By Dustin DeVan
Hurricane Sandy caused approximately $70 billion in damage along the East Coast of the United States, with a substantial cost of the damage levied against the power grid, transportation, and infrastructure – the “hard” assets. In the storm’s aftermath, tens of billions of dollars were invested to improve the region’s resiliency against future storms and climate change.
If Hurricane Sandy taught a lesson about the resiliency of hard assets, the global COVID-19 pandemic is teaching us most about the resiliency of “soft” assets – the workforce, business, and project continuity. Infrastructure design, engineering, and construction companies embracing cloud collaboration are proving the value of digitization for the day-to-day workflow, as well as resiliency against changing workforce conditions.
To keep their workforce resilient regardless of economic circumstances, companies must continue to make headway in their digital transformation. Although construction businesses have experienced challenges to date with digital transformation, it’s now possible to accelerate progress and use technology to ensure resiliency for the future.
Delivering business and project continuity
The COVID-19 outbreak underscores the fact that many businesses in the construction sector are highly reliant on the location of their workforce, whether that’s on-site or in the office. With social distancing measures, employees are now working remotely at home. Teams traditionally collaborating in person are separated and with access to key information and assets potentially limited.
Cloud-based technologies enable organizations, including owners, to continue communicating through the entire project delivery lifecycle and to react more quickly to changing circumstances. Teams would already have – or would be able to quickly establish – a platform for remote communication. Employees can work on the same documents at the same time, with changes marked up and tracked, eliminating the challenge of version control. Many elements of the business remain operational, while management maintains visibility of progress on key tasks.
Information can be shared easily, and reviews and approvals completed remotely. With visibility on key project data, the project team can continue to work over the impact of most disruptions and minimize costly delays. With cloud communication in place, businesses will be less dependent on location – and more resilient in the face of unforeseen circumstances.
The roadblocks to digital transformation
Although construction businesses are aware of the value of digital transformation for their operations, an IDC InfoBrief sponsored by Autodesk suggests progress to date has been limited. While three quarters of firms say that digital transformation is a priority (72 percent), just 13 percent of organizations are well on their way to succeeding with the process. Most businesses (58 percent) adopt technology on an ad hoc or project basis and remain at the earliest stages of their digital transformation.
Organizations are also struggling to develop holistic strategies to guide their technology adoption. Across the Americas, nearly half of construction businesses say their biggest challenge is creating a strategic roadmap for digital investments (48 percent). Perhaps because technology is being implemented ad hoc, a further third of companies struggle to integrate digital projects across the business (37 percent).
By creating a strategic roadmap, construction businesses can use technology to optimize processes across the organization – and avoid investments that will become redundant. Equally, construction businesses can invest in tools that will deliver continuity in the face of workplace disruption. Given the current economic environment, many businesses may be implementing technology at speed to stay operational. But with a strategic mindset, it’s possible to ensure that technology adopted today will further – and even kickstart – businesses’ long-term digital transformation.
Jumpstarting digital transformation
Strategic digital transformation starts with a careful evaluation of any new technology investment, to ensure it will be adaptable enough for the long-term. Cloud-based tools are often easier to trial and then scale across the whole business, reducing the upfront commitment. It’s also important to look at how easily applications can integrate with other systems, to ensure new digital platforms improve performance, rather than add complexity.
Even when technology is introduced at speed, it’s important to aim for consistency. Creating repeatable digital service blueprints for new tools will ensure that digital processes are implemented in the same way throughout the business – making it easier for teams to collaborate, even at short notice. Establishing best practice guidelines will ensure that everyone is using technology in the most productive way possible.
In the longer term, construction firms will benefit from considering digital technology in the context of their overall business strategy. This means evaluating how technology can work as a competitive differentiator by boosting productivity, improving relationships with clients or delivering cutting-edge, innovative infrastructure projects. It will also ensure that the tools needed are in place to deliver resiliency in the face of any future disruption.
A roadmap for resilience
Extreme circumstances can underline the need for change. Following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the physical infrastructure of the U.S. was strengthened significantly and prepared for future events. The disruption caused by COVID-19 may possibly accelerate changes that will be positive in the long term for individual businesses and the industry as a whole.
Technology can improve productivity and collaboration, to enhance performance on every project. By enabling flexible working, technology can also boost employee engagement, as well as reduce firms’ reliance on location. Most importantly, with a strategic approach, digital technology can improve resilience in good times and bad, to help construction businesses be ready for the future whatever it holds.
Dustin DeVan is vice president of construction industry strategy for Autodesk, where he taps into his many years as a construction technology entrepreneur to deliver unique insights and perspective on the future of the industry. Previously, Dustin was the co-founder and CEO of BuildingConnected, the leading preconstruction platform enabling real estate owners and general contractors to hire qualified contractors for their projects. BuildingConnected was acquired by Autodesk in 2019. Before founding BuildingConnected in 2012, Dustin worked in commercial construction for more than six years as an engineer, scheduler, estimator, and project manager for some of the largest construction companies in the country, including Bechtel, Rudolph and Sletten, and XL Construction.