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Are we ready for “Big Brother” on construction sites?

As we are all embracing the new digital transformation that this current pandemic is bringing in our daily life. Will this be enough to finally drive the much-needed digital transformation in the construction industry?

I certainly do feel unsettled without my international lifestyle, hopping from one industry event to another. I am very sympathetic to all those working in our ‘event industry’ and struggling to push through. However, like many working in the digitalisation of the industry, I am as busy as ever, supporting customers through their digital engineering journey by linking them to the best and most innovative technology on the market. In recent months, I have witnessed a different focus and attention towards the adoption of new technology solutions. I am confident this is the ultimate wake up call for our beloved industry to embrace the power of Industry 4.0.

The current coronavirus crisis has, without doubt, accelerated digital transformation in many industries. Construction plays an important economic and essential societal role and often one of the few activities that have been maintained open during restrictions and being used as a catalyst to re-staring economies. But with profit margins being at historical lows, this pandemic has placed even more pressure on the sector which was already struggling and now more than ever it is necessary to bring innovation to the industry. It is now imperative to leverage its benefits through the means we procure, deliver, and maintain our built assets. The need for accurate and reliable ‘digital’ information that stakeholders can ‘trust’ to make faster and better decisions throughout the construction lifecycle has never been so critical as highlighted in my previous posts. The adoption of blockchain, machine learning, IoT, and leveraging big data has never been more needed in our industry.

As we are now adapting to a new ‘virtual world’, utilising conference calls, shared drives, fresh ways to collaborate and working from home, our industry is now fast-tracking the adoption of new ways to procure, deliver and maintain our built assets.

IoT technology on job sites

Virtual inspection and the use of remote sensors are now a reality where social distancing is a must. As we are adhering to this new rule that our society has mandated due to COVID, it is becoming acceptable to perform virtual inspections using digital devices to video and document progress. Perhaps you are debating like me if a virtual inspection for your tenants is good enough to assess the status of your property. I am on both sides; as a landlady, I am questioning why I am paying inspection fees if it was the tenant doing the inspection video and I can see, as a tenant, how easy is for me to show only what I want the letting agent to see.

But how about construction sites? What can be considered acceptable? Is a virtual inspection fully complaint? Can it fulfil regulatory and legal requirements? Can it replace expert professional eyes? Can it be trusted?

Whereas on one hand, new health and safety guidelines are putting even more pressure on construction projects attempting to adhere to the new safety rules, on the other hand, the adoption of reliable trustworthy technology can relieve the pressure by monitoring the location of people at all time as well as reducing the number of people needed to be present at all time.

This new reality is demanding for more connections between the project site and the office. But all offices and project teams are now in their own homes, it is now more essential than ever to keep all stakeholders up-to-date. The need for shared data, repositories, and digital connectivity is now a must to ensure project success.

An IoT device can be mounted to a hardhat, belt, or materials and communicates with other ‘things’ within its range to detect close contact interactions. Melbourne based companies like Ynomia converts worksites into a digital warehouse, bringing real-time location of critical building materials, tools, and people across the site in real-time transforming thus the traditional construction processes to build faster and safer. 360° camera and a smartphone or tablet in the field are taking speed enabling to access job site from the comfort of our homes. A well-organized track record of job site activities from design to finish is already available, minimize risk, and eliminate costly reworks. Holobuilder integration with Microsoft Teams enables teams to communicate digitally making remote working and project collaboration within teams easier than ever before.

Furthermore, MACE has recently announced the collaboration with UCL, Imperial College London, and 3D Repo to develop an “AEC Production Control Room” to radically improve project delivery. The concept has the potential to improve decision-making through real-time visibility of data while delivering complex projects and help UK construction clients and contractors to be more efficient and proactive rather than reactive, with a scalable and repeatable ‘plug-and-play’ construction management and reporting platform.

It seems “Big Brother” is now inevitably going to become the new reality of construction project delivery, bringing new real-time insights, productivity enhancement, passive data collection, and a new transformative futuristic AEC industry. Whether you are a fan or not of being watched and tracked 24/7, I have never been more excited to be able to build a more efficient, productive, safer, trustworthy and innovative construction industry.

About the author

Cristina Savian

Cristina Savian is the founder and managing director at BE-WISE, a consultancy firm specialized in helping start-ups and SME to scale-up and bring new technology into the construction market. She's a member of The IET’s Built Environment Panel in the UK and the National Workgroup for the Digital Built and Legal Environment (DBLE) and Australasian BIM Advisory Board Asset Management Technical Working Group in Australia

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