By employing a digital solution for construction, a project owner is investing in the efficiency and reliability of their building. Through functionalities such as digital handovers, documented site inspections and shared collateral, project owners have access to everything they need at their fingertips.
Nonetheless, there may be hesitancy to take that leap from a paper-based to a digital solution. In this guide we’ll address the concerns and curiosity that you may have about platforms such as Zutec’s. We’ll cover if it really is cost effective, how it can help you to mitigate risk and why not to be daunted by the idea of adopting it.
An important aspect of any construction project is asset management, the business of looking after a building once it is operational.
The key to this is asset data management. That is organising and looking after all the warranties, plans, drawings and documents from the build and having them available for reference to best operate and maintain the building throughout its life cycle.
There is only so much profit to be had in any construction project and all of the stakeholders are in competition for their slice of that profit. That makes them susceptible to short-term thinking. Having the vision to invest in setting up proper asset management from the very start will save money in the long run. Huge amounts are invested in constructing and fitting out a building with top quality equipment, so if something breaks down it's going to cost money.
However, the manufacturer doesn't want to pay for it and neither does the installer, and each might deny liability. This is why the owner must have their documentation in order - so there is traceability.
For example, if there is a problem with your boiler, you would take the issue to the supplier/ installer first, and then they can take it back further to the manufacturer. So with proper asset management you can look into your document database and find all the supplier or manufacturer information that you need.
Mechanical and electrical suppliers are probably affected more than many other stakeholders, but building owners are affected most as they are the ones with the most to lose.
If asset management isn't handled properly, there are two major problems that commonly arise. The first of these is down-time, when your building is not functioning. If there's a maintenance problem serious enough that you have to temporarily shut your building, then you have a very big and very costly problem. But probably even more serious is if you want to sell your building and you don't have all the asset information stored and detailed.
Other problems can arise around knowledge and information ownership. It could be the case that all the institutional knowledge about a building could lie with one person, but they may move job or retire. On major buildings, owner may use a third-party facilities management supplier to look after the building.
Sometimes an owner can have a commercial problem with this third party and want to change them but find they can't because they don't have all the original data.
The traditional method of collecting and keeping all this information was on paper. This meant huge amounts of it were stored in a room or basement. In particularly large buildings, such as airports, there might be a huge warehouse full of paper documents.
These problems became irrelevant with cloud management. With a digital solution employed throughout the construction period, all of the data is being gradually accumulated and handed over to the owner as stages are complete.
In the end, they have a single source of truth, securely stored in the cloud, easily accessible and searchable. It allows you to service your assets as they should be serviced and to match that against the warranties.
Working with Zutec, the owner would have all this asset data from handover. That data is alive, organic, and grows with the building - and management of this in the cloud is much easier.
One of the biggest resistance points when it comes to adopting construction software is the upfront cost. This is a valid concern, particularly for smaller companies that don’t have a lot of cash on hand to finance a big tech upgrade.
Often, companies don’t realise how much of their resources they devote to dealing with the ever-increasing mountain of paperwork, so it's difficult to get a good measure of the scale of the problem.
There’s also a fear of things spiraling out of control – new tech means handsets for workers, more software and more supervision needed to make sure data is inputted properly. Margins are tight in the construction trade and these concerns makes sense in the short term. Businesses intent on staying profitable in the long term see that after the initial trial phase, a well-implemented construction tech strategy doesn’t mean doing more admin, but rather replacing inefficient processes.
Decision makers in construction rarely work within sight of each other, in the same building or even on the same site. This creates a very different set of communication problems than one might find in an office or factory floor. At the moment, last-minute plan changes - where to put supplies and tools, and how to finish jobs up - are usually communicated via email or text or even WhatsApp. It’s convenient for the workers on-site, but extremely problematic in terms of company liability.
The content of messages on a private phone, even if used on-site for work purposes, belongs to the owner of the phone. If there’s an accident, a worker might delete messages they feel could be incriminating, which makes it difficult for the company to prove that safety protocols were followed.
Far and away, the biggest cost on a job is labour. Since most builds can’t be done with fewer people, the way to cut costs is to save time. Construction tech gives a detailed overview of who is where, what they’re doing and how that compares to what they are meant to be doing, to every decision maker in the project.
The time needed for back-office processes, like compliance admin, have been reduced by as much as 90%. Companies are able to show that they can significantly reduce the lag between build finish and occupancy, because all the admin has been updated in real time.
