The infrastructure development and maintenance sector is often categorized as overly-conservative. Many building methods have remained largely unchanged for centuries or even millennia and as a result there are those in the industry who have been reluctant to embrace change on the basis that ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’.
Our new ebook "The 5 innovations that will disrupt civil infrastructure management" makes the case for why this is not always the best method.
There are other, more fundamental factors behind the slow adoption of technological innovations. Major infrastructure projects run on tight margins and high labour and material costs can make it difficult to justify significant investment in technology.
As in every industry, there are also examples of high profile technology projects that have failed to deliver the promised returns. The construction industry has been described as the least digitised sectors in the world. However, there is growing recognition that future success will be determined by the ability to make smart technology investments.
A report published earlier this year by McKinsey linked poor financial performance by the construction and building technology industry to slow adoption of technology, noting that productivity has dropped over the last 30 years while it has risen in other industries.
The report authors identified automation of buildings and increased use of technology to improve operational efficiency as two of the key factors in performance enhancement and stated that if companies want to thrive in the future, they need to embrace next generation technologies for operational improvements and use digital tools to reduce product uncertainty and increase working capital. They conclude that companies that move quickly to double dow on technology enabled efficiency improvements and flexible operations will have a competitive edge.
The good news is that after years of talk about the promise of technology for infrastructure development , the reality on the ground has finally started to catch up with the hype. For example, a 2019 report from real estate professional services firm JLL notes that technology solutions have developed to the point where they can be leveraged across major projects and large organizations.
Even more importantly, sentiment and investment have lined up behind a shift towards technology.
The report authors observe that construction technology is made up of a collection of tools, often overlapping, with the goal of making an aspect of the development process more efficient.
They divide these tools into foundational technologies (artificial intelligence, digital twins); primary impact technologies (such as interior scanning); and secondary impact technologies, which include wearables, 3D printing and robotics.
Technology will never completely replace human input when it comes to infrastructure development and management – it is there to support and complement human expertise.
Machines are good at continually operating at the same level with full attention, whereas people excel in creativity, awareness, and emotional experience. Where these abilities come together, they complement each other and increase everyone’s performance.
In our new ebook we will outline some of the technological innovations that will disrupt civil infrastructure management in the short, medium and long term.