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The construction industry has reached a tipping point. The older generation is retiring at a growing rate, taking with them decades of invaluable knowledge and expertise. Without massive disruption, the industry will soon struggle to meet ongoing demand. As more senior professionals transition out, a new generation with a new mindset is entering the workforce. The challenge is the loss of knowledge, but the opportunity lies in a new perspective.

As projects become more complex and the pool of experienced workers shrinks, organizations across many sectors are scrambling to capture what they refer to as the ‘tribal knowledge, before it’s gone forever.

Disruption is critical to sustain the industry. Construction must be made attractive to the young and tech-savvy workforce who are eager to transform how data is used.

Emerging technology as the future of construction

Disruption through emerging technologies means faster, better, cheaper and safer projects by unlocking productivity and creating a greater level of insight into project challenges as they evolve in real time throughout the project cycle.

An increase in the digitization of the project lifecycle—from concept design and boots on the ground’ to client start-up—creates a plethora of data being generated as never before. The challenge is to use the data to achieve a productivity gain in an industry that has struggled significantly with productivity record. Advances in the application of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are offering the greatest hope in this area.

Leveraging AI, architects and engineers can pull in fully designed construction elements and components from suppliers’ databases. Designs can be optimized and many more choices can be offered than previously would have been possible due to time and resource restraints.

Projects are also becoming more complicated and often executed in difficult locations—not just remote regions, but also in congested cities. They require sophisticated and complex supply chains. These continuing trends are serviced by emerging technology. Whether collaborating using BIM or control, tracking critical components via embedded radio-frequency identification or monitoring progress in a fabrication plant on the other side of the world, the opportunities are endless.

Emerging technology has not only enabled the creation of new supply chains, but it also has facilitated greater participation in those supply chains on the supply and the consumption sides.

Benefiting from necessary change

The benefits of disruption for the construction industry are numerous—and the democratization of data is high on the list. What does that mean?

Datasets are so often siloed. Why would a facilities team need to know how the design of a semiconductor cleanroom evolved years before? Previously, it would have been difficult (if not impossible) to locate the data. By embracing emerging technologies such as BIM, blockchain and machine learning, however, data can be made accessible to everyone for the benefit of making informed decisions. During the manufacturing life of the cleanroom, processes and process equipment will change. Armed with this data, the team can carry out modifications more effectively and efficiently.

In years past, very basic metrics were used to manage progress in construction. Often these were lagging indicators (e.g., how many tons of concrete were poured). Today, the current degree of digitization through the use of drones, cameras and even audio provides an opportunity to develop more leading, real-time indicators of progress. There is also the potential to repurpose the data for other uses. A concrete curing report, for example, may help settle a dispute many years after a project has been completed and the project team dispersed.

Traditionally, those responsible for project oversight at the corporate level had to rely on the local project team for progress control, reporting and monitoring. The advent of emerging technologies not only provides real-time information to those offsite, but it can also dissuade the local team from ‘message managing.’ 

Moving forward by embracing disruption

The nature of building projects is inherently uncertain and emerging technology can provide valuable data for managing change. Being open to a better way to build is how construction will survive and flourish. This means gathering knowledge from industry veterans while the opportunity is still there.

The construction industry's responsibility is not to emulate the old way, but rather understand and harness the breadth of knowledge to fulfill the potential of the new. By infusing modern processes into an antiquated industry, there is an opportunity to alleviate the lack of trust and transparency that often takes construction projects off track. Emerging technology will enable the industry to move ahead as it transitions from document-centered to data-centered.

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