The industry functions at the moment with near zero trust and with power dynamics that swing through the project life cycle. A source of tension is often when sub-contractors hold on to information until they are paid, while contractors refuse to pay until they get all the handover documents.
A sub-contractor might say they are 100% finished but it's then discovered the job is only 95% done. If they've already been paid for work they haven't done and refuse to return to finish off the job, the owner/main contractor then has to pay extra for it to be finished. Ultimately, these type of disputes often end up in court, which costs even more time and money.
If a digital construction solution is implemented for the project and all subcontractors have to agree to upload information in real time as a condition of winning the bid, the power dynamic shifts - the sub-contractor never has the whip hand. As it’s no longer possible for a sub-contractor to be the sole party in possession of information, collaborating as fully as possible becomes the new power position.
With fewer opportunities for disputes to hijack a project timeline, projects will no longer become riskier as the balance of power shifts. Fewer lawyers and fewer exasperating phone conversations means resources, physical and financial, can be reallocated to more profitable activities.
The construction world is changing fast and more and more companies are finding their poor control systems are making it difficult to keep up with time and quality pressure on jobs.
Keeping abreast of constantly evolving regulations can be an immensely complex process, particularly when a project is carried out in another jurisdiction. The biggest change, however, is a much lower tolerance for non-compliant work.
It’s one thing to get all the required sign-offs, but quite another to be able to assemble the paper trail when inspectors or lawyers come calling.
Managing compliance with construction tech software reduces the admin burden, ensures you can maintain compliance in even the most stringent environments and can help reduce onsite accidents making your company much more competitive.
Most companies don’t realise how many hours their employees and subcontractors actually spend on compliance admin. Normally, workers on-site do all their reporting during the day, shove the forms into their pocket and then the foreman has to spend hours at the end of the day getting everything fully filled out and filed.
With a digital solution, a piece of compliance documentation goes on the system as it is captured.
Because the system is completely transparent, the burden of proof is not so high. “To do 100% tests on a building like the Shard,” explains Ray McCaul, “involves a massive amount of paperwork. If you only have to prove 10% compliance on that then obviously that's 90% less work.”
On a major airport build in Abu Dhabi, Zutec reduced the time needed for close-out inspections from 130,000 man hours to 1,083, which works out to about one minute per inspection.
Another area where digital solutions significantly reduce time wasted is defects liability. Defects are identified, the main contractor can find out exactly which subcontractor was responsible, order the work and get photographic proof that the problem was fixed.
Compliance is a chain running through a project. In order to keep it intact, the sensible choice is to invest in digital solutions before the first boot hits the site.
Different-sized projects have different regulatory requirements, but where it can get complex is when builds are carried out in countries with especially complex compliance requirements.
Stand-alone software designed to manage only compliance does exist and many smaller companies use it quite happily. But for companies making the full transition to digital, or ones that work regularly outside their home country, a custom solution from a company like Zutec is a better choice.
A robust software solution helps not only with maintaining compliance but also makes it easy to prove that requirements were actually met throughout the entire build. As more and more companies go digital, there is also change in the industry attitude towards compliance.
Currently, most people operate from the idea that compliance is a necessary evil and do the bare minimum to meet requirements. What is starting to happen is stakeholders are beginning to think about compliance as a system of communication and protection.
With digital tech it’s so easy to stay up to date with changes, follow established processes and get immediate feedback. Dodgy bosses, who don’t provide the right safety equipment or who substitute inferior materials, will no longer be able to take those sorts of risks without personal consequences.
“If they haven't got preventative equipment then there is a risk to life, or a disaster could happen,” says McCaul.
Zutec has thousands of people in the Middle East using their platform for regulation and compliance reporting.
“The message there is 'Safety is not for you - it's for your family' and then they show pictures of their families just to drive it home," says Ray McCaul. "Construction is one of the most dangerous industries in the world. We’re doing something about it."
There’s no doubt that the digital revolution is coming to the construction industry, but what’s not so clear is that everyone is happy about it.
The workers on-site fear it'll add to their workload, project managers don’t want to lose their information advantage, and business owners don’t want to spend a ton of money implementing a new system they worry nobody will use.
On the other hand, the more companies that adopt construction technology, the less competitive paper solutions will be. Companies that use paper “can’t possibly show progress as quickly,” says Zutec Vice President of Solution Sales, Daniel Da Silva.
