Cloud solutions will be crucial in achieving time and cost savings in construction
Construction companies that have yet to consider cloud-based solutions are increasingly in the minority. There may have been a time when cloud computing was the preserve of early-adopting pioneers, but no longer – such technologies are now mainstream, particularly as companies seek more and more cost savings in construction.
New research from Sage underlines the point. Well over half (59%) of the construction businesses it surveyed in 2016 said they already used cloud-based software, or planned to do so. Only four years previously, 45% of respondents to a similar survey had said they weren’t even familiar with the concept of the cloud.
Take-up is being driven by a range of potential benefits, notably cost savings. In Sage’s research, companies were most likely to point to the ability to access information anytime and from any location as the main reason they had moved to a cloud approach. But other opportunities are important too – take just three different examples of how leading construction companies have begun using cloud tools:
International construction company Skanska has now moved to a “cloud first” strategy says vice president of information systems strategies Peter Bjork. Cloud technologies are helping the organisation to:
For example, the company uses cloud-based business intelligence software to manage key information about its business and ongoing projects. This can include details such as the cost and availability of components, energy efficiency and pollution production, and the total cost of ownership for contractors throughout the bidding process. Analytics software then helps Skanska to incorporate more energy-efficient building materials during the construction process. This is just one way to achieve cost savings in construction.
One important benefit of the move to cloud has been the opportunity for closer collaboration with clients. Skanska stresses the importance of close and continuous dialogue with clients at the very earliest stage of the process possible, so that it understands their goals and has greater influence over the design process.
Skanska is also using cloud-based analytics to power its growth. It is able to incorporate a very broad range of indicators, both internal and external, into the research it does before expanding into new territories or market segments.
Construction giant Costain is a leading player in Clouds for Coordination (C4C), a project to develop Building Information Modelling processes to support “level 3” BIM. This requires extensive collaboration between all parties in planning, construction, design and other disciplines, with a single, shared project model held in a central repository. All parties have access to the model and can modify it as required.
BIM represents a huge opportunity for construction companies as they seek to overcome traditional challenges, including stringent budgets, tight deadlines and conflicts between suppliers, contractors and other parties.
By enhancing collaboration with engineers, designers and others right from the beginning of any project, BIM strips out any scope for uncertainty and unpredictability, and increases the potential for cost savings in construction. These benefits then continue as the building becomes operational.
However, level 3 BIM requires all parties to share data via cloud-based technologies – and to develop protocols around who owns the data and who is liable for any errors in the model. Costain design and BIM manager David Owens says the C4C project has made substantial advances towards overcoming such challenges.
Global infrastructure company Balfour Beatty launched a five-year IT rationalisation project in 2012, standardising its end-user computing and hosting environments. The company has rolled out a completely new communications platform to allow 14,000 staff across 900 sites to talk to one another more easily, and continues to add new functionality to this system.
So far, the company’s cloud computing adoption has been based on private solutions, though it has increasingly begun looking at public cloud options. Balfour Beatty’s ambitions include greater use of big data and analytics tools, including predictive technologies, with employee safety one example of where it sees potential applications.
Above all, Balfour Beatty stresses the need for a change of mindset – a move away from a closed IT function to an environment of partnerships, with IT providers offering skills and capabilities that businesses can tap into as and when they need them. This requires a cloud-based approach, with an “ecosystem of capability” involving every part of the business as well as partners and the extended supply chain.
These are just three examples of leading construction companies moving towards a cloud-based approach to IT – there are many more. But as cloud becomes even more mainstream, businesses that do not embrace such opportunities risk being left behind – recent research from PwC argues that new technologies represent the industry’s best chance of confronting the increasing number of threats it now faces. In particular, firms able to make the most of collaborative technologies will “achieve better performance, better communication, and open interactions at lower cost”, the consultant concludes.
Contract Administrator, BUILT