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Construction and communication: Building a better connection

by Liam Turner
A tiltshifted image of a building site

Despite the strength of UK construction, many firms lag behind the modernisation and digital innovation seen in other industries. Kristian Torode, director and co-founder of business phone systems provider Crystaline, explains why this is especially true for communications – and how construction can get itself better connected

Although UK construction accounts for around 7% of GDP and employs over three million people, it is often slow on the uptake when it comes new technologies and innovation.

Pressures from COVID-19 and Brexit haven’t helped, giving rise to a slew of productivity challenges. For instance, research from the Contractors Health and Safety Assessment Scheme (CHAS) found that 80% of the 900 construction business owners it surveyed have had to postpone or cancel projects because of the pandemic. 

As a result, industry is falling behind in productivity, operating on very tight profit margins, with the smallest inefficiencies having a big impact.

Challenging comms

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), poor communication is the main reason why construction projects fail one-third of the time. In fact, more than half of project budget risk is due to ineffective and improper time management of project communications. 

Even if the project doesn’t fail, the effect of poor communication can be detrimental. The PMI found that, in projects with minimal communication, only 37% were completed on time and just 52% met their original goals. In contrast, projects where effective communication was implemented resulted in 71% completing on time and 80% meeting their goals.

Considering the industry is already under pressure from external, uncontrollable challenges, it must make improvements to reduce communication problems that can worsen these issues.

Playing catch-up

Construction may be one of the largest industries in the UK, but it’s also one of the least digitised. 2020 research by IDC and Autodesk found that, while almost three-quarters of construction firms say they have prioritised digitalisation in order to improve their processes, business models, and ecosystems, only 13% are on their way to achieving this.

The emergence of IP-based telephony, along with cloud (hosted) technologies and Unified Communications, presents greater opportunities to upgrade legacy systems and develop effective communication tools for construction businesses.

IP-based telephony such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls will become a necessity from 2025 when British Telecoms (BT) switches off the public switched telephone network (PSTN), moving to an entirely IP-based model of voice communication.

“Construction may be one of the largest industries in the UK, but it’s also one of the least digitised”

This comes with numerous opportunities for construction. Firstly, VoIP works independently from local power and systems availability, so as long as the user has a stable internet connection, they can enjoy high-quality voice calls with 99.9% connection uptime.

Uptime can be boosted even further by ensuring access to a backup power source in case of power outages. So, in the event of an unpredicted outage, workers can still access the people and information they need from any internet connection or mobile device.

Furthermore, there is no additional maintenance costs with VoIP, as the hardware is located offsite in a data centre.

Improving communication

In remote and rural areas where connectivity isn’t reliable, it can be difficult for colleagues on site to communicate with those located elsewhere. So, how do dispersed teams keep in touch? If time-sensitive information isn’t available in real-time, such as last minute changes or updates that could impact work safety, workers must wait to retrieve it, delaying work.

Construction companies should implement a unified communication solution that integrates landlines, mobiles, desktop and tablet connectivity on one system, allowing on-site workers, project managers and those back at headquarters to remain connected on any device.

This ability to remain connected enables workforces to have a live, shareable view of project information at their fingertips, helping to bridge the gap between on site and the office.

Construction is renowned for costly overruns, expensive equipment and increasingly narrow project schedules. But, by streamlining communication into one system that does not rely on cellular connectivity, projects will run faster and more efficiently, helping the industry to combat its productivity challenges.

Read next: Construction Innovation Hub to digitise Scotland’s healthcare estate

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