Last edited 04 Sep 2020

Main author

The Institution of Civil Engineers Institute / association Website

Digital transformation - overcoming barriers

Digital transformation 800.jpg

Contents

[edit] Introduction

Charles Jensen of ICE Engineering Knowledge, discusses the outcome of the joint report from an ICE-Bluebeam roundtable discussion on how the construction sector can overcome barriers to digital transformation.

It has long been known that the construction industry is lagging behind other sectors in digital working. Level 2 BIM was mandated in 2016, and since then, the UK Government has largely left the industry to do things itself and implement BIM without much clarity and often mixed results.

In September 2019, Bluebeam surveyed 161 construction industry firms, mainly in the UK and Asia and across different experience and career levels. Their answers revealed some valuable insights into the barriers holding companies back from embracing digital transformation. This was a pulse-taking on the state of digital adoption in the industry.

The research focused on the cultural and behavioural barriers to digital transformation within AEC businesses and opportunities for improvement. Following the survey, a roundtable discussion was held at the ICE London headquarters focusing on the cultural and behavioural barriers to digital transformation.

We engaged with 13 digital transformation experts from across the built environment to discuss and help drive the changes needed.

[edit] The Good

However, the industry is missing out on opportunities to improve its productivity, and it’s not moving quickly enough into digital processes.

[edit] The Bad

  • Implementation of digital transformation is poor, with companies distorting the picture to make it seem like digital transformation is further ahead than it is. Organisations don’t always prioritise efficient digital solutions or promote data-based decision making, and nearly half of firms are operating at BIM Level 1 or lower.
  • There is more demand for owner/operators to take their data ownership responsibilities more seriously, due to guidance from IPA and NIC.
  • Small SMEs are struggling to keep up with all the technical advancements that digital transformation offer because technology can be expensive, and they have less time overall to train employees.
  • A little effort from large organisations/clients can pay dividends here - sharing your systems or providing training to those working for SMEs within a project. For a small cost, this could take away burden and cost for SME partners and create trust and more efficiencies. Also, sometimes only large organisations can be the bridge between SMEs who are working digitally and those who are trying to catch up. SMEs are at an advantage too; they can be more agile here as it is far easier to upskill smaller companies with fewer employees.

[edit] Training need

Two types of training exist, and both are needed: awareness about relevant technologies and processes to implement new tech across an organisation. This is best done during on-boarding, when keenness to learn is highest. But also a right-on-time training when something needs to be done immediately. The funding for these two types may reside in different budgets (central HR budget and project budget); accepting this and locating them may be useful in identifying how to fund training.

Also, there is still a bad reaction by some to the concept of digital which to some is a meaningless word and hence digital training sometimes doesn’t land well. Training is a closed, limited-scope activity. Education should be ongoing and encouraged. To get people to think in new ways, perhaps we should call it ‘digital transformation education’ and empower people to organise it for themselves. When people are in control of their own learning, they learn better.

[edit] Looking forward to the infrastructure sector

The industry is shifting from doing projects to providing products (and infrastructure as a service). Systems are slowly becoming data-based rather than form-based. And from this, data-custodian or librarian is an emerging new role.

A lot of changes in current practice have come from people side-stepping in from other industries. One point to consider is, as a sector, do we send enough people out into other industries? If we aren’t doing this, how can we hope to learn from sectors further ahead in digital transformation? Maybe we should be encouraging a lot more people to go out on secondment placements to learn from other organisations.

Traditionally for the sector, we’ve only looked ahead to the end of a project, or maybe to 3-5 year vision. Having a long-term vision may be beneficial, although hard to do. By having a long-term plan, with regular, annual updates, this allows an organisation to adapt well to the current industry and technological possibilities.

[edit] Share this work for better results

Thirteen companies were represented at the ICE's roundtable, and over 161 responded to the survey outlining the problems. It is hugely encouraging to hear that a number of them have already noticed these problems themselves and in some cases taken steps to overcome them. As an industry, we need to share our efforts to enable efficient digital working and results - for that matter - both good and bad. Only from these efforts will we then enable our companies and their supply chains to make the fundamental changes needed and get the most from the digital revolution.

The companies taking part were:

  • Bluebeam
  • UCL
  • Sir Robert McAlpine
  • ISG plc
  • Atkins
  • Scottish Water
  • Balfour Beatty
  • Ramboll
  • Costain
  • Oxfordshire County Council
  • i3PT
  • Arup

--The Institution of Civil Engineers

This article was originally published on 20 April 2020 as Overcoming cultural and behavioural barriers to digital transformation on the ICE Civil Engineer Blog. It was written by Charles Jensen.

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