Covid breaking down barriers to digital adoption

24 May 21

There has never been a better time for the construction industry to invest in technology to work smarter says Melanie Dawson, the new lead of GIRI’s Technology Working Group.

Melanie will head up GIRI’s efforts to drive technology adoption to reduce error and brings 15 years of experience in digital construction to the role. Formerly director of digital construction at Graham Group, Melanie left in August last year to set up her own consultancy business Origin7, helping clients operating in the built environment implement technologies ranging from desktop solutions to AR/VR, robotics, laser scanning, and drones. She believes the industry has never been more ready for a digital shift.

Melanies says the impact of Covid on working practices has fast-tracked technology adoption and digital working within construction, and helped chip away at what has until now been the biggest barrier to adoption – understanding return on investment and how the technology helps achieve better outcomes. 

“People have been forced to use video meetings and other digital communication solutions, and have found that not only are these not as complicated as they thought, but they are also better value for money, reduce carbon footprints, and are more efficient. Online meetings have been one of the biggest wins financially and psychologically in the pandemic. The ROI is obvious.”

However, translating this into more broad-scale technology adoption requires a better understanding of how to procure and implement technology to ensure companies see the return on investment they are looking for. 

“If an investment doesn’t pay off, you are left with an expensive piece of kit, which is hard to justify. But technology doesn’t work on its own, and a lot of people have had a bad experience of investing in expensive systems that didn’t do what they needed them to do because they didn’t have the people and processes in place first.

“The order in which you approach the challenge is critical. You first need to fully understand the problem you want to solve, then you need to put the processes and people in place, and only then do you look for the solution that fits your requirements.”

There has also, she says, been an industry-wide reluctance to fix what isn’t broken, or at least what doesn’t appear to be broken. “It is hard for people to accept change if they think that what they are currently doing is working.” 

Covid’s forced operational rethink has helped bring about a step-change in attitudes, but there is still work to do in raising awareness of the benefits of technology. “We need people to understand what is in it for them. It is important to explain the benefits, both how technology can help companies become more efficient, but also the soft benefits of investing in people. When staff see companies investing in solutions to make their jobs easier, they feel valued, and become more engaged.”

What advice does Melanie have for companies starting out on their digital transformation journey? “Map out how you are currently doing things and decide what you want to automate. For example, it might take 20 steps to fill out a paper form but this could be completed in eight by doing it on an iPad. Engage with your people, streamline those processes, and then automate with the right technology for your organisation. Some things will be quick wins, others will take more time, but the first thing to do is break it down and start putting a digital strategy in place.”

For more information on barriers to digital adoption in construction, read GIRI's report.

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