Practices in the delivery of building and infrastructure projects must change if the world is to cater for a growing population, a leader in construction technology says.

Speaking at his firm’s Connect and Construct Summit held last month in London, Jim Lynch, Vice President & General Manager, Autodesk Construction, said the word’s construction sector faced significant challenges.

First, there is the need to cater for a growing population, which the United Nations expects to increase from an estimated 7.3 billion in 2016 (US Census Bureau estimates) to 9.8 billion in 2050.

To meet this demand, research firm Sista says the construction sector needs to build an average of 13,000 structures per day across major cities – well above the 10,000 per day Lynch says are being delivered now.

Beyond that, Lynch talks of challenges from sluggish productivity, an aging workforce and increasing project complexity.

On the first point, he points to McKinsey reports suggesting that the world’s building sector has an average of only one percent productivity growth over the past two decades.

Compared with three percent generated by manufacturing, Lynch says this is not satisfactory.

On the second point, Lynch points to data from the UK Office of National Statistics which suggests that 45 percent of the building workforce in that country is over the age of 45.

(In Australia, the age of the building workforce does not appear to be a problem. According to ABS data as at May 2019, two-thirds of Australia’s construction workers are less than 45 years of age whilst 43 percent are younger than 35.)

On complexity, Lynch said the number of buildings greater than 200 meters in height has grown fivefold over the past two decades.

Given all this, he says the industry needs to embrace new ways of working.

“We all agree that simply adding more workers to traditional work processes is not going to help us meet the demand or address the challenges of the industry,” Lynch said.

“Today’s fast pace environment requires us to look closely at business practices, work processes and technology strategies, understanding where the market is going, what disruptors and doing and really understanding your customers future needs.”

Lynch’s comments come amid a flurry of investment in construction technology.

In 2017, technology giant Oracle gobbled up construction project delivery platform provider Aconex for $A1.6 billion.

Last year, agricultural, construction and geospatial software provider Trimble purchased construction project management and accounting software provider Viewpoint for $US1.2 billion.

In Autodesk’s own case, the company has made three acquisitions over the past twelve months.

These include BIM and construction data management startup Assemble Systems for an undisclosed sum in July last year, an $875 million purchaser of San Francisco project and document management software startup PlanGrid in November and a $275 million purchase of bid management platform BuildingConnected.

Speaking of Autodesk, Lynch said the company had sought acquisitions which would enable it to create an end-to-end offering in project management.

He says construction technology is evolving in three areas.

First, digitisation is enabling the sharing of information across locations and devices so that the right information gets to the right team at the right time.

Next, workflow integration is breaking down silos and integrating data from project management, financial, procurement and maintenance systems to create a single source of information.

Finally, as more processes are digitised and greater volumes of information are captured, machine learning will unlock potential for analysis of previous project data to understand and identify likely areas of risk and to put in place measures to mitigate these before they materialise.