Digital procurement

As part of our digital transformation campaign, ICE sat down with David Philp to get his thoughts on how procurement practices need to change and how digital changes can deliver improvements.

David Philp on stage at ICE BIM
David Philp on stage at ICE BIM

ICE: Are procurement teams within the construction industry ready to embrace digital procurement challenges? Is there a skill issue and a need for cultural shift in order to embrace a clear digital procurement strategy? How do you see this being tackled at industry level?

DP: New technologies and big data in the construction sector are leading to new business needs, which will need reflecting in how we procure our contracts, services and materials.  Undoubtedly procurement teams will need to build new skills, capabilities and also - more importantly - new ways of thinking and behaving.  There is also work to be done to ensure that digital transactions and new distributed ledgers are undertaken in a safe, validated and encrypted manner. There is a risk of a skills shortage and unless further education can start to embed these digital themes into their built environment courses we will likely need to start importing candidates from other more digitised non-engineering sectors such as retail - as demand outstrips supply.  Some of these issues need to be tackled at an international level, as digitalization will increase globalization it is imperative that data exchange formats and standards are considered in a global context.

ICE: Is the infrastructure industry investing enough in talent development and/or emerging technologies such as cognitive analytics, crowd sourcing and digital reporting?

DP: Industry has, especially over the last half decade, made significant progress in moving towards a digital built environment and is shifting towards a thriving digital economy.  Accelerating this adoption will need improvement on several themes: upskilling of work-force in data analytics and queries, advancement of cognitive technologies for the construction sector and new forms of contracts and procurement routes that will liberate the value.  Meaningful engagement between industry, academia and the technology providers will be pivotal.  Industry will need to re-chip to harness these innovative opportunities not just in technology but process and cultural change.

ICE: Do you foresee a sharp increase in the usage of artificial intelligence in the industry which will greatly improve accuracy and speed of execution? If so, when could the industry see an increased intake on robotic process automation?

DP: Concurrent advances in computer power and computational science is seeing AI techniques becoming an essential part of the construction industry and is undoubtedly set to grow sharply over the coming years.  AI is already helping to solve many challenging problems in a sector that is awash with data to be leveraged.  One of the biggest advantages is the ability to intelligently analyse huge amounts of information from existing engineering and performance data to inform future designs and to continuously refine, optimise asset strategy.

ICE: So will advances in AI increase robotics process automation?

DP:Well firstly the term "robot", like artificial intelligence, is hard to define. It is unlikely in the near future we will see conscious robots on our construction projects.  That said, human robot collaboration on construction projects will certainly happen - especially in the area of the tech-augmented human worker where safety and productivity can be drastically improved with straightforward enhancements such as robotic exoskeletons.

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