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COVID-19 has Brought ‘Absoluteness’ in Terms of Collaboration

The complexities exerted by the COVID-19 pandemic on the construction industry is for the world to see. And as in all businesses and industries, the productivity in this sector too continues to fall owing to construction site closures, supply chain disruptions and shortage of labor. However, the silver lining in these unprecedented times is that COVID-19 has proven to be an accelerator in the digital transformation of the construction industry. Digital construction technologies, inclusive of geospatial, BIM, and Digital Twin, have enabled virtual collaborations, refining the way construction workflows are conducted, says Bryn Fosburgh, Senior Vice-President, Trimble, while sharing his perspective on how the construction sector is transforming to adjust to the new normal.

By GW Prime

How do you think COVID-19 is changing business process?

Generally speaking, in the pre-COVID-19 environment, businesses around the world viewed physical interaction as a cornerstone for communication. When the pandemic hit, bringing in multiple uncertainties with it, businesses were left scrambling — trying to adjust to the new scenarios. The outbreak has brought with it, what one may call, a ‘new era of communication’. With the remote working environment becoming the new norm, businesses are recognizing and adapting to digital tools to communicate information efficiently and effectively to the dispersed workforces. 

How do you view the impact of the pandemic on the construction industry?

The construction sector has been and will continue to be the backbone of the economy, with construction-related spending accounting for at least 13.1%  of the world’s GDP in 2019. That’s quite significant. Just like any other sector, the pandemic will have a strenuous impact on the construction sector globally; however, even in this situation, we are witnessing a rise in government investments in infrastructure and utilities — which makes me optimistic of the growth opportunities in the sector. 

The other critical impact is also the intermediate shift in the management of construction flows, i.e. from a traditional approach to a more collaborative and digital approach. The pandemic has ushered in an understanding among stakeholders about the role of geospatial technologies and connected construction to address the immediate challenges of physical distancing and disconnected information flows. There is an invisible transition happening across enterprises to move towards digitalization to adapt to the new normal.

"The pandemic has enabled construction firms to embrace the powerful potential of digitalization to make a lasting impact on the industry’s overall productivity. Construction firms are realizing this potential and accelerating the use of digital tools to remotely manage workflows and create an enabling and productive virtual working environment"

Has digitalization become a must for the construction industry in the current circumstances?

Absolutely. The pandemic has enabled construction firms to embrace the powerful potential of digitalization to make a lasting impact on the industry’s overall productivity. Construction firms are realizing this potential and accelerating the use of digital tools to remotely manage workflows and create an enabling and productive virtual working environment. The pandemic has created an unsatiated need among people, including the workforce, to build intimacy, and has forced them to interact more and over-communicate. It is now essential to create a more cohesive and collaborative communication environment. Despite any uncertainty about the duration of this pandemic, we are quite confident that there will be permanent changes to the ways teams coordinate and an ongoing drive towards digital construction.

"The pandemic has ushered in an understanding among stakeholders about the role of geospatial technologies and connected construction to address the immediate challenges of physical distancing and disconnected information flows"

There has been a lot of talk around the need for collaboration in the current scenario. What are your thoughts on this issue?

Traditionally, the construction industry has been operating in silos. Building Information Modeling, or BIM, is an extraordinary process of reducing or breaking down these silos. COVID-19 has brought with it an ‘absoluteness’ in terms of collaboration and communication — necessitating sharing of data, experiences and workflows in a digital environment, and BIM helps with that. It functions as a process to reinforce real-time collaboration by creating linkages between various stakeholders for smoother project delivery. 

Along with BIM Digital Twins are  essential for adding another dimension to collaboration among the construction value-chain stakeholders. Think of them as a bridge between the physical and digital worlds. The premise of Digital Twins is based on connectivity, communication and collaboration, which are all critical elements for infrastructure growth. A confluence of BIM, GIS and IoT enables stakeholders to collaborate, connect and communicate through a shared ecosystem in real-time to increase  visibility, improve decision-making, conduct predictive analysis and perform proactive operations and maintenance work. It helps stakeholders to reduce rework and save time and cost — the core benefits of digitalization in this sector. 

So, is collaboration is the best way forward?

In the current situation, it is difficult to predict the future. However, companies will need to rethink and reinvent themselves to remain resilient, no matter what the future holds. And a broad range of issues will be discussed — from the use of new technologies to refining the traditional-to-digital approach to adapt to this new reality. In all this,  cohesive digital collaboration will be critical. The time is ripe to accelerate collaboration in construction projects and that, in my opinion, is the way forward.