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How can we speed up digital transformation in our industry?

13 February 2020

Technology can make our industry far more productive – but progress remains slow. A survey by ICE and Bluebeam, into barriers to digital transformation suggests many companies are struggling to adapt to emerging technologies.

How can we speed up digital transformation in our industry?
ICE teamed up with software company Bluebeam on an online survey looking at digital transformation in the Engineering and Construction (E&C) industry. Image credit: Shutterstock

In September 2019, the Institution of Civil Engineers teamed up with software company Bluebeam on an online survey looking at digital transformation in the Engineering and Construction (E&C) industry.

We had 161 responses from industry professionals, mainly in the UK and Asia and across different experience and career levels. Their answers revealed some valuable insights into the barriers holding companies back from embracing digital transformation.

Slow adoption

Technology is opening up paths to increased productivity and more sustainable ways of working. But overall, digital transformation across our sector is slow. 55% of our respondents put this down to a lack of skills and expertise when it comes to implementing change.

Of course, slow adoption of digital technologies isn’t unique to the E&C industry. But E&C is falling behind much of the economy in its productivity. Already, we have a lot of catching up to do.

Respondents were clear that digital transformation should be accelerated. 78% agreed that the industry has been too slow to adopt technology, and 72% that it is not moving quickly enough into digital processes. As a result, our industry is missing out on opportunities to become more productive.

Business as usual is no longer an option

Digital technology is no longer a nice-to-have. Failure to adopt new technology directly affects the bottom line. Slow growth in productivity is creating challenges for E&C firms already struggling to make sustainable profits.

A recent study by the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) found that UK contractors typically need to undertake £1m-worth of work to make £30K profit.

For businesses already feeling the squeeze, failing to adopt digital technology poses further profit risks. Among the biggest concerns identified in our survey were missed deadlines and delays on key milestones.

In this tough environment, recruiting and retaining top talent is key. Our survey also revealed that poor use of digital technology could turn potential employees off a company. 49% said digital tech usage is a consideration when choosing who to work for.

Escaping the low investment, low productivity gap

Decreasing profit margins inevitably lead to a reduced appetite for investing in the technology and training the industry so desperately needs to push forward.

This was clear from our survey; respondents told us that current fee structures at their firms are a barrier to exploiting the full potential of BIM and other technologies.

Digital transformation can point a way out of this trap. Digital tools, combined with increased amounts of data, can help us pioneer new value-based business models. An organisational shift in this direction would see firms being rewarded for the value they deliver to clients, rather than the inputs in projects.

Powering global process

Slow digital transformation isn’t just an issue for the boardroom. It affects global progress. Oxford Economics estimates that the world needs to invest USD$94 trillion in infrastructure by 2040, and a further USD$3.5 trillion will be needed to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals for electricity and water. Improved productivity could make this more affordable, and make these goals more realistic.

When the world moves fast, we need to move faster

As an industry, we have a huge opportunity to reap the rewards of digital transformation. Not only does it have the potential to increase our productivity, but it can give us better ways to meet the needs of our customers.

We won’t achieve anything by sitting still. We need to act – fast.

We need digital innovators in positions of leadership in our firms. Those leaders must be able to drive forward digital implementation plans, effecting organisational change where necessary.

Most of all, we need to properly invest – industry-wide – in training our workforce to develop the skills required to adapt to technological change.

Where to begin?

There’s no simple fix to all of this. But there is an easy place to start. AEC businesses can take their first step into digital with Bluebeam Revu. Tools such as mark-ups, standardised profiles and toolsets could help your company maximise productivity and complete projects faster and at the lowest cost. Plus, the intuitive nature of the software means your teams can move from paper workflows into digital processes with minimal training.

Read the full report

Related links

  • James Chambers, director - global Industry development, build & construct division at Nemetschek