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The Biggest Mistakes in Construction Innovation


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Today, there is a growing buzz around new technologies which seem to hold the potential to radically transform jobsites and the construction industry as a whole. With an expanding range of smart devices and wearable technology to take advantage of, and terms like IoT and smart cities on the lips of every shareholder and investor, how can the construction leaders of tomorrow successfully innovate?

Jobsite spoke to Alok Patel, CEO of Azcende, a multinational Venture Capital fund focused on urban innovation for The Future of Cities, to understand the pitfalls to avoid when seeking to embrace innovation.

Adopting tech for the image, not the result

Augmented Reality (AR) has been earmarked to hold huge potential for use on jobsites. With the latest gear the likes of Google Glass or DAQRI smart helmets, the tradies of the future will be able to make virtual measurements, pull up heat sensors, and communicate real-time photographic evidence of dangerous scenarios through the latest technology.

However, Alok would advice caution. While AR will certainly re-shape the way construction managers construct buildings, this is not something that will be of immediate value tomorrow. “What we’re seeing is a desire to adopt cutting edge technology for the purpose of demonstrating to clients that the company is innovative.

“But the technology isn’t truly ready to understand and adapt to the needs of the industry”, Alok explains. “There could be a time when a robot could lay bricks as well as a bricklayer, but it’s just not cost effective right now.”

Construction managers must take a pragmatic approach, and not lose sight of their current business objectives. Fundamentally, it is important to understand the application of the technology and the real impact this will have in the next five to ten years.

“It’s all about what it’s going to be like in five years’ time, and what’s out first step tomorrow to get there?”, Alok continued. “Some companies have over capitalised in innovation and used the hype to win the influence of customers. Ultimately they often fail, as they are seeking to adopt a technology that they themselves, and importantly also their consumers, do not understand.”

This goes beyond understanding the technology itself, and includes gaining insight into the ramifications of such innovations on people’s roles and how they can prepare for these changes.

Failing to prepare your workforce adequately

Alongside the hype around new technologies, there has been an on-going concern around the potential impact on the workforce. Spooky headlines would suggest that AI and automation will soon make a vast number of jobs obsolete.

However, Alok argues that the workforce will always be relevant. “Everyone focuses on the technology, but no one has helped the workforce to understand what their roles are going to be like in the near future”, he said.

“Universities and employers should be working hand-in-hand to understand what formal training is required, in addition to informal training. The workforce isn’t going anywhere, it’s about advancing them,” Alok explained.

According to Alok, the construction industry has a real legacy of artisanship, craftsmanship and manual building that will always be in demand. However, in the future new technologies could be highly beneficial in taking a clever design and building it more efficiently.

Shared responsibility

While the future is not here yet, it will be soon. The advice from experts such as Alok is that the preparation starts now.

While the future is not here yet, it will be soon. The advice from experts such as Alok is that the preparation starts now. 

“Technology has great value; we can’t be scared of it. Let’s make sure we keep learning about how our jobs are changing. The obligation is on every individual that has a job. It’s an opportunity not a threat, for everyone to take a step forward, to learn, to experience what could be a great benefit. If robots can give an extra 30 minutes a day for people to go home to their families, are they really going to complain?”

“We need to recognise how we can improve the way we give value to our work."

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