The construction sector has been undergoing a slow digital transformation for several years. This is now accelerating due toseveral factors. While stakeholders are compelled to embrace these changes, they can also make a virtue out of a necessity by utilising them to improve their own processes.
GS1 standards for identifying, capturing, sharing and using data about products, locations, assets and shipments are key enablers for many of these transformations. Over the course of this series of articles we will examine the challenges faced by the sector and show how GS1 standards are part of the solution.
The Digitalisation of Construction has been long overdue: the sector operates on thin margins and has a low level of utilisation of technology. While a lot of sophisticated equipment and advanced software applications are available, many processes are manual and, where they are not, the value of automation is reduced by a severe lack of interoperability between stakeholders’ systems. The advent of Building Information Modelling (BIM) enables building designs to be created with proprietary, three-dimensional models. However, this rich data is lost to other disciplines and subsequent stages in the construction process because interoperable standards for the identification of products and locations are not used.
Labour and skills shortages are influencing how structures are built. Modern methods of construction (MMC), including offsite and modular construction, are utilising techniques and processes developed in the manufacturing sector. In parallel with this, tasks which require skills which are now becoming difficult to find, are being performed offsite (e.g. installation of services) or automated (e.g. estimating quantities, procuring and ordering products).
Catastrophic events such as the Grenfell Tower tragedy in the UK have shocked authorities and regulators there, and elsewhere, into examining practices in construction. This is leading to more emphasis on traceability of the products and systems used in construction.
The European Green Deal announced by the EU Commission last December (as one of their top priorities) will drive legislation to ensure that products can be identified, traced, and reused in construction. Reduction in waste and reuse of materials many years after the building is constructed is dependent on persistent identification and secure storage of data.
A keener focus on operating costs (which will be several times the capital cost) means that operators will want more sophisticated asset management and building performance monitoring. Unique identification of maintainable assets, building sensors and locations within a building become critical to providing this granularity. COVID-19 – three years of organisational technological change happened in just three months. The threat of COVID-like events, if not the actual events themselves, will be with us for some time.
The shift to online has happened – even for small organisations – and there will be no going back. Furthermore, there is little time to take stock and consolidate the changes already made: organisations need to build on what they have already done so that online is part of the new landscape. Along with the above factors, there are the business-as usual pressures from competitors (including disruptors and marketplaces) and the drive for process improvement – all of which require solutions. The good news is that many of the solutions to these challenges already exist and are being used in construction elsewhere and in other sectors.
In future articles we will look at what organisations are doing and how standards bodies are facilitating digitalisation. We will look at how companies can make a virtue out of a necessity and create real business benefits for themselves as part of this process.
Seán Dennison is Head of Industry Engagement and Technical Standards at GS1 Ireland. He has over 30 years’ experience in the Construction, IT, Food Manufacturing & Distribution, Retail & Wholesale FMCG and Forecourt Retail sectors.
This Business Support article appeared in the July/August 2020 issue of The Hardware Journal.