Construction industry in a need to adopt a combination of technologies
The construction industry has been facing multiple challenges even without the effect of the Covid pandemic. To better understand the role of technology in the construction industry a panel discussion titled- ‘Most compelling technological interventions’ was organised on Day 2 of the CONSTRUCTION TECHNOLOGY SUMMIT, which was held on July 22-23, 2021.
Information as of December 2020 from the Ministry of Statistics and programme implementation, which monitors infrastructure projects, states that out of the projects worth Rs 150 crores and above 442 projects reported cost overrun and 536 reported time escalation.
Highlighting this report, the moderator of the session Sanjay Garg, Partner, PwC said that despite all the technological advances we are making, we are still lagging in basic project management.
The construction industry has been facing multiple challenges even without the effect of the Covid pandemic. To better understand the role of technology in the construction industry a panel discussion titled- ‘Most compelling technological interventions’ was organised on Day 2 of the CONSTRUCTION TECHNOLOGY SUMMIT, which was held on July 22-23, 2021. Information as of December 2020 from the Ministry of Statistics and programme implementation, which monitors infrastructure projects, states that out of the projects worth Rs 150 crores and above 442 projects reported cost overrun and 536 reported time escalation. Highlighting this report, the moderator of the session Sanjay Garg, Partner, PwC said that despite all the technological advances we are making, we are still lagging in basic project management. There is an opinion that technology-driven construction methodology and digital practices in engineering planning, procurement, monitoring, and information exchange can effectively be deployed to achieve project targets on time and cost. The second opinion is that sharing of information in the form of digital data amongst project owners, authorities, consultants, suppliers, contractors through all the stages of the project execution process, integrate all project participants. This integration provides a single version of the truth to improve execution through parallel action without facing the legacy challenges of lack of coordination and information gaps. Trends in the Indian construction sector Traditionally the construction industry has been lagging as compared to industries like manufacturing, FMCG, telecom in terms of technology adoption. Now the question arising in our minds is-- how has been the journey in the last two to three years and what are the lessons learned? KRR Chandran, VP & Head-Corporate Services-Heavy Civil of L&T feels that the construction sector is not able to match the speed at which the FMCG or telecom industry is growing. He added, “Unlike in FMCG and other verticals, we are not able to see the final product in construction. If you have final product visibility, planning and selling become easy. Three important factors in the construction business are—men, material machinery. To talk about men, the kind of skill level which is presently available with us doesn’t match with FMCG and telecom industry. A lot of job opportunities have gone into these sectors because people are not too inclined to join here because of the basic nature of work which is very tough in site conditions. So, unless we decide to empower them by taking care of our people, giving very good accommodation, food, etc, slowly things would improve.” However, things are changing now. The government is also focusing on skill development in a big way. There are about five major skill development centres nominated by the Indian government and skill development centres have come up prominently and some contractors are also sponsoring so that they can also encourage skill development. Chandran explained, “In construction, skilled people are not available for all 12 months. During festival season, they go back to their hometowns, and we have to mobilize and re-mobilize resources. Today, the construction industry contributes of GDP is 9%, and going forward by 2025, we are expecting that 7% growth will be there every year. Predominant factors could be the improvement in productivity through skill development and machinery. A lot of projects are coming up but today public and the government need faster completion. This pandemic came as a blessing in disguise. Because of this pandemic, all the companies have started using digitalisation, automation around safety in sites, and so on. Also, about 56% of people have tried to use digital technologies and automation for maintaining safety.” Customised technology solution Pandemic has increased the level of technology adoption in every sector. There are many technology solutions available, but companies are customising them to reap the benefits. Sharing his experience, Siddharth Dey, Sr. VP & Head-Projects of Adani Airports said, “We area developer organisation. There are two parts of the technology-- one is the technology which is primarily into management and controls. And the second is technology development on the ground or field level. I feel there is not much development happening in the field/ground level. Over the