Covid-19 has changed the way we live and work across the globe. For the construction sector in Europe, the pandemic has brought about a big shift in attitudes towards digital innovation and traditional ways of working. In this series, we explore how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the industry in Europe and what this means for the outcomes delivered.
It’s clear that the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted – and continues to impact – each country in unique ways. As well as contending with different waves of the disease, every government has set their own regulations for construction industry activities.
For example, in Ireland non-essential construction sites remained closed throughout much of early 2021; by contrast, sites have been allowed to open in the UK, but due to self-isolation measures, some projects are now being delayed by staff shortages.
In the Nordics, construction industries have been less severely impacted by the pandemic than some other European countries. Although some people have worked remotely at times, there have been a smaller number of lockdown closures.
As a result, between February and April 2021, construction activity in Denmark and Sweden actually increased. Despite a year of challenges, by April Finnish companies had returned to pre-crisis activity levels.
In fact, construction in the Nordics is now growing rapidly, to the point of becoming overheated. Construction professionals in both Denmark and Sweden say the single biggest risk on their projects is time constraints and the need to make urgent decisions[ET1] .
Beyond the pandemic, there is change ahead. Each country has committed to taking a leading role in the global green recovery. There will be pressure to work more efficiently and deliver greener builds, prompting changes for businesses.
In such a fast-moving industry, how can Nordic construction companies improve their operations, while preparing for further changes ahead?
Winning new business is of course a core part of construction success. But organisations in the Nordics are missing out on a key means of creating competitive advantage and winning more business – and that’s effective data management.
In most businesses, each project team decides on the processes and tools based on their specific needs. After the project, the data is rarely re-examined to gain insights and knowledge. In other words, businesses don’t have a strong learning loop – and can be liable to make the same mistakes again and again.
Implementing a common data environment and using business intelligence (BI) modules can enable organisations to gain a more holistic view of their data, in a way that’s effective and sustainable. By not only capturing, but really using, past data, organisations can find opportunities to improve, gain a competitive advantage and ultimately win more business.
Delivering quality in a construction project comes down to three things: people, processes and tools. Unfortunately, it’s clear that some employees in the Nordics need a mindset shift. In the past, it was accepted wisdom that in construction you learned by getting things wrong – and many professionals acquired their skillset in this way.
These people can be reluctant to change and act as a blocker to adopting technology. For example, 40% of Norwegian construction firms say the reason they don’t have a data strategy is a lack of support from the leadership team and wider organisation[ET2] . Changing attitudes will be key for many businesses.
Once the right people are on board, organisations must take a holistic approach to their processes and examine how they can be improved with technology. Many businesses have tended to focus on optimising individual tasks – for example, finding the best tool to support quality inspections.
But in fact, we’re now realising the value of linking all the phases of a project from ideas and design through to construction and handover. Collaborating more closely, from design to operations, will mitigate errors and improve quality – and of course, that depends on having the right digital tools.
To maintain quality, it’s vital that information can be shared and accessed in real-time, enabling teams to avoid errors and make the best decisions. Equally, it’s important to ensure that tools aren’t siloed – or the data will be too.
Finally, remember slowing down can be faster. It can be difficult given the frenetic pace of construction right now. Nonetheless, taking the time to follow quality control processes in full will save issues down the line, and there are digital tools to help teams do this more efficiently.
When it comes to finishing on budget, preparation is 80% of the work. However, when time is tight, organisations often rush to get underway before all the decisions and planning are complete. This is not an effective way to mitigate risk and manage costs; decisions made in earlier phases will have a long-lasting impact, and the later changes are made, the bigger the costs will be.
For example, think of Storebæltsbroen, a Danish bridge constructed using concrete and steel elements in the 1990s. The original design team estimated lifespans for each concrete element based on the predicted level of bridge traffic.
But ultimately, the bridge proved much more popular than predicted, lowering the lifespan of the concrete. By failing to consider operations, the team had missed the opportunity to design elements that could be easily replaced, which could have saved millions in future maintenance costs. Giving every stakeholder enough time to plan will significantly improve the process – and reduce costs for everyone involved.
Owners especially need to take a holistic view of their assets. As they will be responsible for managing the building long after the handover, owners should take responsibility for project data from the beginning of the project. This will lead to cost-savings over many years.
Given the very high levels of demand in Nordic construction right now, finishing on schedule – and working as efficiently as possible – is essential. Again, this starts with good planning. During the preconstruction phase, organisations should focus on the critical components that will make up most of the build and consider all the constraints that will apply.
Once the project is underway, the schedule should be updated in real time. Currently some organisations work on a weekly basis – but by the time changes are made, you might already be four days behind.
This is an even bigger issue if data related to the plan is split across multiple locations: for example, the schedule in MS Project, the budget in an Excel spreadsheet and the contractors in a resource management tool. Simply keeping everyone up to date with accurate information will take significant resource – and it will be easy to make errors.
Digital tools can enable teams to integrate their processes and data. Project managers can then visualise the impact of any changes across the whole project, making adjustments and sharing updates instantly. This can help Nordic construction firms to optimise their schedules in a very busy period.
Health, safety and the environment
Health and safety have formed a mandatory part of projects for many years – and new regulations are constantly being introduced to set higher standards. However, there is a tendency in construction firms to view these requirements as an inconvenient time-drain, particularly when schedules are tight. People filling in checklists on-site might question the value of these activities or rush to complete them.
We need to reconsider our approach to health and safety, to instead view these activities as a worthy time investment. By completing checks upfront, organisations can ensure the proper protections are in place – avoiding incidents, injuries and of course the counterproductive time delays that will result on the project. Likewise, these processes can capture errors that would otherwise cause issues and costs later in the project.
Importantly, digital tools can help checks to be completed more efficiently, as well as supporting collaboration – as the faster the communication between the relevant parties, the faster the error can be rectified.
All of this can contribute to a real mindset shift in construction. People who feel safe about where they work will be more engaged and productive. Altogether, we should consider health and safety as a means of being more efficient and effective in Nordic construction.
Looking ahead to greater integration
As Nordic construction businesses look to the future, getting the right people, processes and tools in place – not only within your organisation, but together with your collaborators – will be crucial. Organisations have been forward-thinking in their adoption of digital tools, but approaches have often been siloed and limited to a single function.
Relying on standalone solutions will prevent firms from winning business in the future. It’s only by using integrated platforms, that automate processes and fully leverage data, that organisations will be able to save time and money, capture errors before they occur and ultimately gain the competitive edge they need.
Now, it’s time to create integrated processes that will improve your business and support your project partners. This will enable you to make decisions based on real-time information and learn from past data. And remember, if digital technologies are used correctly, it isn’t a cost – it’s a means of enabling everyone in the industry to improve.
Learn more about connecting workflows, teams and data at every stage of the construction processes with Autodesk Construction Cloud here, or reach out to me directly.
Click here to read the European version of the FMI report.