It is allowing the client, design team, engineers, consultants, contractors, subcontractors, and operatives to collaborate seamlessly, reducing waste, eliminating costly errors, and avoiding project delays.
We expect this to continue in 2021, as programmes such as Monday.com, Corecon and CoConstruct are more widely adopted across the industry, improving efficiency, visibility, and accountability throughout the construction project network. This will prove vital as the sector looks to rebound.
Grasping the opportunity
The construction industry is vital to the UK economy. Economic output from the sector amounted to £117 billion last year, representing 6% of overall GDP. It employs 2.4 million people.
So, we should all be pleased that the outlook for the industry in 2021 is positive. Even more promising is that construction leaders are increasingly recognising the importance of networks and the cloud and showing a willingness to invest in emerging technologies.
By taking a proactive approach to digital transformation, and continuing to invest in advanced connectivity, construction leaders can ensure they are well-placed to recover, rebound and race ahead in 2021.
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