Bentley highlights need to digitise construction

Another report, “Unlock the Benefits of Going Digital in Construction” from Bentley Systems, underlines the under-digitised nature of construction – a well-worn theme at industry conferences in recent years.

Consultancies such as the McKinsey Global Institute have highlighted how construction digitalisation lags other industry sectors in the US, Europe and Australasia, while, in the UK, NBS’s 2019 Technology presented a slightly unrepresentative but nonetheless worrying view of how far building design firms had advanced (see Construction Technology Report 2019: the designers’ view). NBS found design activities still involve considerable work with documents and spreadsheets; 2D design was still slightly more common than 3D work (67%), and only 45% of respondents used ‘project extranets’ or CDEs. And the May 2019 NBS National BIM Report pointed to the emergence of a ‘two speed industry’, with 22% of those yet to use BIM saying they would rather not adopt it at all.

According to a July 2019 BIMplus article by the Electrical Contractors’ Association’s Darren Smith, 69% of ECA survey respondents had never been involved in a BIM project, and 24% had used BIM on only up to a quarter of their projects. Smith said some 4% had encountered BIM on 25-49% of their projects, 2% had used BIM on between 50-74% of projects, while just 1% had used BIM on more than 75% of projects – a poor show, but worrying as electrical contractors engage with BIM far more than other sectors of construction.

Unlock the Benefits of Going Digital in Construction

The latest report to show under-digitisation of construction comes from a Bentley Systems survey of more than 720 business professionals across Europe, North America, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, Australasia, India, China, and South East Asia. It found that almost half of business (44.3%) had limited or no insight into company or project performance. Professionals were either not collecting data or were collecting it manually instead of digitally. Even though half understood the importance of collecting project data, they failed to make the most of it by not digitising it.

The Bentley survey identified that:

  • 22% of professionals had no capability for digital collaboration while 20% had limited capability “because project information is generally paper-based and data is siloed,”
  • Similarly, when it came to information mobility, Bentley found 16% with no capability, and 24% with “limited capabilities due to predominately paper-based workflows and inconsistent identification for digital models.”
  • For digital design and construction workflows, 18% of organisations claimed no capability, while 21% had limited capabilities as modelling mostly relied on “2D and paper-based workflows.”

Bentley Systems’ report (download here), authored by UK-based Mark Coates (who joined the company as industry director for project delivery earlier this year from Viewpoint), recommends a four-point programme to implement digital transformation within construction businesses. Summarised as the four Ps (coincidentally, Viewpoint acquired 4Projects, often abbreviated to 4Ps, in 2013), the steps are: preparation, pilot, probing (measuring and quantifying the success of going digital), and process (adapting and embedding digital ways of working as business as usual).

The costs of not digitising can be significant, Bentley says, citing research by global construction consultancy Mace. It estimates that, by 2030, the world will be spending US$5.25 trillion a year on infrastructure, but their analysis also showed around 80% of large projects experience cost or programme overruns, translating into costs of US$229 billion to the United States, INR 9.1 trillion to India, AU$59 billion to Australia, and £19 billion to the UK.

Bentley says that businesses that embrace and master the four Ps are setting themselves up to be at the forefront of construction over this century. “As an industry, it is important for us to remember that a construction project is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain. Project partners who are not working digitally do not have the level of productivity, communication, and assurance necessary for 21st century project delivery,” says the report.

Arguing that innovation will transform how firms work in the construction sector, the Bentley report calls for change. Coates says: “We need to challenge ourselves, our businesses and our project partners to spread the benefits of going digital and stop the deployment of 18th century … working practices on 21st century projects.”

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