There is a perception that construction is lagging behind other industries in terms of digitisation, but that is changing as more builders embrace digital transformation to improve operations and stay competitive. Innovation is indeed alive and well in engineering and construction.
As the industry continues to battle low productivity resulting in projects running over budget and getting delayed, more companies are turning to technology to transform their systems and processes, as well as their approach to projects.
Yes, paper-based processes and manual approaches to some activities still exist, but the technology innovations and venture investments in the industry are staggering and make this an exciting time to be involved. We are seeing a flow of investment coming into the industry and more construction-focused start-ups looking to capitalise on this lucrative and solution-thirsty space. This combination is fuelling a rise in technology solutions that target specific challenges facing construction and engineering.
All the while, this is happening against a backdrop of transformative technological change at the macro level, with 5G on the horizon, the rise of wearables, and a raft of new internet of things (IoT) devices offering greater and more sophisticated capabilities than ever before. When you add to the mix increasing access to and importance of data, it is no surprise this excitement is accompanied by confusion and trepidation.
There is just so much change that it is difficult for decision-makers to truly know what to look into, and it is even more challenging to understand what to adopt and why. Justifying budget spend on technology solutions becomes increasingly complex when you multiply the options available by a factor of 10 or even 100, especially if they have no precedent.
That was part of the thought process behind the Oracle construction and engineering innovation laboratory located in the US. This facility is designed to accelerate efforts to help project and asset-intensive organisations explore the latest technologies and drive digital transformation in a familiar worksite environment. Input from customers as well as technology providers shaped the vision for the lab.
The indoor/outdoor facility integrates sophisticated technology into a simulated jobsite with girders, concrete-block walls, industrial fencing, gravel underfoot and a double-wide trailer housing cloud systems that display and analyse data transmitted from the solutions outside on the site.
It enables project delivery professionals to interact with leading-edge solutions, including connected devices, autonomous vehicles, drones, augmented reality, visualisation and artificial intelligence tools to see what is possible to put to work right now.
The innovation lab is especially important in the low-margin, risk-averse construction industry because technology has to be proven in order to be employed.
The success of the lab is that it is open to partners with many of the best construction technology solutions available. This is something the industry has not traditionally done very well, but the more construction and engineering businesses share best practices and data, and work together, the more successful the whole industry will be.
One of the partners at the innovation lab and a fascinating start-up story is Reconstruct, a visual data analytics platform for construction. Reconstruct provides a 3D timeline that tracks visual progress, labour productivity and predictive analytics that empower executives and their project teams to take actions to stay on time and on budget.
Mani Golparvar co-founded Reconstruct and developed a prototype with Derek Hoiem, now chief technology officer of the business. Recognition for the solution grew and soon they were able to explore funding, including assembling a business-driven team led by Silicon Valley veteran Zak MacRunnels as CEO.
Today the platform enables web and mobile devices to seamlessly integrate with reality capture, building information modelling and schedule. It creates a user-friendly, accurate and predictive visual environment in which users can manage their projects.
Imagine having a regular cadence of images of a construction project taken from every angle by 360 degree videos or self-managed drones. The software can automatically compare the digital model of the project plans with every change at the site and then provide a dashboard view of potential issues affecting the project.
This sort of intelligence could be the difference that helps ensure a project finishes on time and on budget. MacRunnels likens the solution to a time machine because it is not only using the digital models to look into the project’s past, it also uses predictive analytics to assess the project’s future.
Reconstruct is an excellent example of the level of innovation that is happening in the construction industry right now.
With all of this technology available to the industry and the opportunity to see it in action, construction and engineering businesses are at the centre of a rapidly transforming space that has a bright future and is evolving all of the time.