Is it time for construction to go mobile?
Digital transformation is revolutionising how we adopt technology in business, writes Philip Rashleigh, technical director at Audacia. Innovative technology solutions designed to improve workflows and efficiencies are having a major impact, allowing many sectors like manufacturing and retail to see productivity growth as high as 1,500%. However, research has revealed productivity growth in construction has barely increased.
Construction is crucial to the UK’s economy. The government’s 2017 Industry Strategy emphasised this, highlighting how the sector provides 3.1m jobs and a total contribution to the nation’s economy of nearly £90bn. That same year, the results of the JBKnowledge ConTech industry report, found that 82.7% of respondents believed mobile capabilities were either “important” or “very important” to the future of the industry, stressing how mobile technology can be key to unlocking further potential.
Embracing new tech and shaking up the established ways of working by integrating technology with onsite processes can lead to increased real-time visibility, reporting and predictive decision making. As a result, organisations in the construction sector can expect to see productivity gains of up to 15% if they invest in the right technology for their business.
Here, we take a look at the key reasons for adopting mobile working in the construction sector, as well as the main considerations when implementing the technology.
Key to improving productivity rates is collaboration. Increased collaboration through mobile working solutions enables teams to work together in real-time, removing any physical barriers between sites, employees or departments that previously caused inefficiencies.
Fully integrated mobile working solutions have the ability to increase cross-business transparency, giving increased visibility for each project team, site and department on build details, status and
progress, as well as total access to the vital build information needed for completion. Increased transparency enables teams to work better together throughout the project life-cycle.
Greater accessibility and transparency reduces silos so issues can be captured and resolved sooner. Teams are therefore more productive and better placed to meet and exceed targets against delivery schedules.
Automating key processes with mobile solutions enables construction organisations to significantly reduce time taken to complete tasks. By replacing manual, paper-based processes, mobile devices streamline operations, improving workflows and saving hours of work on repetitive tasks.
The process of reporting from the construction site can be completed in real-time, with project managers and office staff being kept up-to-date with site activity, requests for information and project milestones, even when not on site. With most mobile devices carrying rich media functions, site workers can upload photos, video and documentation.
As with most solutions that digitise and automate processes, mobile solutions help to mitigate risk. Mobile working solutions eliminate manual error and misplaced documents, from site workers
losing paper documentation in transit or data being mis-keyed across multiple business systems.
With the use of mobile, there is also greater accessibility to data and documents on site. This can help to reduce higher level risks in aspects such as health and safety and the misuse of protocol, as
the relevant, accurate and up-to-date documentation is at the fingertips of your employees where and when they need it most.
With limited ability to audit paper-based processes, mobile solutions also offer a digital trail that enables any verifications or deviations from the scope of work, schedule or cost to be tracked throughout each stage of development, giving greater visibility across projects.
The need for integration
With over 48% of respondents to the 2017 JBKnowledge ConTech report acknowledging shortcomings in integration, resulting in the requirement of manual re-keying of information, and
its associated risks, organisations need to consider integration as a core factor of technology implementation.
Mobile solutions need to connect seamlessly with the relevant business systems in order to provide transparent flows of information and to see real productivity gains. Mobile solutions offer a great means of collecting valuable information, however, the key to success is how this information is passed to business systems.
When looking to integrate business systems, it’s critical that you identify and research all available application programming interfaces and look to test these interfaces through proof of concepts to ensure that they support your requirements and behave as anticipated.
With the advancement of hardware solutions, such as ‘tough tablets’, that are built to resist construction hazards, mobile working is becoming more accessible than ever.
Mobile hardware is now being developed to cope with construction site conditions, including factors such as heavy dust, rain, humidity and drops onto cement and steel floors; as well as having
light adjusting screens to suit environments and ‘glove touch’ functions to name a few.
These developments now make advanced technologies accessible to those that will benefit the most in their day-to-day activities, greatly reducing repetitive, manual tasks for site workers and significantly improving business efficiencies for the organisation.
As technologies develop and become more accessible for everyday organisations, advanced mobile technologies such as Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are within reach, for example, for use in viewings and product selection processes.
Due to factors such as advances in processing power and customers being more tech-focused, these technologies are starting to see more widespread adoption. Although new technologies are becoming more accessible, businesses need to focus initially on streamlining back-end, paper-intensive processes that are barriers to productivity, efficiency and performance. Without optimised back-end systems that provide greater visibility and accessibility, advanced technologies such as VR and AR merely act as standalone tools that are unable to integrate back into core production, commercial and sales systems and are therefore prevented from achieving their full commercial potential.