The building and construction sector has been notoriously slow to adopt new digital technologies across the chain of contractors, project managers and consultants.
Some organisations in this industry are up to 50 years old and are considered digital transformation ‘laggards.’ It’s a tag that one of Australia’s oldest constructions firm, ADCO Constructions, has been working to shake off.
“ADCO is playing catch up – [digitisation] wasn’t a focus for the business for a long time. In the last two years, there has been a big focus on modernising our operations,” Douglas Zuzic, chief information officer at ADCO told CIO Australia.
Since 2017, ADCO – a firm with 580 staff across 6 offices and 45 project sites – has become a ‘cloud-first’ organisation, moving applications to Microsoft Azure and rolling out Dropbox.
“All of our applications are cloud-based. One of our requirements [getting access to] open APIs and we are using those to pull data through an ETL (extract, transform, load) process into a data foundation layer and then using that for project and state-based reporting,” he said.
Zuzic said ADCO was able to ‘leapfrog’ other construction companies that are going down the remote desktop and thin-client path, using an on-site data centre and applications sold under perpetual licenses.
“We were able to go straight to the cloud, we were mature enough for it…we rolled out 17 new projects in 12 months and they were varied in terms of size and scale – we are getting traction pretty quickly.”
An initial benefit of digitisation for ADCO has been improvements in operational efficiency. For instance, the time it takes supervisors at the organisation to complete a site diary (which they use to record occurrences at a building site) has been reduced from one hour to 20 minutes, said Zuzic.
“The biggest advantage we are now seeing is in the consolidation of safety and financial data. And then we use that consolidation for reporting and analytics and that’s where we get true business value,” he said.
These days, ADCO is also big on age diversity with more than 50 per cent of its staff under the age of 40.
“The pendulum has swung in terms of [having the right technology] capabilities and it’s not as big an issue that it was five years ago. The appetite is now larger for more modern processes and applications as opposed to doing things with paper and pen,” he said.
“There’s been a change from [using technology for] contractor inductions to using drones on work sites. Traditionally, people would be carrying around toolboxes. Now, they are carrying around toolboxes with iPads and a smartphone.”
Understanding construction processes is very important when it comes to rolling out technology and there needs to be a clear reason, he said.
“There’s a lot of [technology] hype and it’s important to understand whether there are true benefits – if there are, they need to be lined up with a process. The other big one is intuitiveness, making sure that technology is easy to use and familiar because less training is always better,” he said.
Meanwhile, Zuzic highlighted that IT budgets allocated by construction companies are not as high as other industries. A 2017 McKinsey report also found that construction is the second least innovative industry in the world behind agriculture and hunting.
“There’s a strong case [for the fact that] the technology wasn’t there and wasn't ready yet but it has reached the level of maturity where it is ready,"he said.
"I think the landscape for construction is a perfect for cloud and mobility. But I do think things are changing and changing pretty quickly. Looking around the speaking to counterparts within the industry I think now the benefits are starting to come through."
Follow Byron Connolly on Twitter: @ByronConnolly
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