Opinion

A construction industry to aim for

Photo of a woman working on site with a tablet - for Causeway opinion

After 30 years away from construction, Paul Devlin reflects on how the industry can transform with a focus on data and productivity.

The UK construction industry is vast, yet has a reputation for being behind the times in terms of digitalisation. Having returned to it after almost 30 years, I can see why. There is clearly an appetite for change.   

Since I first began my career in construction as a young apprentice plumber, while much has changed, much has remained the same. Sure, there have been great strides made in health and safety, but there remains a fragmented ecosystem, a lack of automation and data to support better outcomes.

The 25 years I spent working for software companies all over the world has helped open my eyes to some of the main challenges the construction industry faces: a lack of digital transformation, a poor exploitation of data, and fragmented systems that hinder integration.

Paul Devlin of Causeway

“We talk about marginal gains – identifying small changes that can be made throughout the business that add up to huge gains over time. That is something construction companies need to adopt if they are to get ahead.”

Paul Devlin

Research conducted last year by Causeway among principal contractors and large subcontractors revealed the benefits of digital transformation. They included an almost 50% potential increase in productivity, a substantial boost in employee satisfaction, and even a reduction in employee fatigue.

The numbers demonstrate how digitalisation can benefit a business and foster a more positive work environment while attracting more talent.

Think like a software company

We talk about marginal gains at Causeway – identifying small changes that can be made throughout the business that add up to huge gains over time. That is the software company mindset, which is something construction companies need to adopt if they are to get ahead.

It involves collecting and following data consistently to identify insights and areas for improvement and acting on them in real-time.

Those that leverage their data hold immense power. Standardising collection methods and democratising data so it is accessible to everyone who needs it can not only unlock transformative change, but drive productivity gains.

Addressing productivity issues

One of the biggest barriers to achieving this is the fragmented nature of digitalisation in construction. Currently, organisations are using an average of seven different industry-specific solutions, the majority (57%) of which are not integrated.  

Fragmented systems, data, people and processes waste valuable time, causing inefficiencies, productivity losses, delays, and poor allocation of resources. These issues can occur at every stage of a project in every part of the organisation, from site to back office.

Currently, we cannot use data and are slowing down processes in this way. We are unable to act quickly on data – meaning we only get intelligence after the facts.

Meanwhile, old-fashioned paper processes remain ubiquitous, and employees are spending a considerable amount of time moving data around rather than using it to improve the business.

By eliminating this system fragmentation and fostering seamless data flow, companies can streamline workflows and eliminate inefficiencies that hinder progress.

A vision for a better construction industry

“I believe digital transformation is the key to unlocking net zero in construction and to attracting the next generation of talent.”

Paul Devlin

Imagine a world where data flows freely between business departments and is combined to deliver actionable insights at the touch of a button, or even a voice command.  

No more duplicated data entry, no more digging through multiple systems to understand what is happening on your site. And no more delays in receiving the vital data that keeps a project profitable.  

Productivity is constantly improved in every aspect of a business and the full value of data is realised. 

Beyond this, businesses are connected within an ecosystem of customers, contractors and suppliers, and information is shared seamlessly throughout a project, reducing friction and delivering even greater insights.  

That’s the construction industry we should be aiming for.

At Causeway, we champion this vision. We recognise the value of integrating systems, combining data from multiple sources and making it readily available to stakeholders across the value chain. We’ll soon be launching a platform, CausewayOne, that will help companies achieve this.

The benefits of achieving this vision will go beyond profitability. I believe digital transformation is the key to unlocking net zero in construction.

It’s also the key to attracting the next generation of talent. Gen Z is seeking modern, progressive careers – an industry stuck in the past is not attractive to them. That is why digital transformation is not just about short-term gains. The future of the industry quite literally depends on it.

Paul Devlin is chief operating officer at Causeway.

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