Humans are averse to change. Various biological reasons exist that safeguards us from the ever terrifying disruption of our routines. The human brain uses approximately 25% of our overall energy. Our bodies are reluctant to learn something new because it will undoubtedly use a lot of energy. The body is hardwired to maintain a state of equilibrium known as homeostasis. Homeostasis regulates your metabolism, weight, body temperature, heart rate and other parts of your physiology. Your biology fights against anything which alters your equilibrium. For example, exercise raises your heart rate therefore it will be discouraged by a kind of biological inertia to remain in homeostasis. These factors only touch on the physiological reasons why humans dislike change without considering psychological, environmental, personal or situational factors.
Understandably, workers in the construction industry are reluctant to adopt new technologies, innovations or processes. Deadlines in the built environment are serious and place enormous pressure on individuals to get work done as soon as possible. Forcing time-consuming, difficult-to-use technology into the situation can be the worst nightmare of someone under severe time constraints.
Challenges Of Digital Innovation
The construction industry has been slow to innovate digitally. Time is of the essence in the built environment making learning slow technological processes stressful. Addressing these concerns should be a top priority for UK construction companies. Innovation has to work on a business operations level regardless of aesthetics. Meaning innovation may not always look beautiful on a presentation but should be valuable in day-to-day operations.
Some of the most common challenges include:
The benefits of adopting innovative technology include greater productivity, increased revenue, risk mitigation, competitive advantage, differentiation, improved reputation, time-saving and long-term reduced cost.
The benefits are clear as industry leaders have demonstrated how cutting edge technology has led to growth and success when implemented correctly.
So how do we overcome these challenges?
What does it look like to digitise the most basic functions first?
Take a look at the process involved with a site diary/record or construction log.
Site diaries also referred to as site records or construction logs document on-site activities and events for construction projects. They include progress made, critical information such as contact details, agreements, roles and responsibilities, dates, locations, weather, materials and so forth. The data produced is used for post-project debriefing, productivity management and dispute resolution. Site diaries need to be completed accurately and daily.
A key driver for the success of technological adoption lies in keeping things simple and practical. A phone call or text message serves one purpose through one action, use the keys to send or receive information.
Historically, the built environment relied on paper-based processes. For example, printing site diary templates, taking notes at site locations or the end of the day, then transcribing those notes at the office before they are ready to be emailed to relevant parties. This process is outdated because it is time-consuming, riddled with inaccuracies, creates information silos and is cumbersome when disseminating information. It is also limited to written descriptions and does not include photographs, videos or other descriptive tools. Another flaw is inaccurate record-keeping because handwritten documents and emails are hard to find in a mass of mixed information. Making it hard to have daily records organised and secure for future use.
When focus is placed on the needs of site workers the process can be broken down from print, take notes, transcribe, and email to take a picture, type and send. This is possible because digital technology allows site information to be recorded, shared and stored directly from a digital device. Automatically making the information available to relevant parties while also ensuring accurate record keeping.
The convenience of using technology is evident to site workers who will benefit from having additional time. In business operation terms this means no longer relying on end-of-day memory for note taking, being paperless, needing no transcribing, using less time due to added photographs and easily sharing information. Those are identifiable benefits that are easily recognised with little to no resistance. It is also reassuring for office staff to know that the data is available in real-time, on one platform, secure and kept for accurate record-keeping in future.
Take a look at some companies that have used this technology.
Costain has been a UK provider of cutting edge infrastructure solutions to UK energy, water, transportation and defence needs since 1865. Costain is listed on the UK stock exchange and recognised as one of the UKs’ leading smart-infrastructure solutions companies.
- The number of employees is over 3000.
- Site Diary was used on several highway projects.
- With over 100 app users.
- Used for more than 5 years.
Costain identified that recording site diaries through paper-based methods were time-consuming for employees, hard to integrate with graphics and retrieve from archives for future use.
- On average Costain saved approximately 2 hours per day per engineer. The time saving resulted in cost-saving and increased focus on more critical tasks such as risk mitigation.
- Record keeping improved in detail and accuracy.
- Linking graphs, videos and photographs to records were highly beneficial to client communication and overall business operations.
Alun Griffiths was founded in 1968 and is one of the leading civil engineering and rail contractors operating in Wales, the Midlands and South-West England with an annual turnover of approximately £225m. Their client base includes the Welsh Government, Network Rail, Highways England, local authorities, Utility Companies and selected private sector organisations.
- The number of employees is over 1000.
- Site diary was implemented on their Llangefini Link Road projects.
- With 8 app users.
- Used for over 2 years.
Alun Griffiths considered information inaccuracies and incomplete record-keeping as their main concerns. End-users stated that the time necessary to convert their handwritten notes into digital data frustrated their daily activities.
- Approximately 250 hours were saved per year for every supervisor.
- They saw an immediate improvement of comprehensive and accurate records.
- Found that the process of easily sharing information with relevant parties was surprisingly beneficial.
- “We used spreadsheet versions but it was unmanageable. Site Diary is simple to use and includes complementary functions which have proved very helpful in reporting to clients.”
Claire Parks, Office Manager at Cox&Sons Construction.
- “Site reporting improved as site managers use Site Diary, a quick and simple tool, and are therefore more likely to use it.”
Dominika Ciesla, Director at VENT Mechanical Services.
- “Our documentation is consistent and reviewable by backup field staff or office management, and the post-project archives are very easy to manage.”
Christopher Pletcher, Engineering Manager at Ayres Associates.
- “Site Diary assists in tracking site progress more easily and keeping track of resources allocated. It helped us be more professional.”
Ivan Farrugia, Operations Manager at Vaults Co.
- “So much better than the handwritten process. Quick, easy and efficient.”
Katie Swanick, Principal Civil Engineer at Costain Group PLC.
Digitising simple functions first can lead to greater technological adoption, more buy-in from employees and faster transition. Digitisation does not need to be complicated but rather needs to start small and gain momentum.
The roadmap to igniting digital innovation:
For greater buy-in from end-users ensure that site workers are involved with the decision making process. By selecting opinion leaders to discuss digital solutions and choosing the simplest problem first, more net benefits are achieved. Digital solutions have to be practical to the daily activities of site workers to be beneficial. Communicating solutions that will directly improve the lives of end users will smooth over the transition period. This can alleviate stress and establish trust in senior management as well as technology. Digital innovation is not an overnight switch but a journey of continuous improvement leading to success.