Digital transformation is affecting construction firms globally, and the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region is no exception. From introducing digital workflows to managing change and technology adoption, construction leaders in APAC are navigating through a range of benefits and challenges.
As the industry looks to digitize, companies are realizing the potential for increased safety, efficiency, and cost savings. However, firms must also address the need for upskilling their workforce and ensuring interoperability between different technology platforms.
In today's episode of Digital Builder, we explore these issues and what trends are emerging in the APAC region.
During Autodesk University, I had the opportunity to speak with Muhammad Khalil Shaiful Bahari, Deputy Director for the Group Technology Office at Boustead Projects Limited, and William Low, Asia-Pacific Regional Sales Manager at Autodesk.
Our conversation centered around the current state of digital adoption in APAC, the major roadblocks in scaling up digitization, and the role of construction technology in the success of current and upcoming projects.
We kick off the conversation by discussing some of the challenges of digital adoption—specifically around launching and scaling digital initiatives in APAC.
According to Khalil, they've faced two hurdles at Boustead: cost and change management.
"Cost is always a traditional barrier. Plus, we are looking at a skilled workforce. So, when we talk about adoption, we talk about change management. There needs to be a tandem in terms of the risk," he remarks.
The good news is that people are becoming more receptive to digital adoption, notes Khalil. The challenge now is how to democratize this adoption across different departments and business units.
"It's not just the operational guys. We are also talking about our HR department—how they adopt and streamline some of our digital platforms and make sure that everybody stays productive within the organization."
Plus, there's the challenge of "knowledge transfer to the other regional offices that we have, such as Vietnam and Malaysia," he adds.
The integration of digital tools has revolutionized various processes in APAC organizations, with the most notable change being in how teams collaborate.
Khalil points out that the main driver of this shift was the pandemic. "Mr. Covid-19 has always been our Chief Transformation Officer," he quips.
"There's much more virtual collaboration today across the value chain and the ecosystem—not only within our internal organization. We have clients across different geographical locations, and we're able to do that with the use of technology."
Khalil explains that virtual collaboration is no longer a luxury today; it's the norm.
"It's very necessary for us to operate in a much more productive way. And at the same time, this will provide a value-add not only to us as a company but also to the client being able to communicate, collaborate, and coordinate across different geographical locations."
One challenge that can prevent effective digital adoption is siloed data. William discusses the importance of consolidating data into a single platform to make well-informed decisions and mitigate risk in the construction industry.
"What holds data is important. How do we get the data into a single platform? There's so much data running all over the place, and there are so many silos that cause a lot of defaults," he says.
William adds, "The way I see it, Bousted is in a very good position to amplify this with their ecosystem. How do they get the whole ecosystem to work more effectively? I see that as a huge opportunity."
Digital transformation is an exciting process, and the willingness of people to adopt technology is crucial to success.
Khalil cautions teams about the perils of the "Shiny New Toy Syndrome."
Rather than getting pulled into the latest shiny object, focus on solutions that genuinely add value, he says.
"We fall back on the user requirement and the user need. What kind of value does it give to the user? We ensure these adoptions are not white elephants when we adopt a platform."
We bring back the conversation to the topic of data, as it's a vital part of any digital transformation initiative.
According to Khalil, a successful data strategy starts with a robust platform. From there, teams need to focus on adequately creating and filtering data to get meaningful insights—i.e., through analytics and business reporting.
Beyond that, he notes the role of automation, AI, and machine learning in streamlining processes. These technologies help teams "remove some traditional paper-based or manual processes and use the data to do some reporting."
Khalil also brought up the challenges Boustead faced when introducing new data processes.
"The challenge when we tried to adopt this was the middle management. They were used to paper-based reporting like PowerPoint, Excel files, and crunching some of this data."
He continues, "But we said, 'Look, we already have tons of data collected through various platforms. How do we then use this for visualization, so it makes sense?'"
"This gives the senior management much more transparency, a better, clearer value of what's going on in the company. We also set very clear KPIs around data reporting, and we are on track to becoming a data-driven decision company today."
William chimes in and brings up the importance of connecting office and field teams.
"The platform strategy is important not only in the office but also on the field," he remarks.
"Statistics show that 95.5% of data coordinated in the office is stuck in the office. They are not reaching the site. The people on site are all using raw data, and that's where 280 billion of rework is happening worldwide."
Regarding the technology developments he's excited about, Khalil mentions several trends that Boustead is currently exploring, including predictive analytics, reality capture, mixed reality, the Metaverse, and smart building.
He also mentions sustainability which is a hot topic in Singapore and other APAC regions. He touches on using the Internet of Things (IoT) and sensors to collect data to augment sustainability efforts.
Khalil adds that one more major trend in the construction industry is automation. Due to labor shortages and pandemic-related restrictions, firms are moving towards automation to manage resources efficiently. This trend is not just limited to Singapore; it's also making waves in countries like Malaysia and Vietnam, where the supply of workers has decreased.
"How can we automate some of these tasks with robotics and automation? These are trends that organizations, general contractors, and builders are moving towards. They want to manage their resources in a much more efficient way, and they understand they cannot rely on a previous way of doing things where it is very labor intensive."
Meanwhile, William highlights the importance of leveraging BIM data and making it usable. He mentions the authorities in Hong Kong and Singapore emphasize the digitalization of business processes.
He also sees developments in how teams use BIM. "I think now we're going beyond just BIM harmonizing data coming from approved models. How are you going to translate it into something usable?"
William adds, "We want to make sure there will be a platform to support this vision, and we are helping companies get on board the right platform."
Digital Builder is hosted by me, Eric Thomas. Remember, new episodes of Digital Builder go live every week.
If you want to learn more about digital transformation in APAC, catch the full episode with Khalil and William—out now!
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