A survey and report from management consultant KPMG International says less than one in 10 construction companies are at the sharp end of technology – most just follow, trying to keep up (survey also reported by Construction Enquirer and The Construction Index).
KPMG talked to 218 senior construction executives, most of them working for major international organisations (119 project owners, 99 in engineering and construction companies), and its report – Building a technology advantage – Global Construction Survey 2016 (PDF) – portrays the construction industry as struggling to employ the full benefits of technologies like advanced data and analytics, mobile telephony, automation and robotics.
Only 8% of surveyed companies could rank as ‘cutting edge technology visionaries’; 64% of contractors and 73% of project owners ranked as ‘industry followers’ or ‘behind the curve’ when it came to technology. Richard Threlfall, UK head of infrastructure, building and construction at KPMG, said:
“The survey responses reflect the industry’s innate conservatism towards technologies, with most businesses content to follow, rather than lead. Many lack a clear technology strategy, and either adopt it in a piecemeal fashion, or not at all.”
Two-thirds of survey respondents believe project risks are increasing, yet fewer than 20% of respondents said they were are ‘aggressively disrupting their business models’.
“Projects around the world are becoming bigger, bolder and more complex, and with complexity comes risk,” said Threlfall. “Innovations like remote monitoring, automation and visualisation have enormous potential to speed up project delivery, reduce costs and improve safety.”
According to the KPMG, engineering and construction firms, and project owners, are not exploiting available data. Almost two-thirds of those surveyed do not use advanced data analytics for project-related estimation and performance monitoring. Moreover, only a quarter of respondents said that they were able to ‘push one button’ to get all their project information. Even fewer claim to have a single, integrated project management information system across the enterprise. Threlfall says:
“Integrated, real-time project reporting is still a myth, rather than a reality for most. That’s largely because firms tend to use multiple software platforms that are manually monitored and disconnected, which severely compromises their effectiveness.”
Mobile telephony is another technology with potential to analyse and track performance for construction projects. Most survey respondents were using remote monitoring for projects sites, and 61% claimed they were using BIM on the majority of their projects (to me, a surprisingly high figure!)*, but fewer than 30% said they routinely made use of mobile devices on all their projects, while a similar proportion do not use mobile platforms at all.
Similarly, only a third said they were using robotics and automation. Threlfall concluded:
“Harnessing the true potential of technology requires construction companies and project owners to get clearer about their technology vision and strategy. The rapidly evolving infrastructure challenges of the next decade demands both owners and engineering and construction firms embrace technology more strategically and at a far more rapid pace than in the past.”
* Update (18 September 2016) – I discussed this report with an industry colleague on Friday and we were both a bit sceptical about the apparently high take-up of some of the technologies. The methodology does not give much detail about how interviewees were selected, and we wondered if the 119 project owners were also clients of some, most or even all of the engineering and construction companies. If so, the figures might be double-counting practices on the same projects, rather than describing different experiences.