Unlock the answer to improving your construction projects profitability with expert tips and insights
- Project inefficiencies can add 20%-25% to the cost of the average construction project. Can you afford to let critical project details fall through the cracks?
Watch Asite's webinar on the impact of construction technology, hosted by Vice President of Operations Pietro Leo.
Pietro is joined by representatives from two of the UK's largest contractors, Tilbury Douglas and Kier, for a thought-provoking panel discussion on the importance of a Common Data Environment (CDE).
To gain insight on how a CDE can help you to reduce bottlenecks, data siloes, and missing project information, watch the webinar for free now.
You will learn:
- • How a CDE can impact your productivity and profits
- • The benefits of a CDE in the asset lifecycle
- • How to plug data gaps and what that means for your ROI
- • How to determine if a CDE is right for your business
Watch the Webinar Replay
Meet the moderator
Pietro Leo Joined Asite back in 2019 as a senior consultant where he implemented the platform for key customers based in both the UK and US.
He then lead the professional services team in the UK before moving into his present role as the Vice President of Operations.
Prior to Joining Asite, Pietro worked within the information management team at Laing O'Rourke where he managed Asite (and various other site solutions) on a daily basis.
Meet the panelists
Aneesa Mulla has over 10 years experience working within the construction sector and has been an internal part of the Tilbury Douglas (formerly known as Interserve), digital engineering team, since 2014.
She initially worked as a BIM Support Engineer focused on the implementation of BIM level 2 across the construction division, before becoming the digital construction strategic lead.
In 2021, Aneesa was appointed the new Head of Digital to focus on the company's digital transformation journey, taking responsibility for digital twins, standardisation processes and utilising the Asite Platform.
Andy Boutle has an extensive career spanning over 20 years, working within the AEC industry, in a variety of roles including contracts and project engineer.
He simultaneously worked as Head of BIM for Kier, where he was responsible for maintaining their highly coveted BIM kitemark, whilst also acting as an engagement co-lead for the executive for the BIM alliance, which was involved in writing guidance for the ISO 19650.
Since his involvement in the webinar, Andy has taken up the role of Head of Digital Delivery at LEC, a multi-disciplinary construction company based in Dubai.
Listen to Andy Boutle explain why a 'single source of truth' has been pivotal in guiding the digital transformation journey at Kier Group
Aneesa Mulla discusses how a focus on standardisation and transparency led to Tilbury Douglas deciding that a Common Data Environment (CDE) was right for them
Full webinar transcript
Hello, everyone. Thank you for joining me today as we discuss ‘How to Uncover the Return on Investment from a Common Data Environment.’
But before we start, I just wanted to briefly introduce myself and both panelists.
My name is Pietro. I'm the Vice President of Operations for the UK and Europe here at Asite. I joined Asite back in 2019 as a Senior Consultant, and I essentially implemented the platform to key customers based both in the UK and the U.S. Prior to joining Asite, I worked for a main contractor within the information management team, where I essentially managed Asite and various other site-based solutions on a daily basis.
Now over to our two panelists, who are both representatives from Asite clients that have made the decision to implement a CDE across their projects. They'll take you through their personal experiences to help you decide whether a Common Data Environment might be right for you. It's also worth noting that both companies are at different stages of their digital transformation journey, just to provide you with different perspectives.
Ok, so Aneesa, if you wouldn't mind introducing yourself quickly.
Hi, everyone. I'm Aneesa Mulla, Head of Digital at Tilbury Douglas.
I've been at Tilbury Douglas, about seven and a half years in some form of a BIM or digital role, now leading the digital team.
In terms of Asite, in terms of CDE, we're about a year into our journey with Asite having gone through a comprehensive procurement process, pretty much as lockdown hit last year. And since then, it's been a case of going through that process and the initial implementation of Asite across the business. We've got some experiences, we've got some plans moving forward, and hopefully, this session should give you a feel for how we got to where we are now.
Thank you very much for that Aneesa. Andy over to you.
Hi Pietro, hi, everyone.
Strikingly similar to Aneesa in terms of what we're doing and link for service and all of those things. I'm Head of BIM at Kier Group, also working in the UK BIM Alliance, and I've been writing some of the guidance to the ISO 19650 standards. From an Asite and digital strategy to deployment perspective in Kier, we are on a bit of a rationalization journey and reviewing our technology stack and bringing in for a rigorous process different tools to fill our capabilities that we need. Asite is one of the tools we're currently configuring for deployment at the start of the new year. So yes, slightly different journey in terms of other things, and different tools are ahead of others, but it's all part of the process going on currently.
Great, thank you for that, Andy.
Ok, so let's get to the problem.
The construction industry has faced the same kind of issue for many years now, including lack of productivity, data silos, project bottlenecks, and the Get It Right Initiative stressed in the UK alone, 10% to 25% of project costs are from avoidable errors, and indirect costs, which staggeringly amounts to around £20 billion a year.
With a large amount of waste, there's the potential for companies to create significant cost savings if they can find a solution to these classic project errors. We think the answer may lie with a Common Data Environment, or what many now abbreviate to a CDE.
For clarity, I just wanted to clearly define exactly what is meant when we use the term CDE.
