Construction firms turn to digital tools to boost efficiency

Andrew Pollard

DIGITAL construction specialists and technology suppliers have noticed a ‘sharp upturn’ in demand for digital tools and specialist support since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ahead Business Consulting (ABC) and Digital Construction Skills are amongst those working to drive an increase in the use of construction-related digital solutions by, for example, identifying and installing software to improve business performance.

Andrew Pollard, a director of Falkirk-based ABC, said, “There are 40,000 construction firms in Scotland, of which 20,000 are sole traders and nearly all the rest employ fewer than 10 people. It is a sector where the barriers to adopting technology are particularly high, because the margins are low and training time is non-earning time.”

Andrew believes even simple digital tools could help many SME businesses work more efficiently, improve their margins, and reduce risk. “For most small and medium enterprises, project monitoring is rudimentary and relies on timesheets, visual inspection and experience. Project management software has traditionally been expensive and targeted at corporate professionals. That is, however, no longer the case since there are now affordable and easy to use tools that can help construction firms improve delivery, customer communication and productivity.

“It might involve using simple technology like accessing drawings via a tablet or using a digital checklist to ensure steps are completed in the right sequence. And it goes right through to end-to-end systems which track where your builders are when they’re out on jobs and sends messages to the customer to let them know their repair man or builder is on the way.”

Simple processes like taking photographs of completed work can provide assurance and avoid post-construction scenarios like having to knock through a wall or ceiling to check the work behind it.

Andrew added that as low-carbon solutions become increasingly important, technology will be key. “For example, embedding low carbon alternatives is an easier proposition if firms are already using carbon calculators, have robust job costing and are able to plan well,” he said.

Saffron Grant, MD of Digital Construction Skills, commented, “Many companies in the sector do not realise they can get £5k – £25k from the CITB Skills and Training fund for training or coaching to add digital capabilities to their businesses, even if they have as little as two employees. Investing in technology will put construction firms in a strong position to capitalise on government spending on infrastructure and housing as the economy recovers from Covid-19.”

Saffron Grant