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Modernisation through digitisation

In the government-commissioned Farmer Review – Modernise or Die – author Mark Farmer, called on the construction industry to adopt new and emerging technologies in order to address productivity gaps and the lack of cohesive digital applications.

Five years on, digitisation has still not been fully adopted and modular construction is only just being adopted main stream.

Construction Online spoke with James Chambers, regional director of Bluebeam UK and expert in construction digitalisation and technology about the progression of digitisation and how the industry is developing into eth digital age.

It’s been over five years since the Farmer report which called for the modernisation of the construction industry. Do you think the industry has moved on since then?

There has been some success, with both MMC and the use of technology within the industry moving forward. This has been slower than desired, but there have been other demands too. For example, there has rightly been a huge focus on building safety and quality as the industry responds to the legacy of the Grenfell tragedy. This has meant a lot of work at policy level but also within organisations which has realised that they need to tighten up or improve their own procedures.

Has the pandemic been the catalyst for the industry to accept newer technologies?

The pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated the use of technology in the sector, with companies having to move to a digital first mindset. However, the biggest change is cultural, with a massive shift to remote working. The construction sector has not traditionally embraced people working at home, particularly in certain job roles, but the pandemic proved that it could be done. In turn this has driven much better collaboration within businesses, with companies really focusing on getting the right technology and connections in place.

Will the recovery from the pandemic affect the use of technology?

Some solutions were implemented for a quick fix – I suspect that we’ll see movement in the next 12 months as people look for more comprehensive and relevant solutions, especially with software.

Government policy is looking to drive a more efficient and productive industry, but how will this affect smaller businesses further down the supply chain?

If they haven’t already, smaller businesses will need to adopt some level of digitisation, both in their processes and tools. But this should be seen as a positive. There are a number of tools available at relatively low cost that can help with efficiency and drive better project outcomes.

Where do you see digital technologies being used as standard and where is the industry lacking?

Collaboration software is a must to cope with a fragmented workforce and should lead to better quality and lower risk in projects, by bringing the right team together at the right time. Tools to help manage costs and understand carbon impacts will also be essential as the industry addresses economic and climate related challenges.

The industry is suffering from a skills crisis, does the industry currently have the skills to implement new technologies and innovations and can the modernisation of the industry help address the problem.

New tools offer faster, better ways of working and should be attraction factors for new entrants as they see an industry that is becoming more dynamic and innovative.

This will be helped in part because this new generation of construction workers will already be comfortable with technology and find it easy to adapt to change. We will see this reflected in user interface design over time too; don’t be surprised if we see more gamification and app-style delivery to create a smoother user experience, underpinned by community-focused tools to drive connections.

With more flexibility in working location too, we should hopefully see the removal of some barriers to recruitment and drive a more diverse, representative industry.

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