Inflation, interest rates, economic uncertainty, and labour shortages are all trending in the wrong direction and making business harder for construction firms.
And yet, when Autodesk recently partnered with Deloitte to conduct an in-depth study of tech adoption in the construction industries across Australia, Singapore and Japan, we found a large pocket of optimism.
In fact, we found that across the organisations we surveyed, the average expectation for annual revenue growth in the next five years was almost 10%. There was a single common denominator among the firms that demonstrated an optimistic outlook about their future prospects: an above-average track record of deploying innovative technology to support their delivery of projects.
There are precious few leaders in the industry who haven’t thought long and hard about what technology they need to be implementing to stay competitive or pull ahead of their peers. From increased productivity, to improved safety, to reduced costs, construction firms are already seeing the benefits from increased use of efficient digital tech.
But what our research lit up in spotlights is the gulf between what is said and what is done. Again and again, we saw the same enablers and the same blockers of effective digitisation and technological progress.
Let’s start with the enablers, the biggest of which was simple – good strategy.
In heartening news, our research found that Australian firms in the sector were more likely than those in either Singapore or Japan to have an organisation-wide digital strategy in place (albeit with significant numbers reporting that not everyone internally saw its value).
But those organisations with a broad strategy in place are already seeing major benefits, being almost three times as likely as those without a strategy to be experiencing a high or very high impact from digitisation.
There was also a clear, consistent correlation between strategy and tech implementation. Almost all businesses with a valued organisation-wide strategy are currently powering ahead in investing in new technologies. The rate among those without such a strategy is just half that.
However, almost every single firm we spoke to reported facing barriers to introducing new tech, and it will surprise no-one that skills were the chief hurdle, followed by a lack of budget and a lack of time.
More than two in five firms said their people didn’t have the digital skills required, while almost the same number said they were uncertain about what skills exactly were even required.
Amid a skills shortage, training stands tall as an invaluable lever to pull. But, crucially, not all training is created equal. Our research showed loud and clear that the effectiveness of training has a major impact on how much impact digitisation has on a firm’s performance.
In fact, outfits who offered training that staff didn’t perceive as useful were just a third as likely as those with useful training to report that digitisation was having a high impact on their performance.
Five steps to progress
The beauty of research like this is that it enables us to draw out common themes for what works and what doesn’t, cutting out all the noise from individual scenarios and giving us a good idea of what will work for most construction organisations plotting ways to harness the benefits that new and emerging tech can deliver them.
What that has revealed are five priority areas for builders looking to overcome the most common barriers blocking digital progress.
Build an organisation-wide strategy
A cohesive digital tech strategy is almost table stakes for meaningful moves forward here, but not all strategies are created equal. A strategy that is not shared across all business units creates risks – the risk of gaps, the risk of doubling up and other efficiencies, the risk of solutions not being fit for purpose across the business.
Bring everyone along
Our research showed that strategies that were broadly valued drove more positive change than those that weren’t, which is not surprising.
Many digital tools come with learning curves, and often necessitate changing long-established practices. Building your staff’s desire for change builds the strongest foundation for what comes next. And that internal desire for change is going to be hard-won unless your staff’s perspectives are considered when assessing new tech – and that discussion of any change is centred around the benefits for them. Saving time and frustration, for instance, is a much stronger motivator than saving the company money.
Build the skills you need in house.
There are certain skill sets in new and emerging tech that are immensely valuable. You want people with these skills on your team – but so do your competitors. It’s what makes being able to train your own team effectively so important. It’s also what makes training such a powerful force multiplier for digital tech.
Find the right partners.
New tools and applications are emerging at an unprecedented pace, faster than even the biggest builders can stay fully across.
This is why finding the right partners with the right technical expertise can be an incredibly useful enabler of progress. Rather than having to stay across an entire sector’s worth of technological progress, firms with the right partners can learn from what has – or has not worked – elsewhere, saving them time and getting them moving forward faster.
Realise more isn’t always more.
In a way, this is an extension of having the right strategy, but it’s important enough to bear repeating. By foregrounding what you’re trying to achieve – boosting productivity, cutting rework, simplifying quantifications – will go a long way to ensuring you don’t get distracted by the hype of the month.
There’s also a lot to be said about pragmatism. Let’s say there are two solutions: one does the core of what you are looking for, is very intuitive, and is easy to use by all project members, or another has some intricate bells and whistles but comes with a lot steeper learning curve. Any solution is only as good as the data that is put into it. As the saying goes, good/bad data in, good/bad data out, and the path of least resistance will show its value to your people quickly, and with minimal fuss, a positive feedback cycle will start internally.
This is just a glimpse of the insights contained in our research. To view the full State of Digital Adoption in Construction Report 2023, click here.