Quite simply, a CDE is a place in which you can store, track and manage all of your documents, data, or project information from a single location, maintaining that single source of truth. Think of it as a central hub through which all your information flows in a secure repository. When used correctly, it can see us make significant improvements to our project efficiencies.
An example of that allows us to create what is known as the golden thread of information, where you can share the latest data across teams get a clearer view of your project tasks, files, messages, and all the other analytics that come along with it.
What we're going to learn today. So today's agenda, we're going to learn the importance of a CDE. And in terms of productivity and profits, the benefits of implementing the CDE at various junctions in a project lifecycle, the gaps in adoption, and what that means for return on investment. And finally, how to determine if it's right for your business or not.
If you have any questions at all throughout this session, by the way, just feel free to drop them in the chat, and our panelists and I will discuss them at the end of the session.
Ok, that's enough for me. Let's get some insight from our expert panelists.
Question one, Aneesa, we'll start with you. What are your main reasons for requiring construction technology like a Common Data Environment in your business? And was there an event or a time that occurred that made you realize it was needed?
Yeah, so in terms of why we need construction technology, I think a lot of it's about efficiency, productivity, and improving the way that we work. Regardless of what that tech looks like, from our perspective at Tilbury Douglas, technology comes into play where we have certain requirements, certain gaps in our capability, we have challenges that we're trying to address, i.e., it's not a tick the box exercise, it's not picking something because we think it looks good. It's because it addresses a certain challenge, or there is a certain outcome that we're trying to bring about.
From a CDE perspective, I guess one of the challenges we had in the business at the time when we started the initial procurement was a lack of standardization in the business. It was very much, many different tools being used for sharing information, lots of different ways of getting information to various parties, whether they're internal or external. Some of that were platforms similar to Asite, but some of that was just done through email, and then you start to lose your transparency and lose your ability to audit and check.
You mentioned the golden thread already, Pietro. It's very much a case of, we can't track what we've done. We're not sure where things came from; we're not sure where they went. I guess standardization and that transparency are probably one of the key reasons why we've adopted the CDE.
Now in terms of an event or a time, not so much an event or a time, it's something we've been working up to. It was something we knew we needed to put into place. It was making sure we had the right foundation in place in the business; we had the right approach to procuring technology; it wasn't done for the sake of doing it. From a Tilbury Douglas perspective, it was very much a case of ‘ok, well, we know what our challenges are, we know we need to address them, now let's go out to market and understand what tools are out there and how best to address them.’
I guess I'll spin that on its head slightly. I guess being purist think of a Common Data Environment is the workflow and the process, and then the technology is there to support that.
In terms of a solution, we've had a document management solution for many years before anyone was really probably even aware that BS 1182 existed. There was this thing that defined what actually a Common Data Environment is and how information should flow through it.
And similar probably to what Aneesa said, Kier is historically regional business units in the construction division. Although there was an element of standardization in this space, there really wasn't.
Examining our incumbent EDMS that wasn't really configured to fulfill a Common Data Environment. Not only that but, each project and each business unit had a different way of setting up depending on what day of the week it was and who was actually pressing the buttons. A real unstandardized mess when you looked wider across the across the estate. The awareness was there. The CDE fulfills, like the foundations of BIM, it's the core piece of it all.
Absolutely important to standardize, to get that benefit of repeatability. I know if I move projects, if I'm on this project, and I want to go and find this bit of information, I typically know it will be in the same place. Absolutely, it's about retrieving information, getting the right information to the right people at the right point in time so they can make effective decisions. Trying to measure the ROI on that is almost probably impossible; we just know that there's a huge gain there if you're not already on top of it.
Very much in the space now of standardizing our approach, bringing in a platform that meets our capabilities, much like Aneesa said, with a full review from the project, various disciplines who are leaning into this stuff to arrive at the right answer to then make improvements ahead.
Just jumping in.
I'm just following up on something Andy just said, it's that piece about being able to go on to any project at any point in time, and I know exactly where that information is. I think that a common, consistent setup across all of our projects means that regardless of who you are or what job you've been working on for the past year and a half, the second you're on another project, you know exactly where that information is, because it's stored in exactly the same way, it's shared in exactly the same way. The processes are the same. The workflows are the same.
Like Andy said, it's hard to manage the ROI on it, but at the same time, it's not necessarily a figure per se. It's more about efficiency gains, isn't it? I guess ROI can be measured in more than one way.
Just on that as well, internally, that's a huge advantage. You get churn across projects and people change, go from a project and maybe support a number of projects. But then thinking of the supply chain that we're all playing with, it must be a nightmare going—whether you're a contractor setting up these systems. If it's Tilbury Douglas, it's like this. If it's Kier, it's like this.
But at least if it's Kier, and it looks like this, no matter which region I work in. When I go to Tilbury Douglas, or Laing O'Rourke, or whoever it is, they've got a consistent way of working, it all helps us all.
Definitely. That standardized approach is absolutely critical for a CDE. The nature of construction going from site to site, and just having that ease of knowing what folder to find the Schematic drawings, for example, is crucial.
Thank you for that. We'll move on to the next question.
What results have you seen first-hand when having a single source of data in your projects? Aneesa, we'll come to you first. And perhaps you can explain the digital transformation journey for Tilbury Douglas, what you're going through at the moment, and the experiences?