last few years, we have been working towards digitalisation as well as dashboard creations for various data points in such a way that every data is available on our screen at the touch of a button. But, if this data is not integrated into the front end at the ground level where the execution is happening, there is a big gap, and that gap needs to be managed.” He further explained that Adani has a policy of adopting a combination of technology management integration. They have a team of experts; it includes both the system creator as well as the system integrator. So, there are 3 parts to forming a team. One is an in-house team of subject matter experts, the other team of system creators, and the third part is the system integrator. “The IT industry has also bifurcated their operations into system creators and system integrators. These are two separate entities as we normally see. Today, customised technology in the construction sector is still lacking. Every organisation has a specific process and environment. Having created that environment, whenever we get a technology intervention in place, we must ensure that there is proper customisation into the initiatives, and customisation requires the integration of this team. So that's how we normally follow the process in our organisation. We have been successfully doing it and looking at ways to improve it further,” adds Dey. Talking about hybrid technology solutions, Neerav Parmar, Sr. VP -Contracts & Procurement, Shapoorji Paallonji agreed with having a customised IT solution. He said, “IT solutions are available in the market but are in bits and pieces. Most companies are on the SAP platform today and there is a challenge of duplication and syncing, which organisations are facing today. Solutions should be such that they can be executed across the organisation and not in just one part of the business. Technologies like data analytics, predictive analytics have arrived but the back-office work is increased. Technologies have arrived but they have not matured yet. We need to move in the proper direction.” Innovation is the key Innovation is an integral part of every organisation. The construction sector is also moving in this direction to remain competitive, cost-effective, and productive. PS Patel-Chairman & Managing Director of PSP Projects believes that innovation in construction has become an integral part. Sharing his experience, he quoted, “In 2006 when we reached a turnover of 100 crores, the biggest challenge was internal communication and accountability. To overcome this challenge, we came up with the idea of ERP. It was a tough task, but we implemented it successfully. Any technology change must come from the top management. If it is well accepted by top management, it will be successful at all levels in the organisation. In 2013, we implemented SAP, and today we are doing all operations seamlessly through ERP. This was the beginning of our IT journey and since then we have been adopting new technologies in our company.” Talking about innovation, he said that they were the first company to get tower cranes in Gujarat for constructing a 24-storey building. The company also brought an innovative platform from Spain to commence this construction. “Sometimes, the IT solution deployed could be a costly one, but you need to see the outcome in the longer run. One should understand that technology is the demand of the day and the demand of the future. Auditing is an important aspect too. We need to analyse how data is been used effectively. We have hired Deloitte to audit our SOPS to avoid time overrun and save cost to the company”, explained Patel. Importance of BIM in construction In countries like the UK, there is a guideline that all public works must be done in BIM. It has been observed as the most valued technology required for end-to-end integration and monitoring of the complete project life cycle. Talking about BIM and its advantages, Mahesh Mudda, MD & CEO of New Consolidated Construction Company explained, “Change is the game-changer. Unless you adopt the change, you will be left behind. The construction industry is most unorganised, but now it's time for us to catch up with technologies like BIM. It is an indispensable technology, which will help contractors, architects, engineers, and even the end-users. It is our job to educate them on how BIM will help them.” Cost overruns and time overrun is a major challenge today. Talking about this challenge, Mudda added, “BIM is a technology that offers benefits to get better clarity before even you start a project. Volumes have increased in our business today, hence technologies like BIM will play a vital role and every company should adopt it to meet timelines and volumes.” Conclusion Construction technologies have seen a boom in the last decade and will continue to grow in the coming years with Housing for All 2022 vision of the Indian government. Acceptance of the latest construction technologies is also increasing as the industry keeps pace with the growth. Patel concluded, “Cost of poor quality is carried from one client to the other. Hence, large companies should internally discuss and check compliance to know whether the project and business goals have been met through technology implementation or not.”