At the end of 2019, we were looking ahead to a challenging – but exciting – 12 months in construction.
We knew there would be changes ahead. Brexit was set to have a significant impact on construction in the UK and beyond, making business relationships even more important. Tackling productivity and skills shortages would be a focus in every country. We also forecast significant advances in technology adoption, as businesses gradually recognised the value of digital.
None of us would have believed that for months, construction across much of Europe would be halted altogether by a global pandemic. And for many businesses, technology would go from competitive differentiator to absolutely mission-critical.
As we (in many cases joyfully) leave 2020 behind us, we’re brought together experts from our Autodesk Construction Solution (ACS) team in Europe. In this blog, Mike Pettinella, Matt Keen, Sander Lijbers and Nicholas Klokholm share their thoughts on the extraordinary year we’ve had and what we’ve learned.
Changing at speed
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted almost everyone’s plans for 2020. Our research underlined the scale of the impact; in the UK and Ireland, over 79% of owners experienced delayed project start dates – while 28% of subcontractors started working in new areas to mitigate the damage.
As Mike Pettinella, Director of EMEA Sales at Autodesk Construction Cloud, says, “It’s hard to find anything predictable about 2020!” But maybe technology is one area where we at least had an idea of the direction of travel.
“We were confident construction businesses would put more emphasis on the importance of digitalising their businesses throughout 2020,” Mike explains. “However, the pandemic has absolutely accelerated those plans for many firms due to the social distancing and new ways of working that became crucial.”
Although the pandemic was a shock to everyone, businesses that already had some digital platforms in place were slightly better placed when the lockdowns hit, says Nicholas Klokholm, Nordics District Manager. “We definitely saw a massive difference between companies that were used to working with digital technology and those who weren’t. More digitalised businesses were comfortable working remotely, whereas it took others a while to adapt.”
A breakthrough year
But organisations quickly reacted and put the tools in place that they needed. That led to a “breakthrough in the digitalisation of the construction industry,” according to Sander Lijbers, District Manager for Belgium & Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Israel and Eastern Europe.
Nearly half of the owners and main contractors we surveyed introduced technology in direct response to the pandemic, while 47% of main contractors are introducing more remote working tools for the future.
“Businesses adopted digital out of necessity. But those experiences proved that working and collaborating digitally is not only possible; often, it’s more reliable and efficient,” explains Sander.
Construction firms have grown more confident as the months have passed. Nicholas notes, “Before COVID-19 people were reluctant to use video-conferencing for important meetings, but since then companies have seen a massive decrease in travel costs and increase in efficiency – so people aren’t afraid anymore.”
According to Matt Keen, Senior Industry Strategist, the disruption of 2020 has prompted fundamental changes in construction organisations. “It’s been a unique year with the pandemic forcing the construction industry to re-evaluate how it understands performance and mitigates risk.”
The importance of the industry
Mike believes that 2020 has underlined the value of construction to society, and the role of building in countries’ long-term recovery: “In many countries, construction was not deemed essential initially, so sites were shut down as countries went into lockdown. Slowly, government agencies started universally recognising construction as essential.
“Going forward, we’ll see growing emphasis on the importance of the whole construction ecosystem for delivering projects that support economic recovery and positive social outcomes after COVID-19.”
For many organisations, the past year has been about getting through – and throughout the construction industry we’ve seen incredible resilience and adaptability on the most difficult circumstances.
In our next blog, Mike, Matt, Sander and Nicholas share their thoughts on what’s next for construction and how businesses can keep adapting to any surprises ahead.
You can also read more from Mike on why digital technologies will be crucial to delivering the UK government’s National Infrastructure Strategy.