Coordination Age: The Construction Opportunity

The Coordination Age is all about making better use of new and connected technologies to improve the management of resources. There are few industries that need it more than construction, which:

  • Generates 39% of industry CO2 emissions and where up to 30% of materials delivered to a construction site can end up as waste.
  • Employs 10% of the global workforce, where there are twice as many fatalities as most industries
  • Is worth $12Trn with an estimated inefficiency of 13% ($1.6Trn)
  • Has barely changed in productivity levels in 60 years between 1950 and 2012 (compared to say manufacturing, which has increased by 900% over the same period)

Construction Industry productivity 1950-2012

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

As part of our ongoing research programme i spoke to Richard Ferris, Chief Technology and Product Officer at asBuilt, one of the largest independent building information modelling (BIM) consultancy specialists in Australasia. Richard was previously Group CTO at Lend Lease Group, a major ($10bn) Australian multinational construction, property and infrastructure company. He is also a leader in the development of digital twins (digital representations) in the architecture, engineering, construction and operation (AECO) value chain and founder and co-chair of the infrastructure working group for Digitial Twin Consortium.

What are the problems to be solved in construction?

Aside from the massive impact on carbon emissions from the production of concrete (which uses coal-based coking in its manufacturing process), there are numerous issues with the AECO value chain. For example:

  • designing complex, multi-dimensional sites in which the distribution of people, and use of energy, goods and services can vary considerably from moment to moment
  • managing the logistics and sustainability of resources
  • managing safety and operations on construction sites and in buildings
  • the energy efficiency and management of buildings and property estates

The construction industry itself is fragmented. There are a few large companies (like Richard’s former employer Lend Lease) and many thousands of contractors, sub-contractors, suppliers and roles where many work for different businesses or for themselves.

Each tends to be siloed into functional units, many are not highly advanced in their use of technologies, and the technologies themselves must be robust to survive the demands of a construction environment.

Information is generally highly siloed and may be stored in many different formats and file types. One area which has more uniformity is in billing, where companies have managed to digitise order and delivery forms to some extent.

However, the processing of bills and claims can still be both somewhat risky (things get lost / challenged, etc.) and generally stressful – after all, who doesn’t hate not getting paid?

What does asBuilt do to help?

asBuilt formally describes that its mission is to ‘harness 3D spatial intelligence to elevate people, performance and planet’. Richard calls it “a platform that is using spatial intelligence to improve the way the Construction industry manages information to support the generation and management of buildings and infrastructure”. 

To do this asBuilt has created a suite of propositions, such as Vault – a digital twin of built assets, running on Microsoft Azure cloud. 

Despite his twin heritage, Richard prefers to use non-twin language explaining “it’s all about spatial intelligence. This allows people to see and find the information they need more easily. It allows customers to overlay different layers of information – for example environmental data superimposed on to reality captured from a building site and taking actions to manage that.”

asBuilt’s Vault proposition schematic

Asbuilt-vault-proposition-schematic

Source: asBuilt

asBuilt therefore aims to create a more intuitive and interactive data visualisation tool to help practitioners make better informed decisions.

Visualisation of asBuilt application on mobiles

Source: asBuilt

A collection of case studies and videos are available here: https://www.asbuiltvault.com/construction. It’s notable that the New Zealand telecom operator Spark is involved in the first case study.

How might this develop in the Coordination Age?

asBuilt’s Vault proposition is a relatively new offering in the construction ecosystem and is the result of successfully using the platform to execute the company’s own building information modelling (BIM) services. 

A vast number of players are engaged in this activity, from classic IT/cloud and analytics giants Microsoft, Oracle, SAP etc., to IIoT players like Schneider Electric, and project collaboration and site progress specialists such as Procore. 

There are a vast range of approaches and architectures that can be applied and asBuilt appears to be an end-to-end solution designed to meet the needs of project management and construction companies. 

STL Partners has also seen de-centralised alternative design approaches by players such as Iotics who provide a versatile multi-party data sharing option. These approaches are not necessarily competitive but complimentary, allowing customers different ways to bring together different elements of the ecosystems they need.

Connected technologies can already help companies to go beyond ‘static’ historical data and connect sensors with ‘right time’ feeds so that decisions can be made in management situations as well as planning and design. 

It remains to be seen how impactful 5G will be this arena. Many challenges need to be resolved first, such as the willingness and ability of parties to share data and establishing trust in the security of connected devices and processes while simultaneously making devices discoverable to only those who should legitimately discover them.

To succeed, 5G connectivity (or 6G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, LORA, LPIoT, or whichever connectivity solution emerges in this arena) will need to be sufficiently versatile and reliable to connect in these environments, consume minimum energy, and operate at an infinitesimally small incremental cost.

Telcos may be able to play a role in facilitating the overall change. The obvious route is through their connectivity services where they can provide additional specialised and packaged services to the construction industry. To capture this opportunity they will first need to develop a more in-depth understanding of and the relationships within the AECO value chain.