Putting data to work: How can we harness technology to unlock actionable insights?
By Thomas Harring23 August 2023
Construction companies face numerous challenges when implementing projects, but digitisation offers a unique opportunity for streamlining operations to increase productivity and sustainability, says Thomas Harring, Managing Director of Leica Geosystems.
Leica Geosystems, part of Hexagon, is the global supplier for the digital solutions construction firms need to overcome these challenges. Their customer, heavy construction specialist Gnant GmbH, shows how firms can best approach digitisation to enhance efficiency, build digital skills, and remain competitive in a constantly changing market.
Navigating the digital landscape can be challenging, especially in an industry like construction. From the survey and preparation of the site, the execution of the construction work and the subsequent maintenance of the infrastructures, construction projects involve a multitude of stakeholders, processes and resulting datasets.
However, it is also precisely for these reasons that digitisation represents a unique opportunity for this industry. Digital tools and skills can streamline and optimise the entire construction process, modernising construction companies and empowering them to operate more productively and sustainably.
Digital tools help process data faster and more accurately as well as provide actionable insights to leverage for future projects. The optimisation of workflows also takes weight off the workforce, freeing up time to spend on more complex, skilled tasks.
Not to mention, with more and more construction firms choosing to invest in digital solutions, it is becoming more essential for companies to implement these tools to maintain a competitive edge and build digital skills among employees as this technology continues to evolve.
Knowing where to start is often the first hurdle for construction firms as there are so many areas in a project that could benefit from digital solutions. It can therefore feel like a daunting process for any company, especially those established before the digital revolution and for whom the attitude towards digitisation might be more reserved and accessibility to the latest tech more limited. To tackle this, it is useful to draw on industry examples.
Founded in 1959, Gnant GmbH is Lower Austria’s specialist for gravel, sand and stones, earthworks and transport. When approaching the question of digitisation, Gnant knew that it wanted to optimise productivity and sustainability in its work processes and so began implementing digital solutions in its demolition, excavation and recycling operations over ten years ago.
The approach was slow and steady. The company made two initial investments of a rover and a 3D machine control system for a dozer. With these investments, Gnant wanted to make sure it differentiated itself from the competition, so when it came to implementing this new equipment on-site, it offered the added value of the technologies at no extra cost to the client. This way, rather than hoisting the customer costs, Gnant opted for a long-term business approach which demonstrated the solutions’ high value through the quality of work rather than the price tag, encouraging customers who may have at first been sceptical and unwilling to pay extra for new technologies.
From this initial investment, Gnant has nurtured a work culture that welcomes technology and has since been able to digitise all processes and workflows. Now, projects that would be difficult
to complete using traditional methods can be fulfilled in a fraction of the time and to the highest quality. With this digitisation process and seamless communication between machinery, field solutions and office applications, Gnant has reported significant productivity gains in all project phases.
Building digital skills for a digital workforce
Not only is investing in the right technology important for a company’s long-term success, but so is investing in building employees’ digital skills. It can be challenging finding the right staff as digitisation is constantly evolving. However, the race to achieve a digital edge over the competition can encourage employees to adopt digital solutions in their workflow.
When choosing a technology partner to implement these solutions, it is important to consider how effectively they train the personnel to use them. Encouraging understanding of how the technology works and how it will be beneficial in the long-run is essential in fostering acceptance among employees and will reduce barriers to adoption, allowing easier tech integration in the long-run.
In Gnant’s case, the team noticed that more office staff were required to adapt to the workflow changes and the increasing amounts of data and work preparation needed when planning projects. Thus, while the time required for work preparation increased, the time spent on-site decreased as machines and operators could work more independently and autonomously thanks to the preparation done in the office. The initial increase in preparation time may discourage some firms from digital transformations. However, the time and resources saved by digital tools while on-site, not to mention the increased accuracy and performance quality, should help dispel these concerns.
How can digital solutions benefit construction companies?
Digital solutions can optimise administrative tasks and heavy machinery operation alike. Digital technologies help ensure laser-precise accuracy down to the smallest detail, allowing for the smooth facilitation of projects. In the office, document-based workflows are susceptible to human error, but digital tools enforce a framework that ensures all information is accurate. For example, when using analogue documents, labels and names can get lost in translation while a digital documentation system ensures that every asset is consistent.
On the construction site, the heightened accuracy of technologies like machine control systems means that they can be trusted to take on more tasks, enabling work processes to happen quicker and more productively.
A key priority for every industry is sustainability, and considering that construction contributes to around 39% of global CO2 emissions, this is particularly important for construction firms to consider when strategising how best to optimise their processes.
When digitising its workflow, Gnant noticed that the benefits were twofold. Not only was productivity increased, but waste and emissions were also reduced. This symbiotic relationship brought about by digital tools is a blessing for construction firms for whom the two primary goals are often maximising productivity while minimising overall environmental impact.
In Gnant’s case, the team concluded that without their initial investments and strategy that followed, they wouldn’t have seen the same growth, find and develop the right talent, or remain a competitor in the market in the same way. Big or small, established or new, every construction company can benefit from digital technologies. By establishing a strategy that is achievable and suited to the company’s culture - for Gnant, this was making fewer but larger investments - it will be easier for technology to be adopted by employees and scaled for the future.
Digital solutions are constantly being improved and new ones created. Integrating technologies into the civil engineering workflow will be unavoidable in the near future in order to remain competitive, use resources wisely and attract and retain talent. The earlier construction firms adopt these technologies, the easier it will be to maintain a competitive edge and continue to grow alongside the technology.
About the author
Thomas Harring is the Managing Director of Leica Geosystems, part of Hexagon.