What’s coming your way this year? What new technology and approaches will impact your operations? Dr Marzia Bolpagni details the top five digital trends set to shape construction in 2023.
In the past few years we have seen different trends emerging, such as blockchain, cloud computing and digital twins. This article presents an insight into the top five trends you must be aware of. Can’t find your favourite trend? Share in the comments with the community!
1. AI & ethics
AI and its different subsets, such as machine learning, have been a trend in construction for the past few years already. More and more, we are seeing the application of AI during different lifecycle stages. However, technology is not neutral: it has several biases that can be scaled up tremendously due to AI.
Thus, the emerging trend for construction is how we apply AI in our sector. Clients are demanding that data must be managed in a secure and ethical way. Successful companies will be the ones that ensure and demonstrate transparent processes to manage data and avoid the ‘black box’ approach where we get results from AI systems without the possibility of seeing and intervening on the decision-making process.
“The emerging trend is how we apply AI in our sector. Clients are demanding data to be managed in a secure and ethical way.”
Automation, automation, automation!
We are seeing the increasing introduction of automated processes in all stages: from brief to decommissioning.
Software robotics, also called robotic process automation, mimic workers’ back-office tasks such as moving files, extracting data and filling forms. It is therefore possible to avoid tedious repetitive tasks thanks to scripts that emulate human activities (starting from simple tasks that take seconds, to more complex ones).
Another trend in automation is the ‘low-code’, ‘no-code’ development using visual modelling instead of text coding. This allows users without technical expertise to automate processes. This does not mean that software developers are no longer necessary, rather there is an increasing trend to make automation more user-friendly.
Robots are also increasingly seen on the construction site as well as offsite. Whether industrial robots are used for additive, subtractive, forming or casting, the potential is already tangible. Robots can also support human activities (collaborative robots – cobots) or they can replace tedious and dangerous human activities to improve health and safety and productivity. The new challenge is now to coordinate hybrid environments with robots and humans and create new protocols and processes.
3. Tech 4 ESG
Time, cost and quality are no longer the only variables to evaluate: value is now having an emerging role in outcomes-based decision-making for our clients and our companies. The Value Toolkit developed by the Construction Innovation Hub is an example of this.
Thus, to create ‘value’ we see the increasing use of technology to enable and measure environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria.
Environmental: this includes sustainability aspects such as consumption of energy and water, as well as use of recycled materials and their production. Technology plays a key role to track, visualise data and support decision-making, for example understanding embodied and operational carbon of our projects and thus enabling the discussion of more sustainable solutions. Digital twins, for instance, can help to monitor actual performances and take timely actions to avoid inefficiencies.
Social: this includes how employees are managed with a special focus on health and safety, wellbeing, as well as diversity, equity and inclusion. Technology can help to:
- visualise data to understand a company’s workforce (e.g. number of women, compare their salaries with male colleagues in same role);
- share knowledge;
- create communities and connections within an organisation;
- visualise risks before going on site; and
- create the golden thread of information across project lifecycles.
Technology can also help to link building/infrastructure information to geospatial ones and better understand how projects impact on communities (e.g. transportation, job opportunities, for example)
Governance: are the required policies in place? How are compliance and risk management procedures functioning? Are roles and responsibilities being agreed and followed? These are some governance aspects to measure. Also, in this case, technology is the key to making policy content computable and performing quality assurance processes in construction (e.g. checking that projects follow fire regulations).
“Hybrid communication has emerged, but how to make it effective? Old conference and meeting rooms must be upgraded with the right set-up and IT solutions.”
4. Hybrid communication
During covid, we learnt how to run projects remotely. We discovered how we can save time, money and reduce our carbon footprint by avoiding unnecessary journeys. On the other hand, studies have demonstrated how in-person meetings facilitate the resolution of conflicts, avoid misunderstanding and increase interactions. Most employees, however, do not want to be back to full ‘in person’ positions to take advantage of the wellbeing opportunities of smart working. Thus more and more companies are offering this option to retain and attract talent.
Thus, hybrid communication has emerged, but how to make it effective? We are sick of hybrid meetings where we struggle to hear each other speak clearly or where the people in person do not interact with the attendees online. Old conference and meeting rooms must have the right set-up and IT solutions.
In addition, as the number of web calls has increased, traditional office open spaces are becoming very noisy, creating the call centre background noise effect that is neither professional nor productive for workers.
In 2023, we will see emerging cyber-physical solutions for effective hybrid communication experiences. The metaverse (the buzzword of 2022!) and 5G will enhance this.
5. Digital minimalism
You probably already know Cal Newport’s bestseller book, Digital Minimalism. However, this approach is still not very common in construction. Digital minimalism is “a philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimised activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else”.
With the increase in smart working, the use of mobile technology and different apps, there is the real danger of losing focus and reducing our productivity. Did you know new technologies can foster behavioural addiction? Checking mobiles or social media profiles frequently during the day, even if not required for your daily job, are examples.
Thus, companies need to promote a culture of digital decluttering. They need to push employees to spend time on their own thoughts, advise them of the risks of social media dependency impacting their ability to create relations and to communicate in person, and motivate them to prioritise demanding activities over passive consumption.
In 2023, we will see more organisations adopting the digital minimalism philosophy and using it to recruit the best talent, enabling that talent to perform ‘deep working’ and to use technology to simply serve something deeply valuable.
Dr Marzia Bolpagni is associate director, head of BIM international at Mace.
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