Construction is one of the biggest industries in the UK, accounting for around seven per cent of GDP and employing as many as 2.5 million workers in the UK. But despite this importance, it’s often a slow-moving sector, with many firms still missing out on the modernisation and digital innovations seen in other parts of the economy.

However, this is changing as recognition of the need to improve productivity grows, as well as increase profit margins and meet evolving customer demands. Whether it’s cloud-based planning and design tools, improved on-site collaboration solutions or mobile services that let employees access data from anywhere, digital products and services are now essential to the success of many projects.

So what are the challenges facing this sector, and how can having the right technology help firms tackle these issues and deliver the best performance in the most cost-effective way?

Doing more with less – the challenges facing construction firms

A major issue for construction firms right now is how they can keep productivity high against the backdrop of increased customer demands and a range of external pressures. Like almost every part of the economy, the twin challenges of Covid-19 and Brexit have created new issues for the construction industry, but these are just some of the difficulties these firms are experiencing.

The need for greater agility

A key question for the sector is how firms will cope in a rapidly-expanding industry. With both public sector projects and private initiatives set to continue growing, and a large backlog of work to be completed from the first lockdown, there’s huge pressure on companies to deliver projects quickly and effectively. Indeed, prime minister Boris Johnson has made construction a focal point of his post-pandemic recovery plan, pledging to “build, build, build” on everything from hospitals to infrastructure.

As a result, firms need to be more agile and have the flexibility to scale up quickly. But they’re doing this against a backdrop of tight budgets and an uncertain future.

For instance, Brexit has had an impact on areas such as supply chains, with one survey by IHS Markit finding 45 per cent of firms reported longer lead times for the delivery of construction inputs due to transport shortages and delays at UK ports. Leaving the EU is also expected to have an impact on the sector’s workforce, with the Construction Products Association suggesting more than a quarter of EU-born workers have left in the last year.

All this means firms will find themselves under major pressure to deliver projects on time and on budget in a challenging landscape.

A more complex environment

Many of the projects construction firms are working on are also increasingly complex, which will create a new range of demands. For example, work may be spread out across multiple different sites, which can lead to challenges when it comes to communications and collaboration. Even at single location projects, large, sprawling sites can make keeping in touch with employees elsewhere on the development difficult. This can lead to miscommunications and poorer productivity.

While mobile solutions to keep employees in touch when they are travelling between these locations will be a must, firms should also be investing in technology that will reduce the need for travel between these sites, such as videoconferencing and other communication tools like Swift.

The demands driving digital transformation

These issues are often compounded by a lack of technology tools. According to one study by McKinsey, construction is one of the least-digitised parts of the economy, ahead of only agriculture and hunting. Meanwhile, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) has said the sector remains “rooted in the practices of the 20th century”.   

However, this is starting to change. Research by IDC and Autodesk found almost three-quarters of global construction firms (72 per cent) regard digital transformation as essential, with this even higher in Europe, where 82 per cent of companies view this as critical to their future success.

Meeting demands for higher productivity

One reason for this is a need to improve productivity while keeping costs down. Many businesses are operating on very tight profit margins, and as such, even small efficiency improvements can have a notable impact on a firm’s bottom line.

Therefore, tools that can help boost communication, reduce asset downtime and streamline key processes will be a must. This is likely to result in increased demand for solutions such as AI and machine learning to monitor asset conditions and make adjustments to boost performance. Predictive analytics, process automation, mobility and collaboration tools will also be a part of this, so firms must start planning for the adoption of such technologies now.

The tech tools to keep construction firms building

The first step in meeting these demands must be ensuring construction firms have the right connectivity and communication tools available to support a more digital environment.

For instance, having effective wireless tools available across entire sites is a must. Whether this uses Wi-Fi or advanced 5G mobile connectivity, this ensures people can keep in touch wherever they are on-site, or with employees based elsewhere.

This can also be essential as a platform for cloud services such as cloud telephony. These solutions can be an important part of the communications landscape for construction firms as they can easily allow lines to be added or removed on-demand, as well as offer a cheaper alternative to relying on mobile networks.

These benefits are critical for firms that may be dealing with contractors who are coming and going on a regular basis. This should be added to with the right hardware, such as robust headsets that can cope with the rigors of a construction environment, in order to ensure that people across the organisation and beyond can keep in touch at all times, regardless of their location.

If you want to know how construction firms can deploy communications and connectivity technologies as the backbone of their digital transformations, get in touch with one of Arrow’s expert advisors today.

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