From devastating bushfires to a global pandemic, the sheer scale of disruption over the past twelve months has been unprecedented for most of us in the industry. And yet, hope prevails. Construction workers around Australia have shown incredible resilience, proving their ability to adapt and recalibrate to the new conditions.
Procore recently released its How We Build Now Tracking Technology in 2020 report. The report is an in-depth examination of the construction industry, concentrating particularly on technological advances, business practices, and major trends of the year. Independent research company ACA Research interviewed 260 construction businesses across Australia for first-hand accounts of how they are leveraging technology to adapt, grow, and expand.
On June 4, Procore hosted a round table webinar to discuss the report’s findings with some of Australia’s construction leaders. Corrie McLeod, publisher at Innovation Aus moderated the session. Guests included Ben Selwyn (Director at ACA Research), David Chandler (New South Wales Building Commissioner at New South Wales Department of Customer Service), Matthew Rayment (Chief Operating Officer at PBS Building), and Sara Cecchi (Business Improvement Manager at SHAPE Australia).
Here were the key takeaways from the roundtable discussion.
1. A Tough Year Creating Widespread Uncertainty
If you have spent late nights strategising how to survive 2020, you’re not alone. Figures show that general sentiment across the industry turned fairly bleak after a series of massive blows. Despite the bushfires raging across the country, 69% of construction businesses were still confident about industry business conditions at the start of this year. However, the onset of COVID-19 shook our foundations. Two months later, only 43% of respondents were looking positively to the year ahead.
Small businesses are feeling the COVID-19 impact hardest, with an expected 61% drop in the number of projects for the year, with the average still showing a 33% drop in the value of the projects they will be carrying out. For around a third of Australian construction businesses, they are considering shutting down for good.
2. Pre-Fab Materials Still the Biggest Driver for Change
When it comes to current technology use, pre-fabricated parts remain the most impactful, followed by BIM/CAD, and drones in third place. Of all the contributors to driving technology change in the next three years, pre-fab production took the greatest slice of the pie at 44%. David Chandler, New South Wales Building Commissioner at New South Wales Department of Customer Service, noted that whilst pre-fab is a key area for growth, it’s also important to consider the role of regulation in ensuring the quality of the pre-fab products.
“Imagine a scenario where buildings could ultimately become just the delivery route,” said David. “They just basically pick up the last bit and plug it in and put their hand up and say, ‘Did I get a five-star rating?’ So this is a trend that’s happening, but we’re going to have to (still) encourage it. From a regulator’s point of view, we haven’t even really got set for it, so we’ll be putting a lot of time into that because at the moment, we only have visibility to what physically happens on the site.”
3. The COVID-19 Shutdown Created New Thinking Around Technology
Many of us were forced into making major changes to our technology processes and products during the 2020 COVID-19 shutdown. As instant, responsive tools to manage job sites and staff remotely have suddenly become crucial, the lockdown turned out to be a surprising moment of growth for the Australian construction industry.
“What we’ve seen is that a number of firms have actually been able to use this time to say, ‘Let’s review how we operate. Let’s think about what we can do better, and let’s try and design a better process for that’,” said Ben Selwyn, Director at ACA. “They’re using technology to manage the risks on-site and ensure that they are running safe job sites.”
Nearly half of the surveyed construction businesses said they are using technology to manage risk on-site, whilst a further 38% admitted to using technology to improve productivity while in remote environments.
4. Training is a Challenge When Introducing New Tech
Rome wasn’t built in a day. The introduction of new technology is a multi-phase project, ranging from product selection to planning the rollout, to ongoing managerial support. For most Australian construction businesses, however, the training proved the greatest challenge.
Approximately, a third said training subcontractors on how to use the technology created the greatest stress, whilst 27% pointed to training permanent site staff. Either way, implementing tech solutions from concept to practice is an area that could use some attention.
Matthew Rayment (Chief Operating Officer at PBS Building) said that, ironically, it was technology that helped solve the problem.
“We’re using a lot of video tutorials and a lot of online learning management systems to roll out training,” said Matthew. “So that’s been a big way that we’ve helped manage the change, and then through what we’re doing right now, through a lot of video conferencing.”
5. Good Data Will be the Key to Growth
In order to learn and grow from such a difficult year, the panel all agreed that the collection of strong data is key in drawing the insights needed to plan ahead.
“Technology is all well and good, but you need the data that sits behind that. And why is that important? Ultimately, that’s important because these businesses recognize that if they manage their data better, that would have a significant financial impact,” said Ben.
The report called out some major benefits to mining your business data, including improved knowledge, increased regulatory compliance, safer working conditions, and even reduced costs. In fact, businesses estimated they could reduce project costs by 12% with more efficiently captured data.
The report is positive that the year ahead cannot be all doom and gloom. Fifty-one per cent of businesses agreed, for example, that women will form a key part of the construction workforce over the next decade. And almost half of the respondents said they had full faith they were set for success ahead, with 44% saying that they were “very confident” the current workforce had the skills for their work this year.