So, in terms of first-hand results, it's primarily about having data and information when you need it. It's up-to-date, it's accurate, it's in the right place. It's that ability to see in real-time exactly where you are on your projects. What information have you got? What has been collated already? Where are the gaps? What do we need to follow up on?
By having a CDE in place, it becomes less admin-heavy in the sense that we're not trying to follow up and understand what's going on in a project. Who do I need to go to? What reports do I need to run? It's very much real-time log into your CDE and have a look at what's actually there. It's the ability to remove some of that admin, I guess, which again links back to the efficiency gains.
But it does mean that our guys on site know exactly where to go to find the information, they know it's there, and they get on with it. In the same way, design managers, they're there, they need to review some drawings, it comes to them direct in Asite, and it tells him, ‘I need you to review this, I need you to comment on this, I need an approval here.’
Having that kind of setup already means it's a lot more transparent. It's a lot easier for us to get to where we need to in terms of access and information. Primarily, all of that really relates back to that improved collaboration approach. It means we're all working off the same page; we'll get the right bits of information in the right place.
But more than that, it's making sure that people are actually accessing it. It's quite easy to miss things if they're sent by email, or you've got five different systems you need to log on to see five different bits of information. I think from our perspective at Tilbury Douglas, because we've gone enterprise with Asite, we know that all of our project information is going to sit in Asite.
We know that if it's an internal document, this is where we'll be looking for it. If its drawings coming from our design team, this is where we'll find it. If there's certain data on-site that we want to collect, that's our next challenge almost and saying, ‘well, what do we collect? How do we collect it? And where's it going to be stored and shared in Asite?’
It's knowing that Asite provides that ability to manage all of that, whether it's a document, whether it's a model, whether it's just a database of information we need to collect and fill in and utilize to make those decisions. So really, it's that visibility, that transparency, its ability to collaborate.
Thanks for that, Aneesa.
Andy, in addition to this question, given Kier is one of the largest contractors in the UK, are you seeing the same benefits as Aneesa?
If I can zoom out just from the CDE solution for the minute because obviously, we're at the start of our Asite journey in that regard.
Rewinding back. I mean, it's painfully obvious where you get a project that's set up correctly, managed, and administered correctly, and it just flows. Compared to ones that haven't been set up correctly, everyone's leaning in to do various bits of administration of the system, and people are struggling to find things.
The single source of data, the journey we've been on in Kier, and this is a subset of that. But zooming back out is looking at all of the data and our reporting across the business. Whether we've got information in commercial and financial systems, we've got information in work winning systems, we've got the tools that we're deploying on the projects for information management and other things. Historically, they've all been siloed, and you're pulling reports, you can't connect the datasets.
But there's been a huge effort and realization in Kier over the last couple of years. We've got a big team in grouping in IT architecture and analysts pulling together a data lake—not wanting to use buzzwords—but pulling the data and providing a connection out of these various systems so we can connect from work right up the front to opportunity and work winning, and track that data set right across to hand over aftercare, etc. Not keep pumping things from different systems and double handling information, rekeying it, and starting to actually get some pretty informative dashboards and almost live data, just looking at the historic reporting merits, seeing either the Dunbar Excel, PowerPoint, and static snapshots every couple of weeks, months.
We're now moving to a period where you can start to look at key program commercial data and effectively trying to look at trends to flag up warnings, so interventions can happen and stop some of the previous mistakes and things that goes on effectively.
It’s all part of that move to using data to leverage and understand trends in the business, project risks, and dealing with those risks before they become disastrous or costly.
The question we missed earlier: what challenges can organizations who don’t have any construction technology implemented expect to face when deciding on a provider and when implementing one? And, how did you both overcome those challenges?
This is a really good question.
I mean, if you're a construction company yet to implement new technology, I first say you probably need to get on with it pretty quickly because it underpins modern ways of working, no matter what you're doing.
I think Aneesa mentioned earlier that you shouldn't just throw software at problems; you need to understand your challenges and your problems and then work out and evaluate the right software to come and fit around and provide that solution. That's a really common mistake that I think I've made in the past, and many people do.
I think that we ended up with quite a good mechanism, I think for carrying out this kind of process of bringing in and evaluating software. It's really important to get the right network of people involved from the various different disciplines that are going to be the end-users of these tools. You don't want to be sitting on your ivory tower and say, ‘oh, I know this tool is really good for you,’ and then try and force it on people. You need to let them make that decision.
We established a really good network to bring in the right people from the right disciplines to be part of that valuation process. Then bringing in the vendors to demonstrate their product based on that list of capabilities that those individuals from our business can really evaluate and get an understanding of, so we can start to see where there could be a good fit.
It's also important not to just look at the functionality side of things. You need to look at nonfunctional. Information security, of course, is really, really important these days because we’re starting to manage all this digital information.
Data hosting the geography of it, there's some clients have specific requirements about where data can be hosted.
Actually, the user interface and how pleasant the product is for the end-users as well. No one wants to be playing in products that don't look or feel nice, or it feels a bit clunky. It needs to be a nice experience for the end-user.
There's lots of things to examine. But bringing the right people from your business who are going to be at the sharp end using these tools to help you make the decision about where you go.
Anessa, what about you? Have you faced the same kind of challenges?
In terms of challenges, I think one of the things that we did realize quite early on is there is a lot of tech out there.
