Feature Is ‘mobile’ an answer to driving digital construction and productivity? By James Summers, CEO and founder, Conker In the last few years, the UK government set out numerous strategies to improve construction productivity. This includes the Construction 2025: strategy and the recent Industrial Strategy, Construction Deal, which states that, “construction underpins our economy and society,” and that the government will, “create an economy that boosts productivity and earnings.” This strategy is built on five foundations: ideas, people, infrastructure, business environment and places. To support this strategy the government plans to lead the charge on the use of AI and ‘data’ based technologies (digitalisation) and the future of mobility. Similarly, according to a study by NBS, 77% of construction professionals in the UK agreed that ‘digitalisation’ will improve the productivity of the construction sector. Clearly, this implies a strong need to assess how to improve construction employees’ productivity through technology. Within an industry where collaboration, transparency and Business Information Modelling (BIM) is increasingly important, technologies such as AI, the cloud, mobile apps and business rugged devices can improve collaboration, project management, business processes and productivity, and all combine to drive growth. So, how can construction firms use mobile apps and devices to improve productivity? BIM and digital construction BIM has become an important driver behind the digital construction movement. It has driven a major paradigm shift across the construction sector, especially since the government made it mandatory for public sector projects to adopt this technology in 2016. In addition, the European Parliament also encouraged BIM adoption, as a way to modernise the project management and procurement processes to ensure greater transparency and efficiency across the sector. To put it in context, in the past, the construction process consisted of a collection of multi-stage drawings and specifications that were shared among
contractors, from the conceptual stage all the way to the final product. The approach was siloed. BIM has improved this process by allowing a greater collaboration and more transparent approach to information/ data management. With BIM in place, each party adds their information to the BIM model, so that everyone has a comprehensive source of data and information associated with a particular construction project, covering all aspects of a built asset. Further, most BIM-based software includes a cloud-based mobile app component, meaning processes can be mobilised for mobile workers. Therefore, to harness technologies such as BIM, it then becomes even more important for firms to consider the tools that their staff use to access their information effectively. You wouldn’t provide your construction team a flat blade screwdriver when a crosshead screwdriver is required. In mobile terms, this translates to ensuring that your team is equipped with the right kind of fit-for-purpose, business rugged mobile devices (tablet, laptop or smartphones) that are capable of running the software applications that your team uses on a daily basis. ‘Mobilising’ business processes for digital construction BIM aside, there are multiple business processes within construction that can be improved with digitalisation. For example, mobile apps can replace paper-based systems. Field staff management can also be improved through apps. Processes such as timesheets and time keeping can be ‘mobilised’, holding staff accountable for their work via smartphones. Equipment management can be more effectively dealt with. Senior management teams can use their smartphones on site to access drawings and other BIM reliant technologies. The possibilities are almost endless, but are totally dependent on accessing a mobile device to use them. Developing a business rugged mobile strategy Within construction, many organisations typically equip their mobile workforces with consumer devices that are incapable of thriving under harsh conditions. In construction, especially, there is no shortage of these. So it is necessary to consider using business rugged devices to help firms avoid the expensive replacement and maintenance costs associated with broken devices. When a device breaks it often has negative repercussions. Productivity for end users and IT teams is affected. This has a further negative effect on the total cost of ownership of their mobile strategy
14 Construction UK Magazine - June 2019
too, raising a critical question about what construction firms and their IT teams should consider as they develop an effective mobile strategy? Tip 1: what business processes can be mobilised? In light of today’s mobile and technology led movement, has your firm investigated where productivity is failing? Has it considered how to improve or modernise it? For example, can it develop or acquire a new mobile app? Tip 2: are your existing applications mobile ready? Determine what mobile applications your employees require access to across your organisation on a daily basis in order to effectively do their jobs. Do these apps function on a mobile device – in a mobile world, if not, why not? Tip 3: do you have a fit-for-purpose, business rugged fleet of devices? All too often the cheapest mobile device is selected. This approach is wrong. Select a device that is business rugged and capable to withstand construction environments. ‘Break and replace’ delivers false economies of scale as firms buy poor quality devices in bulk that are ineffective in the long term. Tip 4: are your suppliers easy to work with? Choose a supplier that offers great support, device repair and replacement procedures. Many suppliers out there are eager to help in the beginning, but what about through the entire buying process, beyond the sale? Finding an easy to work with partner these days is dream, especially one with a responsive and strong support team. Tip 5: do you have a device downtime strategy? All devices are bound to break at some point. When this happens, what does your downtime strategy look like? Have you tested it and how well do your IT team and device suppliers come to your aid when there is a problem? Conclusion According to Market Research Future, “the global market for BYOD and Enterprise Mobility is expected to grow from USD 39.04 billion in 2017 to USD 94.41 billion by 2023.” Construction firms are part of this trend, making it crucial for them to factor mobile apps and fit-for-purpose business rugged mobile devices into their digital construction plans.