Why technology is the path to project recovery

Rob Bryant
September 27, 2021

COVID-19 restrictions creating project delays across the construction industry have caused a massive blow to the Australian economy. The latest shutdown in NSW has caused a substantial loss to the industry, with an estimated cost of $2 billion a week to the NSW economy. Add this to existing budget and timeline overruns and the shutdown to projects has paved a potentially long road ahead for recovery.

Necessity breeds innovation. Although the global construction and engineering sector has been historically slow to move on technology investment, there is evidence to support Australia’s enthusiasm for significant technological transformation.

The last 18 months have been a rollercoaster of positive investment and project productivity challenges, and Australia is well-positioned to take advantage of emerging technologies and their capabilities in order to stimulate the economy and increase our quality of life overall. Encouragingly, the Australian government is investing a targeted $124.1 million to build the country’s artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. AI is more than just a computer algorithm – it can learn, predict, suggest and take independent action for data-backed decision-making to create a better future.

Project technology is already familiar

Despite the construction industry being one of the slowest to digitally transform, according to InEight’s Global Capital Project Outlook, every construction industry professional surveyed has already invested in project management software, connected worksite communications and operations and maintenance solutions. Additionally, 96% of project owners and contractors have faith in the potential of technology to improve productivity, with 71% thinking it has already led to improvements.

The current environment has painfully highlighted why the construction industry can no longer rely on isolated, static estimating, planning and scheduling practices. There must be a fully informed, agile flow of data points to inform decision making.

Equally, manual, labour-intensive data collection and reporting processes must be replaced by digital, automated and collaborative solutions if the aim is to have projects completed within budget and on time. Particularly with remote working becoming more of an option, it is not feasible for the sector to operate within an environment that is not digitally advanced.

The digital adoption of tools to support project efficiency and visibility at this current state will become even more vital to the viability of all construction projects. Adoption of best digital practice across all stakeholders, including the job site is critical to continue support for a strong and viable economy, especially during this recovery period.

Recovery and prosperity

According to a Grattan Institute report, Australia’s spending on transport infrastructure is above the global average. After construction has begun, about 25% of projects end up costing taxpayers more than governments promised when the contract was signed.

Accurate forecasting of future outcomes – including project competition date and total cost – is one of the hardest challenges in project management, and a critical component of preventing project cost and schedule overruns. Scheduling tools can utilise AI, in practice better described as augmented intelligence, combined with human intelligence to make informed decisions to the planner and provide the answers to:

  1. What activities should be included?
  2. In what sequence should the activities be established?
  3. What are reasonable or benchmark duration and costs?
  4. What risks should be considered?

Moreover, leveraging historical data against current plans will provide actionable insights rooted from experience, rather than guesswork through providing what-if scenarios. Not only does this provide what-if scenarios, but also helps create a complete picture of an entire construction lifecycle, to help learn from past mistakes, promote future successes, and save money, time and resources.

Particularly during times when scheduling must be an agile practice, the economy is more fragile and strategic decisions regarding resources need to be made and reassessed frequently. Connected data is key to gaining a complete perspective of a project. This enables greater transparency and, therefore, stronger collaboration efforts between stakeholders who can gain better visibility into any potential pain points to make better informed decisions.

Emerging technology helps manage risk

What was once a concept existing only in the sci-fi world, is now becoming a key component in boosting efficiencies in every industry. In fact, PwC reports that AI could contribute more than $15 trillion dollars to the global economy by 2030.

At the core of it all, construction is a high-risk industry and safety first in all aspects of the business is necessary. AI has been used to alleviate some pressure on those who are responsible for project risk management and minimise putting humans at risk by deploying technology that can execute tasks around difficult work sites or bad weather environments, for example.

The implementation of technology may mean fewer people on-site, however, it’s not about job elimination, but rather reallocation of human resources towards higher-value tasks. Especially as remote working becomes more commonplace, whether for business continuity during restrictions or increasing safety efforts, it’s only logical that we reap the benefits of emerging technologies such as virtual design, including digital twin.

Model aggregation provides a robust representation of a variety of building information models (BIM) models and drawings by linking information to individual elements of a digital 3D model. Project stakeholders can view elements of the model to access the data associated with it such as costs, dimensions, manufacturers, schedules, and vendor information. All of this linked data is accessible in real-time and promotes collaboration of sharing information to ensure everyone is working with the most current data.

By making use of smart digital modelling technology it is possible to conduct scenario planning, observe potential clashes in the construction, in both the physical design and schedule. As organisations begin to leverage historical data, each project can be utilised as a benchmark for continuous improvement. By having a holistic view or a project powered by connected data, project managers can ensure efficient and effective use of resources while building resiliency.

The project pipeline in Australia is strong and through the next decade and beyond, construction will continue to be an essential foundation of our economy and help to support and shape our society. The challenges are well known, and to turn those to opportunity the leading operators and owners in the industry must now set the pace for its evolution for a successful and sustainable future.

Sources mentioned in this article:

Author avatar
Rob Bryant
Rob Bryant is the Executive Vice President of APAC for InEight, a global leader in integrated project controls software across infrastructure, public sector, energy and power, oil, gas and chemical, mining, and commercial. InEight has powered more than $400 billion in projects globally, including more than $100 billion worth of Australia-based projects.
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