The past two years have transformed the Australian construction industry.

While the global pandemic and multiple lockdowns has been incredibly challenging for organisations, it has also become a welcome catalyst for a new wave of innovation and digitisation. Despite this, the NSW Government has estimated it will take ten years for the industry to reach ‘digital maturity’.

With continued and welcome investment in infrastructure remaining high, increased investment in renewable energy, net zero initiatives, and investor and consumer confidence rising, the limitations of old in the construction and engineering industries are once again becoming front and centre. Challenges associated with productivity, evolving project and contract types, and talent shortages have not yet been resolved. Add to that both the expectations and the huge potential associated with advances in technologies and working practices, and it is easy to see how there is immense pressure on the industry to increase pace of modernisation.

So, with the myriad of challenges faced by the industry, how can organisations in the region continue to invest wisely to capitalise on presented opportunities, manage risk and unlock innovation? While the construction industry has been historically slow to adopt technology, a range of tools is used widely to help organisations manage cash flow, improve visibility and control of project schedules, and facilitate accountability and continuity in project information, enabling  organisations to better manage and address potential issues. As suggested by the NSW government statement, the uptake of these technologies could and should be much higher so more parts of the sector gain the advantage of the benefits the technology brings.


The role of payment structures for cashflow

The construction sector’s payment structure is unique, as the payment and cashflow process work in the exact reverse from most sectors. Downstream subcontractors front the costs for equipment, supplies, and labour, claiming incrementally through an upstream intermediary, meaning any delay in payment raises the stakes for everyone in the supply chain.

Since a contractor’s turnover is predicated on keeping projects progressing and cash flowing, it is in their interest to look beyond the traditional payment process to one that simplifies and standardises critical processes. Technology solutions can help reduce risk exposures to general contractors, owners, and subcontractors, and it can also free up all participants to focus on higher value activities.

For example, a collaborative payment management solution helps manage the payment and billing processes across all participating organisations; importantly, it forges better, more lasting partnerships across the industry by assisting to ensure that everyone is paid fairly and on time. Irrespective of company size, such technology streamlines the payment process by managing payment due dates, related actions, and managing compliance information, as well as improving accuracy, helping eliminate human error, improper payments, and regulatory and contractual compliance, in addition to a range of other risks.


The role of elevating project scheduling

The booming pipeline of construction work increases organisations’ dependence on the global supply chain. Additionally strapped with insufficient supply of personnel, this exposes them to a wide array of risks. In line with the digital transformation of the payment and billing processes, organisations need to take a holistic view to digitising all operational processes, including workflow management and project scheduling, to truly reap the rewards of innovation.

Organisations can utilise a new breed of intelligent construction technology platforms, powered by an AI and machine learning (ML) “data backbone,” that help organisations liberate their data and convert it into the intelligence needed to accelerate performance. These solutions provide predictive insights at a new level of detail, enabling a virtuous cycle – where the initial schedule, the impact of risk to the schedule, and what is occuring in real-time, are incorporated to inform a newly adjusted critical path. This will not only synchronise existing resources better, but also provide the project team the visibility, tracking and reporting they need to keep a project on track.

Whether it’s providing oversight in procurement, project timelines or cashflow, engineering and construction organisations must be open to investing in technology that can help manage risk, and unlock new operational efficiencies, enabling improved service delivery under a reduced and increasingly competitive labour environment.


The importance of continuity, reliability and accessibility of data and records

We have seen that lockdowns and pandemic management restrictions create scenarios where team members have changed, or are temporarily unavailable for a variety of reasons. As a result, information management, accountability, document control, collaboration, and accessibility, irrespective of physical location are critical to ensure all stakeholders are informed and aligned with records and data.

Additionally, and unfortunately, we have seen scenarios whereby project participants and other key stakeholders have lost access to all data and information. This is a real risk where data and information are being held on proprietary private systems, in emails or superuser controlled collaboration environments.

Document collaboration technologies must, first and foremost recognise the importance of data ownership and intellectual property whilst enabling collaboration and sharing in a neutral and controlled environment without risk of losing access if something unexpected was to occur. Secondly, maintaining an indelible record within the technology is critical not only in case of dispute or disagreement, but to facilitate seamless continuity of the project without loss of knowledge, data, records, and decision histories across the whole project community.


The future of technology in construction

It is stating the obvious when we say technology is rapidly evolving, but this does mean the challenge for project owners, deliverers, and stakeholders is to select the right technologies for the job and the organisation. Never has that been more apparent than now, with supply chain disruptions, cost-to-complete uncertainties, on site resource limitations, restrictions on face-to-face meetings, and the increased acceptance of remote working.

As the industry continues to develop cutting-edge technologies to help teams complete on-site activities in a safer and more efficient way, it simply makes sense to further modernise operations and processes as well. This provides all stakeholders with peace of mind, visibility, efficiency, and control- unlocking the possibility for further tech innovation in all facets of construction.


By Callan Mantell, area vice president at Oracle Construction and Engineering