Prefabrication, BIM/CAD, digital project management tools and integrated construction management tools have emerged as the leading forms of technology which builders say will be most influential in the construction sector over the next three years, a new report has found.

In the second annual addition of its How We Build Now report, construction project management software company Procore has unveiled the results of phone and email interviews of 260 small, medium and large construction contractors throughout Australia which were conducted on its behalf by ACA Research.

As part of the study, builders were asked to nominate which technologies will drive change over the next three years.

Of these, pre-fabricated parts headed the list, with 44 percent of respondents believing that these will be influential going forward.

This was followed by BIM/CAD (33 percent), digital project management tools (30 percent), integrated construction management tools (28 percent) and 3D printing (25 percent).

Prefabrication was also considered to have the most significant impact on current practices followed by BIM/CAD and drones.

According to the survey, businesses throughout the sector were seeking to improve both their underlying profitability and their operational productivity.

In doing this, they are bringing new technology on board, training and upskilling workers and improving access to project information.

All up, 62 percent of those surveyed say they are brining on new technology to improve productivity whilst 59 percent are upskilling staff and 54 percent are improving access to project information.

When it comes to productivity, 68 percent are upskilling workers whilst 65 percent are bringing new technology on board and 64 percent are improving access to information.

The research also found that, among those surveyed:

  • When dealing with COVID-19, 48 percent, 38 percent and 30 percent respectively are using technology to manage on-site risks, improve productivity and reduce the volume of materials that need to be held on site.
  • 49 percent believe that builders will need a broader skill set moving forward.
  • 35 percent believe that some construction functions in the future will require no labour at all.
  • Asked about challenges involved in implementing new technology, 34 percent say training subcontractors on how to use this is ‘extremely challenging’. This was followed by training site staff on how to use new technology (27 percent) and integrating with different technologies being used by owners (24 percent).
  • 62 percent feel they would be more efficient if they communicated more effectively with subcontractors whilst 76 percent say they need to work more closely with subcontractors to achieve best practice.
  • Between 61 percent and 78 percent say they are still using either paper based systems or standardised office software such as Word or Excel for data management tasks such as pricing and estimating, cost control, design management, site activity records, delivery management, procurement management, safety, quality, equipment and asset records and environmental management.
  • Overall, those surveyed believe that better capture and use of data can reduce project costs by as much as twelve percent. As well medium and large businesses believe that more investment in data capture, integration and standardising could deliver better productivity, improve knowledge management, help to improve regulatory compliance, better meet customer needs and enable more time to be spent with clients.

Ben Selwyn, Director of AC Research, says the report highlighted several themes.

First, the move toward greater fabrication reflects a desire to keep fewer materials on site and to move toward just in time procurement.

Behind this, the next three categories of BIM/CAD, digital project management and integrated construction management reflect a desire to improve business and project management as well as to boost productivity and profitability.

Nevertheless, Selwyn sounded a note of caution on the lack of emphasis on technologies such as AI, machine learning and data analytics – technologies he says sit behind and feed into those mentioned above.

This could mean that the level of consideration associated with front-end products was not matched by the similar awareness about back end technologies which lie behind them.

Next, there is the use of data which sits behind technology and which is used to help inform decisions and actions.

Here, Selwyn said the survey highlights several issues.

First, there is an appreciation that the benefits of effective data capture and use extend beyond immediate financial considerations and encompass greater productivity, better decision making and compliance, safer work and better customer/client relations.

As well, there is a growing trend toward greater sharing of data. This is true not just within contractors’ own workforce but also with other parties such as clients and subcontractors.

Still, challenges remain.

Whilst most companies had moved from paper based operations to digital operations, Selwyn says large volumes of data remain in single sources of software such as spreadsheets rather than on specialist software platforms through which they can be integrated.

Until it is managed through integrated platforms, he says generating maximum value from data which is captured will be difficult.

As well as technology, the report also looked at current industry sentiment as well as challenges faced by contractors in growing and managing their workforce.

It showed that confidence had been severely impacted by COVID-19 whilst workforce management was a consistent challenge for contractors.