Mike Smith, managing director (direct) at Virgin Media Business explores how investment in infrastructure can allow the construction sector to flourish and rebound post-Covid-19
Covid-19 has forced businesses in the construction sector to adapt rapidly.
They’ve had to quickly support remote working, take steps to ensure every employee is safe, and revise their supply chain management processes.
Despite this overhaul, there’s a sense of optimism for the future of the industry. Our analysis of 357 large enterprise and public sector organisations found that more than two-thirds of construction businesses believe that the industry is well placed to recover from the pandemic.
But how do construction leaders seize on this optimism and build on the digital progress they’ve already made?
Doing the heavy lifting
Construction leaders have moved quickly to embrace technology wherever possible.
While the government allowed most construction site projects to continue during the Covid-19 lockdown, the sector has had to deal with supply chain delays, the temporary suspension of some work and increased health and safety measures to protect employees.
To meet these challenges, businesses across the sector have adopted cloud software, driving greater collaboration and efficiency between staff. This has facilitated real-time working between on-site project managers and colleagues working from home.
This hasn’t just helped projects progress during the strictest lockdown months. In some areas, it’s actually enhanced performance. The result is that, according to our research, seven in ten construction firms say that supporting remote working for at least some staff over the long term is now a top priority.
Digital transformation has also improved planning and resource monitoring since the pandemic. As McKinsey has highlighted, by drawing on e-sourcing and digital stock management systems, construction companies have been able to streamline stock and procurement processes during the lockdown.
This is important because, as a construction leader we surveyed told us, there have historically been “lots of manual processes that impede decision-making and impact project timelines and budgets”.
We’ve also seen signs that the industry is starting to embrace emerging technologies. Construction businesses are realising that virtual tours of sites can reduce on-site footfall (crucial during periods of tightened Covid-19 lockdown), keeping projects moving and staff safe.
Smart helmets and rugged wearables are also being adopted to improve the employee experience. They have a range of innovative capabilities – from providing employees with instant feedback on-site and augmented reality (AR) compatibility to safety features such as health trackers, emergency alerts, and more. These have the potential to boost productivity by helping workers with hands-on tasks and improving working processes.
At the centre of this construction revolution has been digital infrastructure – specifically, fast, scalable and resilient networks – channelling information between different workers and sites at lightning speeds.
And to build on the rapid progress that’s already been made, construction businesses need to ensure that connectivity infrastructure remains top of the agenda in the boardroom.
Building digitally, not just physically
Having survived the pandemic successfully, construction businesses now need to look towards how they can fuel their rebound. How can they get out of survival mode and focus on growth and success?
The key lies in investing in advanced connectivity infrastructure – capable of responding to long-term changes in the business landscape.
While networks have already played a critical role in the response to the pandemic, they will only grow in importance over the coming months and years, sustaining trends such as remote working.
For many businesses, their core systems need to be upgraded if the construction sector is to realise its potential, and employees are going to benefit from seamless collaboration over the long term – whether in the office or working remotely.
And it feels like the industry is on the right track.
When asked about their priorities for technology spend following the pandemic, our study found that eight in ten construction leaders highlighted improving the capacity of their networks, while three-quarters said cloud technologies would be top of their priority list moving forward.
But how do construction businesses ensure they select the right digital infrastructure? With so many solutions to choose from, the risks of making bad investment decisions are profound. This could derail digital progress they’ve already made.
Good decision-making is about looking for the right type of network. These are solutions that don’t require ripping everything out and starting afresh – something that businesses can ill afford at this moment of uncertainty and pressure – but offer resilience, flexibility and agility.
And the journey towards finding this type of solution doesn’t have to be taken alone.
The power of partnerships
To select the right infrastructure and ensure their organisation upgrades and evolves in the right way, construction businesses should look at investing in strategic technology partnerships.
In doing this, they can broaden the pool of expertise they drawn on and maximise the value of their investments.
This is particularly important when it comes to selecting cloud technologies. These are fundamental to a construction business, powering every aspect of its operations and the collaboration tools that can unlock future growth.
By working closely with a long-term technology partnership, construction businesses can benefit from strategic consultancy on where upgrades need to be made, which solutions are most appropriate for their needs and how they should be implemented to minimise disruption.
This can help them in building on the success they’ve already achieved and delivering extraordinary outcomes for employees and clients alike as they enter the Covid-19 rebound phase.
A future full of opportunity
Construction leaders are right to feel optimistic. Their sector hasn’t been as badly hit as others and the level of digital progress has been promising.
With the government continuing the Help to Buy scheme, and the Chancellor’s announcement of a Stamp Duty Holiday, there’s clearly an opportunity for the sector to bounce back and prosper.
Key to ensuring a successful rebound will be advanced connectivity infrastructure. This will continue to power first-class collaboration between engineers, design teams, contractors and operatives and put an end to stagnant supply chain processes.
By continuing to upgrade its core networks, the construction industry will thrive. Accounting for 6% of UK GDP and employing 2.4 million people, we should all be excited by this prospect.
Managing director (direct)