The IT landscape is pretty overcrowded. There are tools that will do everything and anything. For us, it was a case of what let's take a step back, what is it that we're trying to achieve? What are the challenges we've got at the moment?
One was a lack of standardization.
Another one was mismatch solutions that we're trying to get data from, that we couldn't do much with because these systems just weren't talking to each other.
And then I think the third one, it was a case of looking at, well we've got a lot of tech, we need to understand what will work and we also need to understand what challenges we're facing and how we can address them in terms of actual projects and within the business itself.
To overcome that was very much an actual procurement process quite similar to what Andy's just described.
Again, we had a working group that we put together from representatives around the business. I mean, I could sit there centrally and say, ‘yeah, I think that's the solution for us,’ but it's the guys on the ground, who actually uses it day in day out that need to say, ‘well, yeah, it does work, however, have you considered X, Y, and Z?’
It was those people that we brought into the room. We said, ‘right, what do we need from a CDE type solution.’ It was in documenting all of that and getting that out to the vendors. We went out to quite a few because we needed to make sure that the decision we made was going to be one:
A - Was going to be long term
B - One that was going to suit the business as we improved as well
It was never going to be a one-off solution that would work. For our immediate requirements, we needed someone who we knew that we could work with over a long term. I mean, our agreement with Asite is five years; if we're not changing within five years, we've probably missed the boat on a lot of the industry challenges moving forward.
It was dedicated, bringing those people in the room and saying, ‘right, ok, so these are the responses we've had back, let's evaluate them. How closely are these vendors aligned to what we need as a business?’ And again, like Andy said, functionally, what does it do, the nonfunctional requirements: the hosting, the security, and managing the access.
The key bit was, if you look at that system, and that platform, does it make sense? Is it easy to use? All of that led us to, obviously, guys coming in and doing your demonstrations and presenting to a number of people across our business at varying levels. We brought people in from board level right down to graduates and apprentices. We needed to make sure it was going to be suitable.
Since then, it's been very much a case of, again, working with the business. We've got a bit of a forum internally with some of our key users in the business that help us with those improvements, set up, the config, and putting us in a position where as we roll out the platform, as we roll out the various capabilities, we go back to them and say, ‘right, ok, how's this working?’ And we get requests back from them to say, ‘well, actually, maybe there's a better way to do this, can we rejig it?’
It was never, for us, going to be a solution that we adopted, we implemented, and we just ran with. It was very much that continuous improvement. A year in, I can say that where we were a year ago, in terms of setting up and where we are now, we've definitely made improvements. It's got to be a continual thing if we are going to overcome some of those challenges, I think.
Yeah, we've actually seen more of a range of people making these decisions.
It's quite a significant skill gap, I suppose, from the ones who are quite experienced in senior positions versus the people who are actively using it on projects. It's worth getting everybody's opinion of what's needed there to find the correct solution for the business.
I think is as well everyone's use cases are different.
What you would get from someone on your board trying to access data on projects, is going to be very different to your site management side, and what information he needs and how he'd want to access it.
It’s making sure we manage those use cases. We get the system into a position that works for everyone. You'll have those heavy day-to-day users. You'll have those people who probably log in once a month because they need to generate a report or need to see certain data a certain point in time. But it's making sure that that capabilities there.
Agreed. Another challenge we've been aware of, and it can be a challenge, especially in a large organization, it's all very well bringing in a brilliant bit a new technology, but if you haven't got the resources to carry out the training, the implementation and then support and administer, you may be spending a lot of money on a really good technology and not getting the best out of it.
There needs to be the support structure in terms of people around deploying and maintaining these tools, especially if you want to really drive consistency and standardization. It does need a level of governance. I think what we're realizing is where some of these systems previously that weren't particularly standardized and well managed across the stream, the business stream if you like, but they are allowed to go off and do what they do in their business units.
They had these local administrators/leads, which you still do need, but there's an element at the center if you're going to control it properly, and it's across the technology stack. You probably need a small agile team to really make the most of that software, get it deployed correctly, get people supported and using it right, and keep the standardization and governance. The benefits out of the back of that should effectively pay for that potential resource.
But yes, there's something to definitely consider you can't just deploy technology and then leave it leave it to percolate.
I completely agree with Andy there; it's making sure you've got the right people to help support the rollout of that tool, the training, the ongoing support. But it's also about empowering the users as well.
I think as much as it's useful, having that team centrally to help with the management of it, the primary thing is making sure that the guys who are using it day-to-day have:
A - Got access to the technology to be able to use your solutions or your platforms
B - They're trained up, and they understand why we're doing it
Quite often, it's easy to just bring about a load of training into a business one thing after another after another, and it becomes a culture of just wandering, and it can become a bit; why are we doing it? What's the reasoning behind it? This is just another change on top of everything else we've done. Now I've got to figure out another login. People can become quite skeptical.
I think one of the challenges as well is that cultural element. It's making sure that the guys who need access to the tools:
A - Have the right access
B - Have the training and support
C - Understand why they're doing it
I think it's a bit of a mixed bag, essentially. Yes, you need that team. But definitely getting out to the people out there as well.
What you touched on there as well, the comms.
Again, we're both talking from big, large, heavy contractor businesses. Its protocols, the problems are probably distinctly different if you're an SME doing this or a medium-sized organization, but comms is so important internally.
