While countries in Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) are in different stages of digitizing their construction industries, there’s one thing at the front of everyone’s mind: the need to embrace innovation.
While new technology can be expensive, the costs of resisting change can be even higher. That’s why construction firms in EMEA are exploring innovation in the process of digitizing the industry. It’s important to understand how other regions are tackling this challenge to identify global lessons and opportunities for the advancement of digitization in construction.
On Episode 11 of Digital Builder, UK-based design and technology enthusiasts Ivana Tudja, BIM and Digital Engineering Lead at Mace, and Matt Keen, Sr. Industry Strategist at Autodesk, join us to discuss digital transformation and technology adoption in the construction industry in EMEA. Other topics we chat about include:
“Obviously new technologies can be expensive. What’s even more expensive is not making any change.” — Ivana Tudja
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Here are 3 things we learned about digital transformation and technology adoption in the EMEA construction industry:
The construction industry has very specific needs when it comes to digitization, and as a result, changes can be slow to start. When you look at where the industry is now, the progress is akin to an entire transformation, according to Ivana. She points to new ways of working for the construction industry as evidence of this transformation.
“I think we're in such an exciting time, where we can define how the construction industry will look in the future,” Ivana says. “So I'm really happy that changes, like very intense changes, only started probably a few years ago, and now we can see that everything is just speeding up and happening so quickly. I'm really excited to be in this specific moment in time and define how the future of construction will look like.”
Some of the biggest changes spurred by the construction industry’s digital transformation are happening at the top of many companies’ org charts. Clients and construction firms alike are trying to unlock the numerous opportunities they see in technology.
“When I think of digital transformation, I think that it's really changed management,” Matt says, adding that the intersection of technology and construction is ripe with opportunity. This has been especially true in recent years.
“What you've seen in the last five years is the startup community has seen that opportunity and it's just exploded.”
With startups chasing more opportunity, there is now an abundance of solutions for construction professionals and their clients to choose from. This has led to an evolution in the tools the industry uses to move projects forward.
“What we're actually seeing is, a lot of what was purchased as point solutions is now coming together and starting to interconnect,” Matt says. “Which makes it really exciting.”
While the EMEA construction industry is making strides in digitization, there are still a number of hurdles to faster progress. These include language barriers, varying degrees of technological savviness among contractors, and different countries being at different stages on their digitization journeys, among other challenges.
“When you compare Europe to the U.S., you have to consider the number of different countries and different languages that we have to deal with. There's so much variance in terms of digital maturity,” Matt says. “It doesn’t just happen on a country-specific basis, but it almost happens in terms of the different types of customers that you've got. So we've got some very advanced GCs, I think because they have a little bit more money to invest on the technology side. But there's still this long tail of subcontractors and specialty contractors that don't have the same amount of money to invest in technology. How do they play with a contractor, and how do they actually use technology to really improve their business?”
The differences between countries, especially in Europe, are also apparent when examining different companies’ levels of digitization progress.
“We've seen some leaders, [like] the U.K. market, maybe the Netherlands, and the Nordics, and certainly Germany,” Matt says. “But then you've got other countries, say in Eastern Europe, that are probably a little bit further behind. It's just different based on where you are, but it's also different based on the type of company you are in that given market.”
In addition to location and company, the level of technology use and fluency also varies by project size. Still, it’s important to try to create a technology strategy tailored to the job’s size and the overall project needs.
“I think it's important to think about the digital strategy for every single job,” Ivana says.
“Because obviously a very small project won't be able to make a huge investment and get fancy technology for themselves. But, I don't want them to be left behind because of it. So what's important is, there isn't one solution that fits everyone.”
The U.K. government mandate that called for every government project to use building information modeling by 2016 accelerated both enthusiasm for BIM, and related educational initiatives.
“We saw an explosion in the number of contractors that started engaging with us and having conversations about how to actually use digital technology and, in particular, building information modeling to actually manage their projects, and what the benefits are,” Matt says. “What you saw was, it used to be small BIM teams within the organization. And then it was, how do you actually get that into the hands of everybody so that they could engage with it?”
The push for BIM in the U.K. has resulted in a large number of highly educated clients pushing for the newest way of working. Having seen the benefits of BIM, even older clients have embraced technological shifts brought on by the mandate, Ivana says. This new-found enthusiasm represents a huge change from her earlier days as a construction professional.
“I still remember early days when I tried convincing one of our clients to try a VR headset and he was very polite, but there was no way that he was trying it,” Ivana says. “Then as we went around the room and everyone did a little walk through the building, he thought, ‘Okay, I'll give it a go.’ And he absolutely loved it. I think it's really powerful when you change people's minds, because these people later on are your biggest promoter--they're your biggest alliances in terms of supporting technology.”
Still, with different countries working at their own pace, there is room for improvement in terms of BIM adoption across EMEA.
“Each country has been slightly different,” Matt says. “From a technology provider’s perspective, or if you're a customer and you're a construction company that has offices in different countries and regions, then you've got to deal with all of those different mandates and requirements, which can be challenging. It’s just about really understanding what it is at that local market level that you need to adhere to.”