What does digital transformation mean for construction?

3 min read

As a sector, we are now clear about our need to improve productivity, drive up safety standards and to build more sustainably. To do so means transforming how we build – adopting modern methods of construction – as well as embedding digital tools and processes across our corporate organisations. 

Digital transformation at scale 

For large companies like Mace, this presents a big challenge. Digital transformation is never easy and is made more complex when you need to prevent any disruption to the billions of pounds of complex construction programmes we deliver across the globe. 

Historically, low profit margins in the sector have hindered investment in digital solutions. However, with industry challenges continuing to put pressure on delivery, such as a shortage in traditional construction skills, increasing labour and material costs and higher levels of regulation, the equation has now changed. 

As an example, if construction labour productivity were to catch up with progress made by other sectors over the past twenty years, it is estimated that this could increase construction’s ‘value add’ to the economy by $1.6 trillion a year. Indeed, the benefits of digital transformation could be worth £22bn a year to the infrastructure sector alone by 2030. 

On a programme by programme basis, the benefits are obvious – but delivering them in reality isn’t always that straightforward. 

In practise, digital transformation programmes often flounder, benefits aren’t realised and money invested is wasted. On project sites, it can be very challenging to ask busy project teams to adapt their ways of working to new technology, and clients are often understandably resistant to being ‘guinea pigs’ and trialling new approaches for the first time. 

In the corporate world, change is also very difficult. People and team are always more comfortable with existing systems and are resistant to changing their behaviours. Culture is sticky, and it can be hard to bring people along with you as you deliver an ambitious vision of what digital transformation can deliver. 

However, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. 

A vision for the future 

Our vision for the potential of digital transformation at Mace is clear. We are on the verge of creating a fully connected organisation – a business that understands the needs of our clients, the capabilities of our supply chain, the demands of our people and the wider sector environment in which we operate. 

Alongside this we will use digital technology to improve how we design, deliver and operate built assets that ultimately result in smarter projects and cities for our clients of the future.  We believe we can achieve this by building the operational and technical capability that will enable us to become truly data driven.

More widely in the sector, it is clear that digital is already impacting the way that we work and socially interact. Through advances in cloud and mobile technology, the construction clients, workforce and supply chain of the future will mandate very different ways of working. 

The focus of the industry therefore needs to be on creating a workplace of the future that meets the needs of the workforce of the future. That will require a change in mindset. The construction sector cannot afford to continue to be seen as a place where change is gradual and mindsets stagnate. 

Here at Mace we firmly believe that digital technology is a strategic enabler and a game changer – but we need to recognise that construction is already a long way behind other sectors. If we don’t catch up quickly we will miss out on the diverse mix of talent and skills we will need to take advantage of the next generation of construction technology. 

As a sector we need to be clear that the benefits of new technology can only be realised if digital transformation is aligned to a shift in the culture of our business and in many respects the traditional contract structures across the entire industry.

The opportunities for construction and ways of working brought about by digitisation are endless. But it will be a question of how businesses adopt these new technologies and bring their clients, supply chain and workforce along the journey which will determine the real winners of the digital revolution.