Just so people, like you've said Aneesa, say, ‘there's this other tool that we're supposed to use, I don't know why I'm using it,’ and actually making it easy for people to understand: ‘what should I be using it for, where it's going actually to benefit me, where I can go, is there a help desk, who should I speak to locally in my business to support me if I've got issues?’
All of those things are really important.
From our perspective, we've got a really, really strong support system from Asite, but also within our own internal teams as well.
Within each of the regions, it's very much a case of having that support there as well. Centrally, we can feed off them; they can then feed back into the center. It also means that the guys on the ground have got someone to go to, a familiar face, someone that's not like you said, sitting in the ivory tower, almost. They've got the go-to and say, ‘well, hang on, I need support here. I'm not sure about this.’
Yeah, comms, I think, is key towards that.
Yeah, absolutely. That actually perfectly leads on to question four.
What practical advice could you give to organizations who have been in your shoes, so what steps they should take to determine what construction technology would be right for their business? And how they can make a business case to show the return?
Yeah, so I think my response to this is actually something that my Technical Director once said to me; he goes: ‘ask the three why's.’
If you're thinking about bringing in some tech, ask yourself why. Once you've got that response, ask yourself again and again. If you get to the end of that, and you can still justify why you need it, and you can understand the benefit or the capability gap that you're addressing, or the challenge that you're going to fix, then you're onto a winner.
For me, those three why's are posted on the wall just above my screen, actually, to remind me that regardless of whatever decision I decided to make on something or recommendation I make, ask myself the three why's: why am I doing it? Then once I've got that response, try it again and again. At the end of it, if you still think ‘yeah, this is the right tool,’ it means you thought it through.
Then it's a case of ok, working your way through it. What am I doing with it? What capability gap is it addressing? What challenge am I addressing? And what are my expected outcomes?
I think the difference here is outcomes are not outputs. It is very much outcomes; what are the results that I want to see from this. Not a tangible, ‘I need this document,’ or ‘I need this.’ It's very much a this is what we are trying to achieve as a business and then fitting in your project requirements into that, your business requirements, the industry requirements that we're starting to see come through as well.
Very much a case of ok, let's bring all of those together and then put together your business case and say why you need that tech. It's double-checking, and it's making sure you're doing it for the right reasons, I think.
Thanks for that, Aneesa.
Yeah, that's good; ask why three times; I like that one.
Andy, what about you, what advice do you have?
It's really pertinent what Aneesa said. I suppose it's a bit of a recap. I probably answered some of the previous question with the same for this, but again, get a good network of stakeholders across your business when you're about to evaluate these or evaluate new tools, refreshing them, whatever they are.
Make sure they're communicated to effectively and play a part in the process. We found really important to define it and actually go quite granular in terms of the capabilities, the functionality that we need to hit that's important for us as a business, and the way we work. Then review the software tools against that list of capabilities to determine what could be a good fit.
Again, the ROI is really difficult, isn't it? As Aneesa said, you could you could express it in many different ways. I mean, the easy one for us is just looking at when you're rolling something new out is to start to monitor that user activity and how many users we have. How many projects? How many users on those projects? Is there a trend that's growing? If that's growing generally, you think, well, obviously we're getting benefit, because it's growing wider.
But yeah, I'm sure sitting down and going beyond that and looking at what some tangible KPIs that we could start to measure. The fact that you're using digital technologies, you can pull reports and the data out of it.
Just understanding what you want to measure and what indicates a return, I guess. It can be simple things like you just take a view of, we've got this many projects, and previously our average program duration was X. Our average overspend or our average margin was Y. Then, take a sample of projects, once you've deployed the new technology and processes and start to measure some simple differences or you can really drill into some more intricate detail. But again, that will look probably subtly different, depending on what type of organization, size, shape, discipline, etc.
That would be my simple, high-level advice.
Just off the back of that, Andy, I think the other thing that I would say is, when we talk about digital transformation, don't think of it as something with a start and an end. It might sound really weird, but at least for us at Tilbury Douglas, it's very much an ongoing thing.
I mean, we see that the tech landscape is changing so quickly. We see that the requirements that are coming through from the government or from our clients as well are starting to change. We're seeing that we're starting to see them, to a certain degree, understand more around the digital and what their aspirations are.
I think, from our perspective, as a business, is very much a case of, ‘ok, we've started on this journey, but it is the journey,’ it's not likely going to be a destination at the other end to say ‘we've done it or we're happy with it, we've ticked the boxes.’ It's very much a case of these are our key milestones, let's achieve those, but let's keep looking a year, three years, five years into the future and think, what else do we want to do? What other improvements do we need to make?
I think, with transformation, it works best when it's not completely reactive, either. It's very easy to have a problem in front of you and say, ‘we're just addressing that.’ Yes, bringing tech in should address certain challenges, but also think long term as well. What are those future challenges that we want to address? What are those future improvements we want to make? That might be something to do with the business, it might be something you've seen on a project, it might be something that's come from government, say through the playbook?
I think it's the journey, in that continuous improvement is really key as well.
Great, great point. You're right; it's evergreen, isn't it. It's a continuous journey.
