A MOBILE APPROACH
Mark Dyer from Audacia looks at the rise of mobile working in the construction industry and explores both the benefits and challenges of this potentially game-changing opportunity.
When the Government launched the UK’s Industrial Strategy in 2017, it highlighted the importance of the construction sector to the nation’s economy, with 2.9 million jobs (since revised to 3.1 million) and a total economic contribution of nearly £90 billion.
However, it also highlighted the potential for improvement. According to the Construction Sector Deal, published in July 2018 as part of the Industrial Strategy roll-out, the construction sector has been held back by productivity that is historically below than the wider economy – an average of 21 per cent lower since 1997. Slow take-up of innovative technologies has played a part in this shortfall in productivity – and it’s time for change.
Deal or no deal?
The Construction Sector Deal is an “ambitious” partnership between Government and industry that aims to transform productivity in the construction sector through innovative technologies and a more highly skilled workforce.
Amongst the key deliverables there are numerous references to technology, specifically; “digital technologies (to be) deployed at all phases of design to deliver better, more certain results during the construction and operation of buildings” and “clients, design teams, construction teams and the supply chain working more closely together to improve safety, quality and productivity during construction, optimise performance during the life of the building and better our ability to upgrade.”
Ultimately, this comes down to enhanced adoption of technology; specifically, proven technologies which are already showing their value in raising productivity by improving workflows and efficiencies across other sectors such as manufacturing and retail. To return to the Industrial Strategy, organisations in the construction sector can expect to see “productivity gains of up to 15% if they invest in the right technology for their business” – but how can they sure they make the right choice?
One solution which is proving increasingly viable is the introduction of integrated mobile technologies within the construction industry.
Mobile allows users to challenge the traditional ways of working, integrating technology with onsite processes to increase real-time visibility, reporting and predictive decision making. More than 82% of respondents from a 2017 JBKnowledge ConTech report categorised mobile capabilities as either “important” or “very important” to their business and clearly the potential to increase productivity is huge.
But what are the main drivers behind the adoption of mobile working in the construction sector and what should organisations be considering when implementing the technology? Let’s explore further.
As the Industrial Strategy and the Construction Sector Deal note, collaboration is key to improving productivity and mobile working solutions can facilitate this by enabling teams to work together in real-time, removing any physical barriers between sites, employees or departments that previously caused inefficiencies.
Fully integrated mobile working solutions have the ability to increase cross-business transparency, giving increased visibility for each project team, site and department on build details, status and progress, as well as total access to the vital build information needed for completion. Increased transparency enables teams to work better together throughout the project life-cycle.
Greater accessibility and transparency also reduces silos so issues can be captured and resolved sooner – all of which means teams are more productive and better placed to meet and exceed targets against delivery schedules.
Another clear benefit of mobile solutions is reducing the time taken to complete tasks by automating key processes. By replacing manual, paper-based processes, mobile devices streamline operations, improving workflows and reducing time taken on repetitive tasks from hours to minutes.
As an example, the process of reporting from the construction site can be completed in real-time, with project managers and office staff being kept up to date with site activity, issues, requests for information and project milestones, even when not on site. With most mobile devices carrying rich media functions, site workers also have the ability to upload photos, videos and supporting documentation to applications, enabling rich auditing and powering inventive processes, such as image-based machine learning techniques.
As with most solutions that digitise and automate processes, mobile solutions help to mitigate risk too. Mobile working solutions eliminate manual error and lost documents, and there is also greater accessibility to data and documents on site. This can help to reduce higher level risks in aspects such as health and safety and the misuse of protocol, as the relevant, accurate and up-to-date documentation is at the fingertips of employees where and when they need it most.
With limited ability to audit paper-based processes, mobile solutions also offer a digital trail that enables any verifications or deviations from the scope of work, schedule or cost to be tracked throughout each stage of development, giving greater visibility across projects.
Of course, mobile technologies do not come without their considerations. Integration is vital and mobile solutions – like any new adoption of technology – need to connect seamlessly with the relevant business systems in order to provide transparent flows of information and to see real productivity gains. Mobile solutions offer a great means of collecting valuable information, but the key to success is how this information is passed to key business systems.
When looking to integrate business systems, it is critical to identify and research all available application programming interfaces (APIs) and look to test these interfaces through proof of concepts to ensure that they support requirements and behave as anticipated.
Adopting organisations must also consider the durability of such devices, particularly in challenging site conditions but with the advancement of hardware solutions such as ‘tough tablets’, which are built to resist construction hazards, mobile working is becoming more accessible than ever. Rugged devices can now cope with factors such as heavy dust, rain, humidity, rain and large drops (e.g. on cement and steel floors), as well as having light adjusting screens to suit environments and ‘glove touch’ functions to name a few.
With proven technologies, demonstrable benefits and a host of added features including durable devices built for site conditions, mobile systems have the potential to change the face of the construction industry and deliver the improved efficiencies that are so urgently required. Can you afford to miss out on enhanced productivity?
For more information visit www.audacia.co.uk.?