Paul Mills, Group Sales Director, Six Degrees Group explores the role of technology in the construction industry, noting how it can future proof firms
Construction industry knowledge base Designing Buildings says that construction output in the UK is more than £110 billion per annum and contributes 7% to the GDP. For an industry of this size, and despite the fact that technology makes the world go round, the sector has largely avoided technological change.
Building and construction is a physical business, yet it is one of the most information-intense industries – any large construction process requires extensive exchange of data between managers, suppliers and onsite employees. In today’s information technology era, where fast, efficient output is simply expected, how can businesses in this sector incorporate the right technology at multiple levels to successfully achieve deadlines, reduce cost and ensure quality?
Building an IT foundation
Technology is meant to streamline business processes, however the sheer volume of what is available and the fast pace at which it evolves can be overwhelming. It’s understandable that business managers, particularly in an industry that’s centred around raw materials such as bricks and mortar, may decide to ‘stick with the tried and tested’. But embracing new technology could bring with it huge business benefits, it is just a case of figuring out where to start.
A good starting point can be to identify areas of growth. Where there’s growth there will be a need for systems to support progress, and setting up an IT infrastructure to underpin this expansion – and future needs – makes good business sense. Specifically, investing in the type of IT programme that will support the rollout of new business technology is key. For example, a network that makes provision for increased levels of network bandwidth and resilience will make adoption of a new collaboration application easier. It will also help to ensure that those working from headquarters and employees on building sites can communicate effectively and streamline productivity.
The next step is to decide if those systems and infrastructure can and should be managed internally, or, taking into consideration the skills, physical capacity and cost needed to manage the network, whether it makes more business sense to outsource to a third party. Larger construction businesses may well opt to turn to a service provider with data centre facilities that can provide the relevant IT infrastructure and expertise needed to future proof operations. Utilising this kind of service, particularly for businesses with branches in multiple locations, enables the company to stay connected, without having to worry about systems overload or unwelcome downtime.
The key to adopting new technology and picking the right partner for the venture is to consider the long-term business impact, and plan and budget accordingly. The right kind of IT network should help to achieve business goals, not hinder them.
Constructing the right cloud
The nature of the construction business is such that many people from different disciplines work together on a project, but this also means that often they are not in the same location at the same time. Consultants, designers and engineers may work remotely, but in order to complete the project, interaction with contractors and builders physically on the site must happen. For businesses keen to create integrated teams that collaborate effectively and efficiently, it makes sense to take advantage of the technologies available that support a connected workforce.
The construction industry by nature has a constant flow of workers, with new job site locations continuously being created. Cloud computing with its virtual ability offers many benefits, enabling people to access the same data for fast decision-making and reporting while working remotely. Using the cloud also provides more freedom and easy access to information whenever, wherever, whether it be a job site, satellite office or a customer location.
Laying the groundwork for smart communication
From a direct communication point of view, the smartphone has, as in many other industries, become the primary communication tool for phone calls, texts and emails in the construction sector. With so many devices and applications, it’s therefore important to implement mobile device management and leverage functionality while protecting the business. This can be done fairly easily with the help of mobile device management software, which can protect the data and configuration settings in a network, thereby reducing business security risks and support costs.
While innovation in the construction industry often focuses on building materials, sustainable designs and eye catching architecture, the IT infrastructure to support these innovations is often lacking. Embracing technology in these ways will help shape the construction industry of the future, which stands to reap the benefits from improved efficiencies, lowered costs and even progress on health and safety levels.
Group Sales Director
Six Degrees Group