I mean, this got me thinking what you're saying there. What we've found and what struck us, when you examine many tools across many different capabilities, a lot of the technologies out there will do one or five things, in that somewhere, or somewhere in between. When you start to go, right, we're going to evaluate things around this particular topic. These are the tools that we're going to review. Then we're going to go look at this topic. Then hold on a minute, we've still got two of those tools in this list actually come over here as well, because they do that and that. When you map it all out, and there's an incredible overlap of tools doing similar things. So that that was quite a head-scratcher for us.
When you define a bit of a technology stack, you're thinking, well, we know that this tool is great for this, and we want to use it for this. It's probably in our shortlist. It does do that thing over there. But we've already turned that off for that tool because we like this tool that does that.
Then you start to get into thinking about well how can these things integrate? Where do we want them to integrate? Of course, following open standards is critical to this because we need to pass information between these systems where appropriate. But then can we actually also have some automation for integrations where we may want to pull drawings from CDE and push it to the field, and we don't want that to be a manual download, upload. When you start to dig into it, that's a real consideration and a challenging one to look out for.
Absolutely. Thank you for that.
Ok, so on to the final question, what role do you see construction technology playing in the next 18 months for your businesses? We'll start with that for now. And then we'll break this question into two.
What would you see construction technology playing in the next 18 months for your business?
We're probably 18 months into the journey. We've got more than 18 months to go in terms of specifically the tech review or software application reviews as we're calling it.
We started with the core sort of BIM capabilities if you like. We started with CDE with model viewing issue management, model checking, and data validation. We're just about to get over the line into our final selection for field. The field tool on-site to do quality, health, and safety, minimum standards, etc.
If you're going to do it properly and really get the right tools, bring things in right, look at the integrations, it is a quite a long process. So that's where we are with that.
Over the next six months, we're planning on looking at rationalizing program sequencing or 4D if you want to put a D on it. Again, we've got limited planning resources across our regional businesses, and we haven't really got good buy-in from our planners or anything like that yet, so it's probably done by the BIM specialist ad hoc. Still, we want planners to own that part of it.
There’s a bit of a review on that, or what could be appropriate to bring in and actually have wide-scale benefit. Then we need to tackle a bit more focus on the cost estimation and management side. So that's coming ahead. Quite simple stuff, just getting it widespread and standardized, really.
We also think it's a good time, at some point next year, to revisit properly setting out from the model, for example. We looked at that a few years ago, but it wasn’t quite mature enough to take, whereas I think we could be there now.
Going outside of the BIM sphere, if you like or information management-specific stuff, I mentioned earlier the digital reporting, that's growing. That started from the top board room: we need data, almost live data on programme, and any commercial risks. Then that's percolated, and it's now building back out to project-level reporting: what do the guys need at project level in terms of dashboard and data to understand the project? What does that business unit need to see? Then as it trickles up, so there's a big focus on that. That's using things like Power BI and Power Apps, and all those good things that you usually hear of, we're also looking at.
Again, this sounds really simple and silly, probably, but quite honestly, we're rationalizing our internal sort of back-of-house document management.
Traditionally, we would have all worked off file servers in different business units, again, all differently structured. We've got the Office 365 suite now, so you got SharePoint Online, with Teams, so we're looking to really rationalize across the board our internal document management to help standardize that, connect to the CDE solution—where appropriate—such as Asite. Loads to go at and, technology and there's some of these other themes, we've got social value calculator tools, we are carving calculation things.
There's a mass of things to go out with technology to try and help not solve but help facilitate and support those initiatives and really get efficiency as well as outcomes.
I think a lot of our focus recently has been very much around the Asite implementation and rollout. Obviously, because we've gone enterprise with Asite, that's a lot of capability that we're bringing in at the moment with the various modules that we're currently looking at.
To be fair, in terms of the general journey, pretty similar to what Andy's really said. I think there's a lot of pockets of excellence around our business. There's a lot in the way of projects pushing forwards. They're either trying to implement the 4D side, the cost estimation side, whether it's something to do with stakeholder engagement and using technology to support that.
The Office 365 in a management of information is pretty standard for us now. But it's trying to standardize all those pockets of excellence into a broader rollout because we see so many benefits from so many projects. I mean, the amount of emails and calls I get saying, ‘we've tried this on a project,’ or ‘we've done this, and these are the benefits we've seen’ and ‘how can we look at this bigger picture for the business,’ is immense. It's great to see that across the business, there really is an appetite for digital.
In terms of the next 18 months, I can only see that growing.
What that technology will look like? It might 4D, it might be 5D, but we'll be looking at the power behind the reporting side of things. We're already having conversations with you, Pietro, around that. But it's also about looking at what else are the government asking for? What the drivers that are out there in the industry?
I guess one of the key ones is around the net-zero carbon? How can we manage our designs better? How can we calculate our carbon values a lot smarter than we are doing at the moment?
It's also looking at the MMC side of things as well. We can see that the way we build is going to change drastically. But that's also going to change the way that we design, and making sure we've got tools that will support all of that is probably going to be one of the key bits that we don't have over the course of the next six to 12 months.
Really, it's bringing it all together. I think it's quite easy to have siloed software that suit a purpose. And it really does suit those capabilities really well. It really does address those challenges really well. But unless we start getting those to talk together to integrate, to share information, and share data, we're going to be back where we were before we started on this transformation journey.
