Expert opinion: Middle East construction looks bad on paper
By Stephan Degenhart, Managing Director at Drees & Sommer Middle East, a leading European consulting, planning and project management enterprise
One of the main causes of poor efficiency in the construction industry is a majority of industry players still depend upon paper documentation, such as supply-chain orders, design drawings and daily progress reports to keep track of current processes and deliverables.
Without digitization, significant delays can be incurred when sharing information.
Relying on paper trails to share documents increases the risk of data being exposed to human error when being captured and analyzed. It is important this is properly managed as detailed performance analytics can help avoid future issues.
Due to the vast amount of information that is processed throughout the duration of a project and the time it takes for a document to change hands, paper trails are notorious for slowing down and hindering the efficiency of processes. This leads to disagreements between clients, developers, and contractors, highlighting an impending need for digitized project-management and solutions to aid collaboration and mobility. A greater uptake of digitization will lead to project management in the construction industry having increased access to mobile-enabled field supervision, digital project planning, digital budgeting and the efficient management of documents across the entire scope of a project.
Digitisation in project management allows for smoother and more efficient processes on site, resulting in significant time and financial savings. For example, a recent study by the consulting firm, Roland Berger, found construction workers only devote 30% of the time to their principal activity. The remaining 70% is consumed by other errands such as looking for materials, transporting materials to complete a job and cleaning up on-site. Introducing digital tools can help streamline these processes and mitigate the loss of both time and financial resources onsite and throughout the construction process. Materials and equipment can be tracked at the click of a button and manpower allocated where and when they are needed.
Software has been developed to ease processes such as the delivery of building materials to the site, ensuring they arrive precisely when they are needed. Storage needs can be significantly reduced as a result. Smart, connected construction machinery can help optimize the utilization of workers and construction vehicles, ensuring certain jobs are not over-allocated with human or technical resource – another common issue digitization has helped many developers overcome.
To support digitization as a growing trend in modern construction, certain technology has already been developed to help locate products and materials. This enables construction workers to devote more time to their principal activity rather than engaging in time-wasting activities that can cause delays to the entire project. Products fitted with RFID2 technology can be identified using magnetic fields. These products can also be registered and scanned, which creates transparency regarding the whereabouts of machinery and human resources on site.
Recent research by McKinsey & Company found construction is currently one of the Middle East’s least digitized industries. The sector stands to achieve significant benefits by adopting technologies that increase productivity as digital collaboration tools, which could raise productivity by as much as 15% and reduce project costs by up to 45%.
Of course, an important tool being used by many in the digitization of the construction industry is Building Information Modeling (BIM). The main benefits presented by using BIM include: minimized planning errors, timely calculation, quantified extra costs and alternative strategies. BIM also provides a digital simulation of the entire project before the first brick is even laid. Due to rapid technological advances and the rate at which the global construction industry is becoming digitally orientated, the absence of digitization is very likely to result in companies falling far behind their more digitally-inclined competitors. Tools such as BIM include all parties involved in the project, from the initial planning phase of the construction process through to completion. This makes processes and responsibilities transparent and comprehensible for everyone, contributing to the efficient implementation of the entire construction process.
The McKinsey & Company study also found 75% of those companies adopting BIM reported a positive return on their investment. The same report found companies who had adopted BIM reported shorter project life cycles and savings on paperwork and material costs. Given these benefits, a number of governments, including those in Britain, Finland, and Singapore mandate the use of BIM for public infrastructure projects.
As the UAE transitions towards a knowledge-based economy, the construction industry is also evolving, so projects can be executed smarter and more efficiently than ever before. By implementing digital methods in project management, construction companies will be able to gain an edge, boosting productivity and efficiency. Conversely, companies that prefer to stick to older more traditional methods are likely to be overtaken due to lower quality of projects they are able to deliver, as well as the inevitable delays to match the standards set by their competition.
UAE companies that choose to adopt and implement these approaches will have to initiate a major shift in their internal planning, design, procurement and construction processes. Investments will need to be made into automation and an effective supply-chain system to ensure streamlined and on-time transportation of materials to the construction site. Companies that decide to integrate their supply chains will also have to plan for other manufacturing-related investments to stay ahead of the curve.
BIM is already much more than a software: as it changes the way people collaborate and the coordination processes, the digital revolution encompasses so much more than software and programmes. Digitisation means digitally enhancing everything that can be improved or optimized. It is easy to use digital tools to manage people and track customer relationships, but the real challenge is changing the way people work. In order for the Middle East’s construction industry to keep pace with international markets, digitization needs to start from the inside, processes need to be revolutionized step-by-step, people need to be trained and there needs to be a shift in thinking towards a more digitized future. This will pave the way for a more productive, cost-efficient, profitable and technologically-driven regional construction industry.