Modern engineering and construction projects are growing ever more ambitious and complex. Technology plays an integral part in helping the industry to achieve such goals, enabling enhanced design, planning, and construction.
Despite substantial technological investments, the construction industry is struggling to gain the full benefits of technologies in areas such as advanced data and analytics, mobility, automation, and robotics. This difficulty comprises the key finding from “Global Construction Survey: Building a Technology Advantage,” KPMG International’s annual report.
More than 200 senior construction executives took part in this survey, but just eight per cent of their companies had high levels of technology adoption, while 64 per cent of contractors and 73 per cent of project owners ranked in the low to middling levels of ‘industry follower’ or ‘behind the curve.’
“The survey responses reflect the industry’s innate conservatism towards technologies, with most firms content to follow rather than lead” says Geno Armstrong, KPMG’s U.S. engineering and construction sector leader. “Many lack a clear technology strategy, and either adopt it in a piecemeal fashion or not at all.”
Two-thirds of respondents believe project risks are increasing. According to Armstrong, this is an industry ripe for disruption, yet less than 20 per cent of participants say they are aggressively altering their business models.
“Projects around the world are becoming bigger, bolder, and more complex—and with complexity comes risk,” says Armstrong. “Innovations like remote monitoring, automation, and visualization have enormous potential to speed up project progress and improve accuracy and safety.”
Lagging use of data, mobility, and integrated project management technologies
According to the survey, engineering and construction firms and project owners are not taking full advantage of the volumes of data at their fingertips. Almost two-thirds of those surveyed do not use advanced data analytics for project estimation and performance monitoring. Moreover, only a quarter of respondents say they are able to ‘push one button’ to get all their project information. Even fewer claim to use a single, integrated project management information system (PMIS) across the enterprise.
“Integrated, real-time project reporting is still a myth rather than a reality for most,” says Armstrong. “That’s largely because firms tend to use multiple software platforms that are manually monitored and disconnected, which severely compromises their effectiveness.”
Mobility is another technology with great potential—in this case, the potential to analyze and track performance for large construction projects via hand-held devices. A significant majority of respondents employ remote monitoring for project sites, yet less than 30 per cent say they make use of mobile devices routinely on their projects. A similar proportion do not use mobile platforms at all, and only a third say they are employing robotics and automation.
Room for improving project controls
The fact more than two-thirds of survey respondents believe their project controls are either ‘optimized’ or ‘monitored’ suggests processes to implement new technology are in place, but not necessarily delivering the required results. Only 27 per cent of respondents believe their controls are truly globally consistent.
The survey also finds less than a majority of respondents are realizing the full benefits of earned value management (EVM) to measure cost and schedule performance, with over 40 per cent saying they do not use it at all.
Getting the most from technology
Harnessing the true potential of technology requires construction companies and project owners to clarify their technology vision and strategy.
In Armstrong’s view, “the rapidly evolving infrastructure challenges of the next decade demand both owners and engineering and construction firms embrace technology more strategically and at a far more rapid pace than in the past.”
Technology inevitably brings change in its wake, at a speed that is likely to increase exponentially in the coming years. Armstrong believes the sooner companies can embrace the exciting potential of technology, the greater will be their collective contribution to business and to society.