It's very much a case of yes; we will bring new tech in as it becomes appropriate. But it also is making sure that it works together with the bits of tech that we've already got in place.
The Asite side of things is something that we're really looking at, but we need to make sure whatever we bring in will help either feed into Asite, feed out of Asite, whichever way it needs to work. I think that integration and that collaboration of people and processes with the technology is going to be a key bit for us to iron out.
Like I said already, the IT landscape really is overcrowded. There's a lot out there. It's making sure whatever we go into, we know exactly what it is we're going into and how it fits into the bigger picture. It's having that vision in place, having that direction of travel, and saying, as a business, ‘this is what we want to do.’ As a business, these are the capabilities we need and from the people on the ground saying ‘right, ok, what are your challenges and bringing them together?’
There's a lot out there. Definitely, there's a lot of drivers and influences externally as well. But primarily, it's us as a business understanding in terms of technology, what is going to work for us and how it will suit the bigger picture, as well.
Excellent, thanks for that, Aneesa. The second part to that question, is there any big opportunities coming up within your business or challenges that you're anticipating that will have an impact on how you deliver your projects? And you think technology will help solve?
The first one that we're closest to in our role is UK BIM Framework, and clients migrating to follow the 19650 series from good old BIM Level Two which is no more. Of course, you need the fundamental CDE solution and other tools to meet those information management and data requirements, deliverables, etc.
The big one that I'm sure we're all we've all got working groups on and leaning into is things on fire safety and secondary legislation coming out from the Building Safety Bill.
So golden thread, all of those kinds of things that you can without, without technology, you can't really answer that challenge and have that auditable trail, cradle to grave information passing around the place, effectively.
Sustainability is another one, again, links into this. Again, without the technology to support some of the change that's required, you're really going to struggle.
I mean, there's so much going on at the moment, isn't there? I always try to remind myself and others that we need to keep focusing on the basics and not forget them and not get carried away with everything that's on the horizon.
There's a hell of a lot to go at, a lot of challenges our industry is facing, and good information management supported by the appropriate technologies is the way to get there.
Aneesa, do you want to add to that?
I completely agree with what Andy said; it does come back down to having the right foundations in place.
I think that's a reason we've started off with a CDE solution as part of our transformation journey, because with that information management platform in place, with the right processes in place, and with the right people to understand why we've done this, the way we've done it. I think that will form the basis of then being able to leverage the benefits of technology for everything else.
Making sure that we're compliant with ISO 19650, making sure that our processes work alongside that, and we're completely aware of when we do bring new technology in or we do bring new processes in what the impact will be in terms of information management.
That in its own right sets the baseline because from there. You build off with your capabilities, your other technology, you start having more of an understanding of where your information is coming from, where it's going, what's happened to it, and also the same data. I think more than anything with a lot of the challenges we're seeing within the industry at the moment, around safety, around sustainability, and around information management.
A lot of it is going to come down to data and transparency. It's been able to say ‘we did this; this is how we did it, this is why we did it, this is who did it.’ It's golden thread, again.
I think it’s where we're coming back to with all of this. It’s making sure that we've got that end-to-end approach. So regardless of what project you're on, regardless of whether it's for a government client, whether it's for a private sector client, it's the ability to know that at any point in time, we can always go back and say ‘we know what we did, we know why we did it, we know how we did it.’ It's making sure we've got the right tech in place and the right processes to support that.
But like I said, it starts off with that information management piece.
Thanks for that, Aneesa.
We're now going to take the opportunity to answer any questions that have come through from the audience in the chat.
There's one addressed to both of you, how has the COVID pandemic impacted your business' digital transformation journey? For example, what trends did you see an uptake or requirements by your project teams?
In a way, as much as it's been challenging, with the pandemic and finding new ways of working, the whole working from home approach, it's also been an opportunity for us.
It's made us look at technology in a slightly different light. It's now looking at technology, not as an additional investment, and we need to check the budget and all of that that all comes into play, of course. Still, it's also looking at, can we make our processes easier? Can we change the way that we work? Is it easier to communicate if we do put technology into play?
It has, in some senses, accelerated our adoption of technology. We started this process with Asite, just as the pandemic hit and as we went into lockdown. But, if anything, as much as it was difficult doing a massive procurement exercise via Teams, it actually showed us that there is a lot more that we would consider that we wouldn't have thought about otherwise.
In the same way, if we think outside of Asite and CDE, and we just think about technology in general, having gone through the pandemic and starting to come out the other end of it, we've seen that it's been more pushed from the regions, to say, ‘we tried this in the pandemic, it's really worked, we want to carry on with that adoption.’ How do we build on that?
It's definitely been an opportunity for us. I think a lot of it has been around our ability to share information, our ability to capture data that's in and around everything. It's not just about Asite or a CDE; it's about what how do we capture data on-site? How do we share that information with others? It's less reliance on emails and more on actual platform.
To make it easier:
A - to capture
B - to understand
C - to report on the information that we do get
Challenging, for sure, but definitely opportunities there as well.
It's interesting. Never in a million years did anyone think the construction industry could go remote - a project manager can work from the comfort of his sofa. It's strange how everything has just continued to digitize and advance.
It's given us the ability to challenge the old, ‘we've always done it this way approach.’
