Construction sites across the globe have begun to deploy new solutions rapidly as firms are realising the advantage that digital technologies can bring to their operations. 2020 has shifted this move significantly as many firms have had to grapple with remote working and social distancing on sites. Nonetheless, the construction industry is still the lowest ranked economic sector in terms of digital uptake in Europe, and more needs to be done, according to The Committee for European Construction Equipment (CECE).
Ivana Tudja is the BIM and Digital Engineering Lead at the UK based, international consultancy and construction firm Mace Group. For Ivana the barriers to digital transformation in the construction industry are not born out of an unwillingness to change, but instead out of a lack of understanding of how to change. In this Behind the Build blog, Ivana shares her top tips to digital transformation as well as her experience of being a woman in the industry.
Ivana, a lot of firms find it difficult to implement and embed digital technologies into their day-to-day ways of working, why do you think this is?
As one of the least digitalised sectors in the world, I truly believe that there’s a common misconception in the industry – rather than construction being a sector that doesn’t want to change, I think it just doesn’t know how to. I’ve worked with so many technically minded people who are resolving some of most complex engineering problem, so I find it hard to believe that they wouldn’t be able to deal with the technology that’s out there. That made me think that maybe we just need a different approach which involves a lot of direct communication and explaining benefits of changes we are making. I think some firms are too focused on finding the ‘perfect’ solution when in fact, there probably isn’t one. Construction firms need to be agile in their approach to digital transformation, accepting the speed at which technology moves and being flexible to change.
In your experience, what do you think is the most effective way of introducing digital technologies into construction projects?
Making a change always comes with challenges but as I’ve managed to overcome them many times, I wanted to share a few top tips. They are much wider than just putting processes and procedures in place, I believe in a more holistic approach:
- Have a vision – don’t just think about how things are done but think about how you’d like to see things ideally work in the future. A danger of the fix mindset is that it will really limit you in making a progress. One thing you’ll often here is that this is not how we do things. It shouldn’t matter how you do things at the moment, you should focus on the outcomes, not processes.
- Do your research – exploring new technologies in the market is important as technology moves at speed. Continually keeping up to date with products and how they are evolving can help you when it comes to exploring solutions to meet the outcomes you need. 2017 doesn’t seem that far but I was just talking to a very exciting start-up who was only founded then. This just makes it clear that what was the right solution 5 years ago might not be the way to go now or in a few years when you actually need to handover your project.
- Test your product – whilst technology has the power to solve some of the biggest issues facing the construction industry, it’s important to always test how the product can work for you and ensure it’s doing everything required. It’s also important not to lose touch with technology so, regardless of your seniority, you should always make sure you stay relevant and understand the power technology can offer you and your teams. Don’t underestimate how important user friendliness and intuitiveness is – I’ve seen some pretty intelligent solutions failing, as they were just too complicated for everyday use.
- Know your colleagues – understanding who will be using digital technologies, and how, is also really important. Structured training as well as clear communication on the experience of using the tools needs to continue after a new technology is introduced to help continually and improve productivity. I always identify the right digital partners on site who will be able to provide support on day-to-day basis and I think it’s really important to always be available if they come across any issues.
- Be a rebel – don’t be afraid to think outside the box and do things differently! For a sector that hasn’t changed a whole lot, it might be tough to get some of your ideas approved so be bold. Don’t be afraid of setbacks, and if you truly believe you’ve found a solution to some of the biggest problems, then persistence is key.
Ivana, what’s your career journey to date been like and how did you get into the role you’re in now?
I’ve been working in the industry for over 15 years now first starting my career as a qualified architect and Autodesk Instructor / ATC Manager. Back then, I began using technology more to improve the way we worked in the early stages of a project and could see the benefits it brought. I was also spending a significant amount of time teaching students how to use software which pushed me to get a deeper understanding of how it works. This led me to move to a career in construction where I helped a construction firm think about how they could do things better and eventually, I ended up at Mace Group. I’m responsible for developing BIM and digital engineering strategies for public sector projects, whilst also making sure they are implemented on site.
Do you think that changes in technology are creating more opportunities for women in the industry? If so, how?
I think the move to more digital ways of working – whether that be BIM or digital construction has helped to improve effective communication and collaboration on projects and have also opened up opportunities for women.
The traditional ‘norms’ in the industry of long days, unsociable hours and the lack of flexibility are slowly disappearing, and women are seeing that they can have an interesting and varied career whilst balancing other private responsibilities they may have. Our digital teams have also definitely moved away from macho culture typical for construction which is a very positive step forward.
Over the last few years, a wealth of jobs are becoming more available that focus on driving digital technologies and adoption within organisations. These roles can incorporate flexible and remote working opportunities, but I think it’s really important that as women in the industry we break down some of the barriers to success – sharing our stories and supporting each other. At Mace, we have a ‘Women at Mace’ network which aims to support women in the organisation develop and learn more about the opportunities available as well as practical tips on developing their careers. The goal is to bring a gender balance and narrow down the pay gap in construction which is still way higher than what we would like it to be. I’m fully aware that construction can have sometimes have negative connotations and I’m hoping that I can personally contribute to changing that perception.