“People think that paper works and they don't understand that in the long term using technology will save them lots of time. If they're not prepared to accept change, they can be perceived as being a dinosaur, which means they're no longer competitive.”
For smaller companies in particular, the cost of adopting construction tech is a major factor, as is the potential work disruption and time spent making sure employees are inputting the data correctly.
Though the task seems daunting, there is good news: adopting construction technology is easier than it appears.
The number one way to make the transition to collaborative digital workflows as painless as possible is to choose a software solution created by people that actually know the construction industry.
Flexible construction tech works just as well on a house renovation as it does on the Shard and is designed to scale with a company as its business evolves. Since major building projects have lifespans of at least 50 years, construction tech companies are increasingly making the data gathered during initial construction platform-agnostic.
This ensures information about hazardous material and demolition best practice is accessible if the site is redeveloped.
When construction tech is designed by people who have worked in construction, as opposed to tech-first companies that saw an opportunity in the market, the software is built to reflect real-life situations. Zutec is also committed to a “3-clicks to an answer” policy, meaning if someone has a question about the data they should be able to find the answer in three clicks or less.
Many business owners also worry about workflow disruption during the transition to digital. Margins are already tight and competition is tough. Delays due to a fumbled technology roll-out could be a major blow. Quality providers will work with clients to adapt their software to best fit existing processes into the system.
"Give us your processes and we will put them into our system," says Daniel Da Silva. "We don't disrupt what is already working. We augment and improve with a proven process that keeps what is working and jettisons what isn’t.”
A major point of worry for decision-makers when it comes to adopting construction tech is the amount of resistance they will encounter from sub-contractors and employees.
Software providers can also help with push-back from sub-contractors, the way external consultants are useful to companies implementing unpopular changes. Resistors hearing “no, actually, you have to input the data like this; this is the process that our client has specified,” from a third party generally find it more difficult to avoid adopting the new tech.
Often it is simply time that is necessary. As construction tech is more broadly adopted and smartphones become standard kit, hold-outs will have to choose between participating fully in the data collection or finding another job.
Adopting construction technology is a complex process, but it’s not impossible and it doesn’t have to be done alone. Like most change, the idea of it is significantly worse than the reality. Once companies make a successful transition in one part of their business, the most common next step is to move another part over.
Choosing the right construction technology is hard. The industry is one of the last to go fully digital, which means the solution market is crowded and the real-world test cases that establish industry best practice are few and far between.
Most of the products on the market offer essentially the same features, which makes differentiating between them difficult. For decision-makers without a strong IT background – most people in the building trade – it’s doubly difficult.
Any digital tool is only as good as the data that’s fed into it. If stakeholders find a workflow cumbersome then engagement will drop, data input is compromised and the whole thing spirals into uselessness. Nobody wants to pay for a shiny new software package that doesn’t work in real life as it did in the demo.
The ideal scenario is a digital technology solution that allows BIM, snagging, QA and health and safety toolsets to work together as one unit. This nose-to-tail approach works especially well for companies that are already working on large-scale projects with thousands of moving parts.
“We're using 3D, then integrating that live data into 3D models,” explains Daniel Da Silva. “We know where each sub-contractor and consultant are in their journey through the project, which speeds things up enormously.”
Aside from reducing the risk of compatibility problems to nearly zero, working with a team that has supported major building projects like the Shard in London means getting solid advice about what solutions would work best now and in the future.
Other products tend to design their solutions based on frameworks, which can work very well when a lot of time is spent during the initial set-up phase. Zutec customers find the built-in flexibility means they don’t need to anticipate all future technology problems and workflow permutations before getting everything set up.
It’s not just words, either. Zutec customers have managed huge amounts of data and passed hundreds of thousands of inspections thanks to the increased ease with which problems can be managed in real time.
Technology changes quickly and there’s nothing more dispiriting than discovering your digital solution is approaching obsolescence. Zutec solutions are designed from the beginning to be future-proof.
The main way they do this is to store all data securely on the cloud. That way it’s always available no matter what happens to the supporting software.
Wembley Stadium, for example, was completed in 2007. All the data collected during the construction phase is still hosted by Zutec and information about exactly how the stadium was built, what sort of hazardous materials are involved and their exact location, as well as information about how to dismantle the building efficiently will come in very handy during the inevitable redevelopment in 2050 or 2060.
For decision-makers in the construction industry, it’s not a question of if they should make the digital transition, but when and how.