Automation and big data will transform the construction industry over the next 30 years, according to the BMI Research Megatrends Survey of high-level participants within the Construction and Engineering industry. But though acknowledgement of impending change is widespread, opinion is divided on exactly when and how it will come about.
5 key takeaways from the survey
1) Company investments are currently being most heavily directed towards areas of environment & energy efficiency, with over two thirds of respondents suggesting they are investing heavily in this area currently. As a low carbon economy becomes a more mainstream objective as part of efforts to tackle climate change, new projects from governments and the private sector alike are increasingly required to be designed, built and operated as efficiently as possible. As a result companies are investing in new technologies, particularly in the building materials space, as well as limiting their carbon emissions from day to day operations onsite. Given the current and growing client demand, companies can more easily invest in low carbon options knowing the business case to do so, as well as the reputational benefits yielding contract wins down the line.
2) While investment in environmental and energy efficiency goals can yield immediate positive gains for a company, the most imminent truly disruptive force acknowledged by the industry is the Internet of Things (IoT), which over a five-year horizon 89% of respondents said would have a high impact in the sector – more than any other area. This is an acknowledgement that connected assets – be it buildings, trains or supply chains - and the big data which comes from them will be a valuable tool in making efficiency gains for companies, municipalities and users alike.
3) The advent of IoT in the construction sector over the coming five years is reflected in it being the area, after environment and energy efficiency, which companies are starting to invest in. This investment will continue to grow until it becomes clearer the technologies, benefits and possibilities which the IoT in construction can offer.
4) It is the development and integration of technology in the construction sector where respondents expect the most disruption to the construction landscape to come from. Construction firms face the cost of developing these technologies in house, or acquiring companies that augment their traditional assets with new smart technologies. Companies that fail to do this will likely lose out to more technologically capable competitors.
5) Looking long-term, automation, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) feature much more prominently in respondent’s expectations for disruption. This suggests limited appetite among construction firms to radically change business models in the short term, with traditional methods and employment models looking set to endure for some time yet. However, it also implies that radical change will eventually occur in a sector that has not truly transformed in many years in comparison to other industries. Importantly, as change is coming, there may be a trade-off between becoming a first mover in areas such as modular construction, 3D printing, or robotic bricklayers, but risking that other technologies in this space proliferate and become the choice construction methods in the industry.