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4 SEP 2018

The social impact of digitising construction

The use of digital technologies is transforming the global construction industry. However, one of the most significant global challenges for the sector as it prepares for this transformation is overcoming social resistance to the use of new technologies.

Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority (BCA) intends to power the country’s construction industry into the modern world through the Construction Industry Transformation Map (ITM). The use of Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD), enabled by Building Information Modelling (BIM), is one of three key initiatives driving the transformation. It fully integrates processes and stakeholders to achieve new levels of efficiency and collaboration along the value chain through smart technologies.

At a recent RICS seminar, Adoption of Technology in Construction Productivity, Principal BIM Manager for Surbana Jurong Private Limited Mr Chandra Hampiholi explained why, in such an established and conservative sector, establishing a robust plan for technological change is essential to limit social disruption.

A change of mindset

The move away from 2D design to embrace technology started with 3D Computer Aided Design (CAD). More recently, the widespread adoption of BIM has caused a major shift across the sector. Surbana Jurong started using BIM back in 2010; their IDD journey began earlier in 2018 as part of the government’s initiative to digitise the construction industry.

Scope of Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD), Credit: Building Construction Authority
Scope of Integrated Digital Deliver (IDD)

The shift towards the use of a centralised cloud-based data storage as the foundation of IDD presents new challenges for a sector used to working locally. It requires industry professionals to adopt an open mind and question what and how processes must change. Embracing this change should include work to identify the potential gaps in knowledge or any immediate practical issues that might arise. Staff will must be trained to embrace this new world.

Barriers: Social, not technological

In January 2018, Surbana Jurong trained 400+ operational staff members to be BIM-enabled and to better understand the scope of IDD. Senior management also received training to make them more BIM-aware, however, it is the operations staff that must use the technology.

A significant challenge was overcoming the change of mindset. Helping a generation accustomed to existing technologies and processes requires focus to steadily encourage change and the adoption of new ways of working. Awareness of the immediate impact on staff motivation is vital, as well as a change-management programme that can breakdown any barriers.

Whenever someone is very comfortable with what they do, it can be an issue to change the way they work. We found that, over time, they realise that there is a need to adopt tools and technologies that will help them.

Surbana Jurong established an agile strategy for implementation way upfront. It allows the organisation to build more manageable, short-term, goals that staff can progressively work towards and can be constantly developed overtime.

A case for digital change

While the possibility of social disruption is high, the potential benefits to the sector are significant. IDD has the potential to deliver improvements across the value chain and transform the way professionals work together.

Commercial

The use of the powerful shared modelling, design and visualisation technologies are central benefits of Integrated Digital Design processes. Significantly, the ability to rapidly assess multiple options across a design process, provides commercial opportunities. A firm that can design and demonstrate the best value solutions should be better positioned to win jobs.

Productivity

Embracing IDD processes should also underpin greater use of off-site fabrication and design for manufacturing and assembly to create “win-wins” across the sector — from the client down through the supply chain. From a national perspective, this approach will improve productivity.

Collaboration

Traditional contracts can be adversarial; however, collaborative contracts take a fairer approach and encourage sharing. The increased use of IDD will accelerate the move towards such collaborative contracts and prompt the creation of new roles that facilitate collaboration and help to avoid and/or decide on disputes faster. This change will require a new breed of professional with coaching skills to help foster better communication between teams. These individuals will not only have to be proficient in mediation and facilitation, but also have the technical skills to spot potential issues early.

Embracing change

Technology is fast-evolving, and the sector should not be afraid of it. Embracing the required change will not be straightforward for many and leadership is vital to embed new technologies into process management and to encourage the adoption of new working practices and tools.

However, for construction to embrace its digital future, we must not overlook the teaching of core knowledge. Globally, it is vital that industry works closely with professional bodies and academia to set out the requirements of a modern industry. While digital process can enhance design and communication, there will always be a vital need for human skill.