Project owners help drive construction digitisation and data efforts
By Corie Cheeseman, Oracle Construction and Engineering
Project owners increasingly regard data as the key driver of a project’s value and are demanding that their contractors and suppliers align with their digital ambitions. As a result, digital capabilities are set to be a vital element of any company’s competitive offering, according to presenters on a recent webcast, “Harvesting project data to drive efficiency”.
“In the Africa region specifically, companies have started to put digital transformation as one of the key elements of selection,” says Abdulaziz Kamel, chief information officer of Egypt-based contractor Elsewedy Electric. Elsewedy embarked on its own digitalisation journey in response to the market’s changing demands. In 2019, the contractor launched a wholesale digital transformation programme spanning all aspects of the company’s activities, from front-end project delivery to back-end administration and finance processes.
“We started to show maturity in our business as an enabler to get more projects,” says Kamel. The challenge of transforming the entire organisation without disrupting ongoing operations is daunting for an 80-year old company with over 15 000 global employees. Getting started was a key challenge, according to Kamel.
“It is really important to think big and start small, so that is what we have done,” Kamel says. “We spent almost six months developing a blueprint as architecture for our end-to-end transformation, starting with the business development stage, moving to cost estimation and then engineering, while achieving horizontal back-office operations. Finding the data model for this approach was not an easy task. We decided to have automated processes in some areas and sometimes keep as-is for a pilot phase.”
Setting a strategy
It is essential for companies interested in digital transformation to first define their overall objective and determine a corporate strategy before implementing anything.
“We are focusing on achieving strategic or enterprise-wide goals to fulfil certain functionalities within the organisation,” says Sherief Elabd, director of industry strategy at Oracle Construction and Engineering. “This is not a typical request for proposal where customers can list all their requirements in a transparent or clear way. Sometimes customers do not know what they do not know, and that is the first challenge.”
Helping companies to develop a digital strategy is a major aspect of Elabd’s work, even before any digital or data technology is implemented. A well-conceived digital strategy provides a holistic framework that improves the delivery of a project, from planning and pre-execution through to design, construction, and lifetime operations. Data captured during this process can be used to inform plans and strategies.
Companies will increasingly start introducing data sensors and gateways into their designs as the concept of integrated data permeates across the projects industry. These technology solutions provide real-time asset performance analytics and insights on how to improve efficiency.
“We are not talking about a project or programme,” says David Philp, global BIM/IM consultancy director at Aecom. “We are starting to think about multiple projects and unifying data. This might be in terms of linking building information model (BIM), geospatial data within there, and project management data. The digital estate is a federation of lots of the previous models. We can start to cross benchmark how different assets are performing, perhaps in terms of energy performance, utilisation, and cost occupiers.”
Mind the digital gap
There are still gaps in the industry’s ability to make the most of data harvesting despite the rapid increase in adoption of digital and data strategies across the projects landscape.
“The beginning of the project, prior to design and procurement is hugely important. And that is a big, big gap,” says Philp. “But we are also trying to ensure we have a seamless transfer of data at the handover between construction and operation.”
Accessing data that has been generated to improve planning is the biggest gap, according to Philp. “We are pretty bad in the industry at measuring performance and actually feeding it back. The beginning, the handover – but most importantly, a structured feedback loop – is going to be where we’ll gain the most value.“