Analysis

Construction’s need to digitalise across the board is clear

14 July 2020 | By Neil Norman, Human Recognition Systems

For too long the construction industry has failed to reap workforce productivity gains experienced by other sectors. Now, in the wake of Covid-19 and the need for new working practices, Neil Norman, CEO of Human Recognition Systems (HRS) explains why it’s important that the industry adopts new technological solutions to improve communication and productivity.

Most economists accept that productivity is driven by the continued division and specialisms of labour, as well as the progress of technology. This hypothesis has been borne from results across a number of industries, which have experienced productivity gains and in turn, growth. However, the construction sector is a notable exception. In fact, according to recent McKinsey research, productivity in construction has remained flat for nearly 60 years. In that same period, sectors such as manufacturing have seen productivity double.

There are some key inhibitors that could explain this stagnation within construction. In other sectors, tasks are standardised, which helps provide productivity gains through familiarisation. By their very nature, construction sites are all different and feature a collection of temporary workers unfamiliar with each other’s work. Similarly, the sector fails to benefit from the ‘supply-chain effect’ where sub-tasks are assembled together in a time-efficient manner and in a working environment conducive to uninterrupted production.

With this in mind, as an industry, it’s important that we start to look into ways that can drive positive change, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Now more than ever, the construction industry must look to find new ways to improve workforce productivity and achieve better value. It’s also vital that the industry begins to adopt more technological solutions at a company-wide level, which can help improve communication, organisation, performance and training within the supply-chain.

Slow digital uptake

Historically, the sector has been notoriously slow at embracing the digital revolution, but there have been recent signs that this is changing in a number of areas. However, to gain the benefits associated with digitalisation, it’s important for the sector to utilise new solutions to improve current working practices and boost productivity.

New digital-based solutions are now available to help with design, tendering, planning, subcontractor management and invoicing. But despite these arrivals, solutions to help companies enforce greater levels of workforce management have been scarce.– Neil Norman, Human Recognition Systems

New digital-based solutions are now available to help with design, tendering, planning, subcontractor management and invoicing. But despite these arrivals, solutions to help companies enforce greater levels of workforce management have been scarce. Fortunately, that has now changed, with our new MSite Workforce App being a particularly strong example.

More than just a digital innovation, the solution will help to combine technology, people and processes to deliver productivity gains, which could help to improve onsite efficiency. Furthermore, such solutions enable improved data insights, which allows businesses to continuously assess their operations for further improvements.

However, to get the most from these new technologies, it’s important that the sector is upfront about the challenges it faces. For one, unlike other industries, work in the construction sector is greatly varied, with little standardisation. To this end, the rules and processes on one site rarely extend to another. So, the process of collecting, normalising and comparing data can be challenging. Additionally, to achieve effectiveness, new solutions require worker buy-in, which can be difficult in an era of heightened privacy concerns.

This could soon change though, particularly as non-traditional contractors look to enter the construction market, potentially to build their own infrastructure projects. Online giants, such as Amazon, increasingly need to build warehouses and seemingly want to play a role in their construction. Unlike traditional construction companies, this new wave of businesses entering the market are more inclined to adopt technological solutions having seen the benefits they have brought to other markets.

What’s more, as the fallout from Covid-19 continues to eat away at already negligible profit margins, those operating sites are likely to begin assessing where they can make improvements. Inevitably, this process will lead to labour productivity, which currently represents around 35% of total construction costs.

At HRS, we hope construction companies don’t continue to entertain methods of the past in the hope that they will generate new results. Instead, we’d like to see companies begin to provide a digital ecosystem, which enables project, workforce and the supply chain to work together in concert to help deliver high-quality products, cost-efficiency and safety.

However, to make these improvements, businesses must become more willing to inform, engage and empower their workforce by investing in affordable technology, like the MSite Workforce App. The system will help to improve vital construction functions, such as resource scheduling, job allocation, performance reviews, advanced communications, notifications, electronic goods receipting and much more.

Bringing all this data together in one place would enable a new level of insight, which in turn could help to drive greater results.

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