The construction industry is jointly working towards an inclusive and multi-beneficial digitalisation of the sector. Here, Eugenio Quintieri of the European Builders Confederation discusses the collaborative effort to develop a manifesto for transformation
Digitalisation is nothing new to EU industrial sectors. Nevertheless, it is considered to be one of the most important transformations to further embrace because many see it as essential for the EU economy to remain competitive in an increasingly globalised market.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that the construction industry, as one of the most important EU industrial sectors, is getting more and more involved with its own digital transformation, which has the potential to further improve working conditions on construction sites, attract young people to the sector and make construction projects more predictable.
However, digital transformation needs to become truly embedded and “business as usual” in order to happen right across the value chain and be beneficial for everyone.
For this reason, at the beginning of 2018 four main European industry federations – EBC, FIEC, CECE, Construction Products Europe – organised a joint event under the framework of the “EU Industry days” to discuss a common approach towards digitalisation for the construction industry.
By working together with other organisations from the construction value chain, a joint European Construction Industry Manifesto for Digitalisation that aims to support smarter construction, a stronger economy and inclusive society, was published in June.
It is supported by 23 European industry organisations, representing a whole range of actors within the construction value chain.
While the manifesto acknowledges the challenges faced by the construction industry, it focuses first and foremost on possible benefits of digitalisation, such as improved productivity, better project management, enhanced safety and a better built quality.
Two issues are considered essential for the sector to embrace the digital transformation: cooperation within the sector and political support on digital construction by the European Union.
Collaboration is necessary to combine strengths of all actors
The construction industry is structurally characterised by the presence of many actors, and this fragmentation of roles and tasks naturally makes collaboration more challenging when compared with other sectors.
However, a lot of implications inherent in the digital transformation of the industry, such as Building Information Modelling (BIM), the development of new business models and resulting new legal frameworks require mutual trust, confidence and open communication in order to ensure a continuous and smooth construction process. Hence, the key to a successful transition is collaboration within the industry, including new actors that look into providing innovative services to the industry and its clients, such as software developers.
The digitalisation of the construction industry will have a disruptive effect and it is essential to ensure that companies are not left behind due to a lack of financial resources or expertise. We need to build strong networks, allowing the quick transfer of expertise, knowledge and capability across actors and borders in order to ensure a cooperative and inclusive environment.
The European Union must take political lead on digital construction
The digitalisation of the construction industry should be a top political priority for all European institutions. An agile governance culture that facilitates and supports R&D for IT, academia and the construction industry is necessary to cope with the rapid pace of the digital transformation.
Therefore, the manifesto urges for the following two priorities:
Firstly, the development of an appropriate regulatory framework on data policy that ensures better data quality and management, establishes rules on data ownership and addresses challenges around intellectual property rights and cybersecurity, as well as standards and guidelines that can support the uptake of new technologies. An equal, level playing field will be a precondition to ensure that SMEs can also thrive and reap the benefits of digitalisation.
Secondly, the manifesto stresses that the post-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework – the future budget of the European Union – will have to focus on:
1) Identifying and assessing the digital skills needed in construction, including support for good quality training, upskilling and reskilling.
2) Fostering industrial leadership by removing barriers.
3) Supporting investment in well-designed, intelligent and connected assets that guarantee the deployment of cost-optimal, high-speed internet infrastructure.
Only if we guarantee that the right framework conditions exist and that there is a true willingness within the sector to collaborate will we be able to reap the benefits that the digital transformation of the construction industry can offer.
Reactions from the construction industry:
Eugenio Quintieri, EBC secretary general, says: “EBC has intensively engaged with other key construction actors to outline the main political priorities of the construction industry in the field of digital construction with the manifesto. Our construction SMEs and craftsmen fully support the cooperation with construction stakeholders to ensure that the whole construction value chain will reap the benefits of digitalisation.”
Kjetil Tonning, FIEC president, says: “Given that digitalisation of the industry has been a key priority in FIEC’s work programme since 2016, this collaboration with other industry associations and emerging partners from outside the industry is a logical step aimed at ensuring that the transformation happens smoothly, without some companies being left behind.”
Riccardo Viaggi, CECE secretary general, says: “Digitalisation of the construction equipment sector has been a key priority for CECE. We recognise the importance of working in a value chain approach and, as the manifesto reads, all industry representatives pledge to collaborate intensively to lead and support the industry in order to enable a successful digital transformation of the construction industry.”
Christophe Sykes, Construction Products Europe director-general, states: “Construction is one of the pillars of our economy and society. Digitalisation is transforming the way we operate and our industry wants to play a leading role in its transformation.”
European Builders Confederation
Tel: +32 (0)2 514 23 23