Panel debate - can technology reduce error?

26 Nov 21

More than three quarters of delegates at the GIRI construction technology webinar on 2 November believe that technology has a role to play in reducing project error, but only 6% believe the industry currently invests enough in training staff to use technology effectively. These were among the questions debated by the expert panel of GIRI Technology Working Group (TWG) members at the event.

Watch the webinar.

“Training is a key part of making technology work,” said Melanie Dawson, director of Origin 7 and TWG lead. “Often, technology is implemented and the training doesn’t follow quickly enough, and a lot of training is not designed specifically for users. There is not enough good training out there that is tailored to specific roles. That puts people off, and means training doesn’t have the right impact.”

Steve Green from Bowmer & Kirkland agreed that supplier training is required but added that the long-term goal should be in-house training, particularly peer-to-peer training, as this enhances user buy-in.

However, Steffan Speer from Morgan Sindall argued that if technology requires that users be extensively trained, it is not the right solution. “It should be intuitive. Look at our smartphones. No one is trained to set up their phone, or to use the apps they download. To improve productivity, we need to make tech simple and accessible. When technology is so intuitive that people don’t realise they are following a process, that is when we’re going to make life easier.”

“Technology needs to improve so less training is required,” agreed Abhishek Srivastava from Teknobuilt, adding that because there is always turnover of staff, companies are constantly having to train new people. However, he noted that his company is seeing an increase in people requesting self-study modules as they become more comfortable with remote learning. “So perhaps we need to invest in the right type of training.”

The panel then addressed the question of whether technology has a role to play in overcoming the skills shortage. A poll of delegates revealed that 64% believe it does. Abhi suggested that one way tech can help in this area is by doing more of the heavy lifting on roles that currently require a high degree of training, while Melanie highlighted the potential of technology to automate repetitive, manual tasks.

However, Melanie also pointed out that technology could help to attract people to the construction industry who would not otherwise consider it for a career. “The emergence of new technologies in construction mean that tech-savvy graduates are starting to look at the sector, so I think technology can be a gateway to lots of different things.”

Asked whether the industry needs to start investing in non-traditional skills, such as data architecture, that are becoming more and more necessary in construction, Steve Green said this is a reflection of the huge increase in project data. But he also pointed out that, even with all the advances in technology, ultimately the industry still needs to build things. “This is important in terms of the skills shortage. We’re not going to be able to produce more bricklayers and carpenters through a technological process.”

Steffan picked up on this point to say that he believes there are some jobs that will always require human intervention. “Technology can definitely play a role, and if we look ahead to 2050 the sector will look completely different to how it looks today, but there will still be similarities, especially when you are talking about craftsmanship and work that is more complex.”

A critical question addressed by the panel concerned the capture of the ‘golden thread’ of digital information on projects. This was an area of concern for delegates, with only 36% reporting that they know how they are going to capture this information.

“This has always been a major issue,” said Melanie, “in so much as the industry is very fragmented in how we approach this information. Typically, the first stage is in one pile, then the middle part – on site – has a separate team and a separate budget, and then the end use phase is separate again. 

“One of the core principles of BIM that underpins everything the golden thread is trying to achieve is about the creation of information early in a project and allowing this to build all the way through. This is then handed over at the end and it becomes a live piece of information that is always maintained. But to achieve this requires discussion with the end user and operator on day one, so it is about communication and sharing a vision, goals and budgets. The golden thread is very important and BIM helps underpin that and connect it all in a structured way.”

While everyone agreed that technology has great potential to reduce error and improve productivity, is the tech marketplace already bloated with too many solutions that do the same thing, and does this hamper adoption and implementation? Around half of delegates felt that there are a lot of similar technologies out there, but Steffan queried whether this matters. “Know what you want to achieve and stick to it. Don’t look at anything that won’t help you reach your goal.”

Finally, Steve argued that it is not so much the number of different technologies that can be the problem, but their interoperability. “Does it all talk to each other? The danger is you end up with 10 different pieces of software that you cannot integrate, and that is the real issue.”

Read Melanie Dawson's webinar presentation.

Read Abhishek Srivastava's webinar presentation.

Read Steve Green's webinar presentation.

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