With light now glinting at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, Matt Ryan, UK country manager at PlanRadar, explains how digital tech is enabling the construction sector bounce back to some kind of normality and why it’s improving future standards
While construction has been one of the few sectors continuing to work throughout the last 18 months, working practices have been immeasurably transformed.
In some cases, those changes have been for the better, particularly as the need for social distancing has driven a new wave of digital adoption in an industry often seen as slow to adapt.
The tech revolution, now taking hold in the construction sector, has shown how the industry is able to change and respond when necessary. It’s also the very same technology helping us to achieve the government’s ‘Roadmap Out of Lockdown’.
It’s all to be welcomed, but how instrumental has digital adoption been throughout this situation, and how is it helping the industry move in the right direction?
The digital revolution
For many industries remote working is nothing new, but in the construction sector it’s long been viewed with apprehension and met with resistance, seen as unrealistic for ‘boots on the ground’ type roles. However, as we’ve seen throughout multiple lockdowns and associated health and safety measures, it hasn’t always been possible to have the full complement of staff on site.
Technology has managed to shift outdated beliefs, and many businesses are discovering digital ways to effectively and efficiently manage projects while off site. The rise in powerful, AI-backed apps and easy-to-use software has created new, streamlined means of communication between teams that are proving invaluable.
For example, the ability to send in-app photo and video documentation allows workers to notify teams that tasks have been completed. Messaging and on-screen interaction means that conversations can take place without multiple workers being on site at one time.
This lowers the health risks to all involved, but it also has the added benefit of improving workflow efficiency. Without the need for wasted journeys, workers can stick to government lockdown guidelines, keeping everyone safe, while saving mileage driving from site to site.
“Technology has managed to shift outdated beliefs, and many businesses are discovering digital ways to effectively and efficiently manage projects”
The outdated way of storing and logging important paperwork and documents is a long-recognised issue within the construction sector. The impact of the pandemic has meant that it’s no longer viable to sort through on-site filing cabinets to find necessary paperwork.
Paper-based record-keeping is open to mistakes, while important documentation can get lost or misplaced. Incomplete paper trails can also lead to mistakes in the final build, with potentially catastrophic ramifications.
Cloud-based technology provides a solution to these issues, allowing documentation to be stored securely while being available to those with the right permissions, wherever they are. Any action taken by a team member is automatically recorded with a verifiable date and time stamp.
Above all, these digital tools deliver improvements in efficiency and convenience, creating a digital, traceable record that helps improve standards across the board.
Following Grenfell, end-user safety is now of paramount concern. Dame Judith Hackitt has presented her vision for the ‘Golden Thread of Information’, a digital blueprint mapping every stage and every decision of the construction journey.
Having a digital paper trail will mean information can now be accessed with ease from one secure and comprehensive source, establishing a new era of industry best practice.
As COVID-19 health and safety measures are now paramount to maintaining an operational workforce, many construction companies have digital tools in place that manage COVID protocols on site.
“Digital technology is raising the bar in terms of building-safety compliance”
Similar technology could help identify who has and hasn’t been tested, ensuring sites remain free of infection and keeping us within sight of the hotly anticipated 21 June deadline.
Looking beyond COVID-19, the introduction of a new Building Safety Regulator means compliance has never been more important to the industry, and its role is only set to increase in the coming years. In this sphere, too, digital technology is raising the bar in terms of building-safety compliance. Whether it’s the inspection of fire suppression systems, or mechanical and electrical installations, it’s imperative that the relevant safety checks have been made and thoroughly documented.
What’s great about some of the leading technology on the market is that it can be implemented at a relatively low cost. Downloadable apps on phones or tablets remove the need for expensive hardware, and due to their intuitive design, they require very little in the way of training to get up and running.
With a myriad of benefits available, there’s no doubt digital adoption can help ensure our successful departure from lockdown restrictions.
While the past 18 months have resulted in a steep learning curve to cope with the demands of the pandemic, they have also been invaluable to the future progress of the industry.
We’ve seen it’s possible to manage and communicate with teams without regular group site visits, a lesson that should be carried forward, particularly as construction looks to reduce its environmental impact.
What digital technology has shown us is that processes can be streamlined, so the sector is able to work efficiently and to a higher standard. What the sector must now do is continue this approach and identify other areas with room for improvement.
Earlier generations of construction tech led to siloed information that wasn’t easy to share. Today, a trend for integration between digital solutions will help companies to collaborate more successfully across a project, sharing the resources needed to accelerate progress and resolve issues efficiently.
It’s this collaborative thinking, accelerated by the experiences of the last year, that will help to create a future where the benefits of construction technology will be available to all.