Industry views on tech’s role in constructing with Covid

Software company Trimble surveyed project managers, engineers, BIM experts, and IT and systems directors about their tips on the changes needed to build in the Age of Covid.

For many construction project owners, shutting down or slowing projects has suddenly become a real possibility.

In a traditional construction setting, information silos between contractors, sub-contractors, and architects, and even within the owner’s own team make it nearly impossible to accurately evaluate and forecast the viability and cash position of a project.

One version of the truth

Firms that invested in cloud-based project management and information management systems are really seeing that decision pay off with information being readily available and shareable.

Says Scott Crozier, general manager of civil engineering and construction for Trimble: "The emergence of shared data and digital connectivity is the new norm going forward. Owners, project managers, engineers, architects, site supervisors and other stakeholders need to keep up-to-date."

Matt DeMarco, Project Controls Manager for international design company HDR, agrees: "It’s a cliché, but we’re trying to make sure we use a single source of truth. One of the main core tenants of our systems is that the information resides in those systems. If we need to make a comment, we’re making comments in the system."

Mark Blumkin, Managing Director, Infrastructure and Capital Projects at Deloitte, also concurs.

"On the public side as well as the commercial side, there’s going to be a bigger push towards public private partnerships, design/build, anything that gets the projects done faster or brings in third-party capital," he says.

"This makes readily available up-to-date information, presenting a single version of the truth even more important than it already was."

Get creative

On processes, the panelists agree: this is the time to get creative. Teams need to create new work breakdowns and phasing to avoid area overpopulation, workflow and sequencing, and revised inspection schedules.

"Many of those new procedures and technologies are believed to become the norm," says Jon Fingland, general manager of collaborative solutions at Trimble.

"New applications use image data or wearables to track the whereabouts of workers, making sure that social distancing is maintained. Other apps provide stakeholders with the possibility to do remote virtual walkthroughs to check up on progress on site. It may be the result of this crisis, but it’s actually the right practice."

"You’re breaking up"

Several contractors mentioned web conferencing apps as essential in replacing face-to-face meetings.

While being persistent at following through on these scheduled meetings is important, it is also key to raise their impact.

That means restarting meetings that create a true strategy for labour projections, supply chain impacts, critical path impacts, owner needs, and third-party impacts (inspectors, municipalities, etc.).

Due diligence

New practices and procedures also demand extra due diligence in dealing with business partners.

Scrutinise contractor schedules to understand the impact of challenges. Review schedule changes for alignment with contract terms, and review contract terms for necessary updates. And make extra sure that partnerships are forged only with financially viable companies.

Also, to be on the safe side, pay greater attention to insurance and look into adopting alternative risk sharing methods between owners and contractors.

Prefabrication and automation

At the same time, increased safety requirements will shift production processes towards prefabrication and automation.

Blumkin of Deloitte sees the COVID-19 crisis as a catalyst for innovation, identifying several technologies that will help owners and contractors recover and rebound: the use of robots onsite as labor levels decline, leveraging drones for remote site monitoring and inspection, digital twins, 5D BIM, AR/VR during planning and design, and modularization to overcome schedule overruns.

Resilience and emergence

What long-term advice did our panelists have to offer AEC companies looking to build business resilience and emerge from the current business environment stronger?

Several panelists emphasised the importance of individuals and companies being open to better, digital processes.

Jeremy Sibert, Director of Technology at US contractor Hensel Phelps, said it best: "Think about how consumer digital experiences have uprooted traditional processes and realise the advantages doing the same in our business could bring."

  • Cas Heuvelmans is Trimble’s PR Manager for Europe

Image ©GCR, illustration by Denis Carrier

Story for GCR? Get in touch via email: [email protected]

Latest articles in Perspectives