As an industry, we're notorious for not really changing. If anything, this has forced us to look at things differently. Definitely an opportunity because we've started to challenge that mentality and say, ‘well, actually, you know what, there is a different way to do this. Let's try it. What benefits can we bring about?’
We're starting to see a lot more of that.
We say we've seen a 4000% uptake a Teams!
Joking aside, when we were all sent home and had to work from home, and people were forced into that space, as a digital team, we'd had Teams for probably a couple of years before the pandemic, and we'd started using it and said, ‘oh, this is actually pretty good for collaboration. We don't always have to meet in person.’ Trying to get that out to some of the wider project teams and disciplines was challenging. [People saying] ‘oh, we can't do that by teams; we need to be in person.’
I can remember speaking to one of our bid managers a couple of months into lockdown when I remember he is flapping around in the office game; ‘we've got client engagement means we have to get around the table and do this in person, look at the drawings and have discussions it will never work online.’ I caught up with him, and he couldn't believe it was actually more efficient in that context and method. They had a really effective client engagement meeting that lasted less time than when they were doing it in person.
It's driven little realizations like that. Of course, where do you go and get those drawings from? The CDE.
It does, like Aneesa was saying, start to make people realize that the use of these technologies isn't just for what people originally perceived. We're not just asking people to use it for the sake of it. I'd love to say people are all over BIM now in Kier but probably not. But it's definitely pushing things that way. We've started to get different questions and challenges back rather than the traditional, ‘why should I bother?’
Ok, there's a couple more questions here. Another one has been addressed to the both of you.
Is there any advice you can give small to medium enterprises specifically for implementing construction technology? Who have smaller resources compared to larger contractors?
Yes, only I'd imagine it's a hell of a lot easier.
Of course, that the challenge for SMEs is that original probably investment. But in terms of actually getting traction, getting buy-in, supporting your teams to use the technology, it should be an easier challenge to embed these things. You've got less people to influence. It's the same with any new technology process, as long as the recognition and the business case for that initial investments is there.
I'd approach it in a proportional way to we described, how we've done it, myself and Aneesa, in our businesses. Get the right end-users to be part of the decision-making and make sure they're supported and upskilled to use the technology, would be my simple answer.
I mean, it's worth noting regardless of the size of business, a CDE is always critical.
Being able to set it up quite early doors, it helps that business to grow and expand and continue to advance further down the line. So, having a standardized approach really early on, it's really key.
We've got a question here addressed to Aneesa. You mentioned about having various technology and tools before Asite that didn't really talk to each other. What tips do you have to convince leadership teams to invest in another software to overcome these data silos?
I think it comes back to the whys again.
Your leadership team are going to challenge you as to why you want to bring in another tool. Is it a replacement for something else? Is it a completely new tool you want to add on? What is it and why are you doing it? I think the key bit is understanding the why. What benefits is it going to bring the business?
When I went into this procurement exercise with my team, around the CDE, it was very much a case of understanding, ‘what benefits am I going to bring?’ When we talk about return on investment and all of that, yes, there's obviously the cost element to that. What money savings can we bring? What time savings can we bring?
But it's also remembering that ROI isn't just about that. It's also thinking outside the box. Well, what are the benefits it brings? Is it efficiency gains, productivity gains? What does that look like? What benefits would it bring to the business? It's very much about being clear about that. Whether it's about standardizing. Whether it's about removing admin. Whether it's about consistency, or something else.
From my perspective, it's very much about making sure you're clear about why you'd want to bring that piece of tech in? What challenges is it going to address? What capability will it bring? Is it a gapping capability you don't have? Or is it removing five other bits of tech that costs X amount, you lose this much data between them, or you're re-entering data between them, and you bring in something completely new? Or is it something in addition to those? It's understanding what that looks like. Then bringing all of that together and saying, ‘ok, this is what our proposal looks like, and this is where we see the benefit it brings.’
So very much, it's back to the whys more than anything.
If I could just quickly add a bit to that because we had a similar scenario in Kier.
When we review those core capabilities, and we were moving from a number of different tools across the business, that did the same thing. When you just look at the commercials, if you're using five different tools in different bits of the business that do the same thing and they're procured on the project or at that level, not done on a central agreement, when you add up the cost of all of those. If we were to bring in one tool for that capability and standardize it and bring it in centrally, you're probably going to make a commercial saving as well.
The business case becomes absolutely clear. You've got all these other lovely benefits about standardization, efficiencies, etc. Even with our current software stack that we're implementing now and proposing ahead, compared to what we were spending on a multitude of tools overlapping, we're making cost savings, and we're improving how we operate.
It becomes a bit of a no-brainer.
Yeah. Really useful insight; thank you for that.
Ok, so that concludes our discussion today.
I just wanted to take the opportunity to say thank you to both Aneesa and Andy for your valuable insights today. It was really helpful.
To everybody else, if you'd like to learn more Asite products and services, then you can visit our website or keep up to date with all the latest news by following us on our social channels.
For anyone wanting to learn more about a CDE, then you can scan the QR code that you can see on the screen now to read our latest report entitled 'Uncovering the Return on Investment for a CDE,' which helps you make a business case for bringing it into your business.
That completes the session for today. I've been your host, Pietro. Thank you for joining me. Thanks, Aneesa, and thanks, Andy, again.