Construction gets a digital renovation

29 March 2021
Widespread adoption of digital solutions will help to drive the recovery of the construction industry in the Middle East

MEED's artificial intelligence report also includes:

Creating an artificial intelligence ecosystem
G42 shores up UAE's AI roadmap
> Qatar forms artificial intelligence committee
> Aramco to lead cybersecurity investment

Subscribe to MEED

Disruption and innovation have changed the way we think and operate across industries. We have witnessed this increasingly in the past year as the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed most industries out of their comfort zone and into digitally enabled environments. And the construction industry is certainly no exception. 

However, competence and keeping pace with technological advancements is imperative for the construction industry to advance and continue flourishing. 

Prior to Covid-19, digital practices in the construction sector evolved at a glacial pace, despite efforts to drive initiatives such as building information modelling (BIM) and geographic information systems. According to McKinsey Global Institute’s digitisation index in 2016, the construction industry was among the least digitised in the world. 

In 2019, McKinsey & Company said that utilising technology and digital practices to enhance the construction industry’s productivity to catch up with the total economy would boost the sector’s value by an estimated $1.6tn. This would add about 2 per cent to the global economy, or the equivalent of meeting about half of the world’s infrastructure needs.

Driving digital adoption 

The pandemic has challenged the traditional processes and platforms in the construction sector. For an industry that relies on manual labour and on-site working, the closure of sites, the reduction of on-site personnel and the need for more remote communications and monitoring have driven a significant increase in the use of digital practices. Many organisations are now leveraging technology to stay on target and within budget, and to help the industry’s recovery.

While Covid-19 has expedited this shift, existing efforts to adopt BIM in the industry have provided a platform of knowhow and capabilities that can be built on for future technologies. 

The use of BIM has reduced costs, increased efficiency and improved collaboration on projects. It has also triggered the modernisation of processes, promoting the use of innovative platforms, as well as attracting young talent to further drive
the change. 

Upskilling the workforce

However, the construction sector is still at the beginning of the digital transformation journey and therefore still has many challenges to tackle. 

Before focusing on technology limitations for the industry, it is imperative to look at the willingness of the workforce to embrace digitisation. If construction sector employees are not equipped with the right resources, mindset and solutions to adopt technology, any strategy involving a digital shift is bound to fail. 

Complex new processes bring with them the need for training. Therefore, while digital transformation is crucial, workforce upskilling must be considered in parallel. 

Many organisations aim to achieve this by providing development programmes for employees; however, this does not provide a long-term solution. Industry and academia must collaborate to design and deliver educational and work-based programmes to equip the future generation of professionals to drive a more innovative, digital-led industry.

The construction sector’s challenges must also be tackled from within. Despite the efforts of software vendors, construction industry professionals still struggle to find solutions that would allow them to shift comfortably to digital processes. 

Therefore, better collaboration is needed between the industry and technology vendors, to outline the issues facing the construction sector. This would better enable technology companies to design, build and deliver industry-specific solutions that can drive a real shift in digital construction. 

Despite the challenges, there are several initiatives under way to drive the construction industry’s uptake of digital solutions and develop best practices. 

The UAE’s Energy & Infrastructure Ministry recently unveiled the National Guide for Smart Construction, which aims to develop flexible policies, elements and targets that stimulate the development of the construction industry. The goal is to drive innovations and best practices to meet the UAE’s aspirations for the next 50 years and enhance its global leadership in smart construction.

Developing best practices

The National Guide for Smart Construction includes key elements that are essential for all parties to improve the construction lifecycle, and suggestions for how to adopt advanced digital solutions. It includes chapters on digital platforms such as BIM, blockchain, artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing and more. It also covers benchmarking capabilities, and emphasises the need for cooperation between stakeholders to provide a unified smart building index. 

The Centre of Excellence in Smart Construction (CESC) is contributing to the development of guidelines to support the UAE and its construction sector in the adoption of digital solutions. Inspired by its three core themes of performance and productivity, sustainability and wellbeing, CESC’s aim is to help to create a smarter, safer and more productive construction industry. 

This article has been unlocked to allow non-subscribers to sample MEED’s content. MEED provides exclusive news, data and analysis on the Middle East every day. For access to MEED’s business intelligence, subscribe here

A MEED Subscription...

Subscribe or upgrade your current package to support your strategic planning with the MENA region’s best source of business information. Proceed to our online shop below to find out more about the features in each package.