Construction is the least digitised sector

‘There will be a growth of off-site manufacturing and prefabrication’ says Tom Boland, Global Head of Digitalisation at Zutec

16th June, 2021
Construction is the least digitised sector

What's your name and what position do you hold?

Tom Boland, Global Head of Digitalisation at Zutec

What are your day to day responsibilities?

I lead project commissioning, training, building certification, operational readiness and handover teams for a wide range of international projects, one of which includes the passenger terminal expansion for the Bechtel Corporation at Muscat International Airport in Oman, and a similar role for the Taisei Corporation at Doha International Airport in Qatar.

What is your professional background?

I have worked deeply in the construction technology arena since 1988, when I joined Trend Controls, a world leader in the Building Energy Management Systems industry. Following that, I worked as a system integrator before joining Zutec in the UK in 2001.

What short term impact do you see the pandemic having on the industry?

The pandemic has accelerated the use of digital tools, particularly in terms of remote communication and collaboration. This will continue and it’s encouraging a broad sweeping cultural change from the boardroom down to site. Construction professionals are increasingly understanding how technology can majorly speed up processes and benefit projects from the design phase through to handover. Leaders are now seeing that technology is necessary for success.

This is especially the case in terms of advanced cloud-based software which helps companies manage their assets and data, offering project managers the improved ability to effectively run their builds, while senior management benefit from real-time reporting at scale so they can see and act upon emerging trends. These platforms will continue to gain momentum in the short term.

All signs point to the sector continuing to use these tools beyond the pandemic, as eventually, crucial parts of the construction process, such as inspections, will become completely remote.

What key technologies do you think will have a lasting impact on the construction sector?

There will be a growth of off-site manufacturing and prefabrication (DfMA processes), along with deep digital field tools, built on database platforms with open data interchange, which will take digital assurance end to end (from factory to site, to inspection to operations).

These changes will lead to improved construction quality, safer buildings and also the ability to more accurately forecast project costs and timeframes, resulting in greater stability for the industry as everyone can achieve a fair margin.

Further, expansion of data models standards for data interchange and interoperability around RDF/OWL, to allow digital fingerprinting from BIM to BAS(+IoT), will also have a lasting impact on the sector.

When it comes to digital transformation, what key challenges is the industry facing?

Construction is the least digitised sector. This is due to a number of reasons, including a lack of digital skills and reluctance to adopt new tools.

While a digitally savvy younger generation moving up the career ladder is helping to resolve these issues, there still needs to be extensive training, as well as courses, offered to both new and existing employees in construction companies in order for all members of the sector to keep up to date on the latest technologies.

While there was a reluctance with some senior managers around the benefits of digital, the pandemic and resulting switch to many more digital tools and processes has totally changed the culture in the industry.

Where do you see the industry in 5 years’ time?

I see more than 70% of projects being prefabricated and packaged, from civil engineering to MEP. The sector will also have become increasingly digitised over time, with digital twins becoming a reality for operators for modelling, and live data interchange becoming the norm.

Additionally, there will be more standardisation with harmonisation across structured data (ontology and taxonomy) towards interoperability across static and dynamic data formats (BIM to BAS/IoT), making it much easier for agile decisions to be made on site and in the boardroom.

Tom will be speaking at Digicon 2021 which takes place this Thursday 17th June. For more details visit www.digitalconstruction.ie

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