All industries and productive sectors today are undergoing some digital change. This change impacts two levels: the invention of business models, which leads to the development of new goods and services made possible by digitalization, and the enhancement of operational procedures, which boosts productivity and outcomes with the help of technology.

Although some business model changes are also taking place in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry, for example, derived from implementing BIM and related technologies, this transformation mainly focuses on improving the operation. However, the particularities of the sector and the challenges faced by managers and managers of these companies greatly condition the correct development and successful implementation of digitization initiatives.

Digital transformation in the construction industry (AEC)

Within the AEC sector, design and engineering are undoubtedly the most advanced in terms of implementing digital solutions. However, despite the emergence of multiple technologies, such as drones, robots, intelligent tools, etc., the physical construction has remained mostly the same and remains primarily analog.

This means that, in practice, the construction sector continues to be one of the least digitized in the world. This is mainly due to the industry's peculiarities, such as the participation of multiple subcontractors and suppliers, often with little technological qualification and little interest in incorporating new work methods in the short time that a project lasts. This is with counting the enormous variety in the projects themselves, which significantly hinders the development of tools and methods that can be applied standardized.

On the other hand, AEC companies usually have limited R & D & I budgets, which leaves little room for digital transformation.

Some of the leading technologies that can help the transformation of the sector and increase its efficiency and productivity could be.

  • The implementation of the BIM methodology, advancing in the implementation of all its dimensions until reaching BIM 7D, focused on the subsequent management of buildings or even higher levels focused on the efficiency of operations to provide added value to the maintenance of buildings and facilities.
  • Digital collaboration and mobility tools help to overcome the problems in the relationship between the different actors of the projects, internal and external.
  • Quality control systems and management of safety and regulatory processes.
  • Applications to improve information flows in real-time and interoperability with other systems.
  • Process automation systems.
  • The use of the Internet of Things (IoT).
  • It has advanced data analytics.

Implementing these technologies is intended to improve aspects such as efficiency, sustainability, or costs, which is vital to ensure a return on investment and a significant improvement in the results of organizations.

Challenges of digitization in the AEC sector

One of the main challenges of digitization in any company, particularly in the AEC sector, is to achieve a clear definition of the objectives of the transformation project and how these changes will create value for the company

During the development of the projects, it is vital to focus as much or more on the operational and business processes as on the technology itself.

Some of the main challenges we have already mentioned have to do with aspects such as the fragmentation and dispersion of teams, the participation of multiple subcontractors and suppliers, the inadequate digital training of professionals, or the need for more standardization in the sector.

Some initiatives, such as implementing the BIM methodology, try to overcome some of these barriers, but there is still much work to be done in most aspects.

Improving collaboration between the different actors in the process, from design to construction and maintenance, is one of the most critical aspects to address. Let us think, for example, of a project in which there are multiple defects in the materials and products sent by a particular supplier, which need to be communicated simultaneously, causing quality problems, delays, and cost overruns.

Using BIM models in a typical data environment (CDE) and facilitating access to it for all stakeholders, workers can label defective products, and the supplier to receive such notices in real-time.

This way, you can diagnose and reduce defects before making new deliveries so that both the project and all parties can benefit.

Benefits and opportunities

Today it is unthinkable for any company not to have a digital identity or not to use digital tools that allow management based on data analysis. Specifically, in the construction sector, digitization is contemplated to.

  • Meet project delivery times. Finish work on time and more efficiently.
  • Improve control and safety and regulatory processes during work.
  • Improve collaboration and communication between all the agents involved in the project (internal company, supplier, and subcontractor); promote collaborative work.
  • Facilitate information flows in real-time.
  • Promote the standardization and automation of specific processes.

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How to approach digital transformation in AEC

The most innovative construction companies rely on technology partners that provide tools each team member can use to collaborate more effectively, enabling projects to stay on schedule and budget.

These tools allow companies to improve their competitiveness, increasing their income and improving results and benefits for companies, owners, investors, subcontractors, and workers.

When choosing the right IT solutions, it is essential, however, to keep the focus on solving the company's real problems and challenges so that technology is a means to solve them and not an end in itself. Some of these challenges may be.

  • Finish on time and more efficiently. Time and customer expectations are getting shorter and shorter.
  • Provide more excellent added value for the maintenance of buildings
  • Improve control and security and regulatory processes.
  • Problems in the relationship between the parties (internal or subcontracted) need collaboration improvements.
  • Deficiencies in information flow in real-time.
  • Increase standardization and automation.

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The construction sector is one of the furthest behind in joining the digital transformation era. Well, it is no secret that incorporating digital techniques and tools is not smooth.

These are some of the reasons why the construction sector remains one of the least digitized in the world.

  • The existence of suppliers or subcontracted companies with little technological qualification.
  • Lack of interest in incorporating new technologies because the projects tend to be shortlived.
  • The existence of such disparate projects prevents standardizing processes, which has a direct impact on the difficulty of developing massive technological tools.
  • Architecture, engineering, and construction companies usually have minimal budget items in the field of R+D+I.
  • Suppliers or reform companies with little technological vision.

And is that digital transformation begins by changing the vision of a rigid and immobile direction. This way, it is possible to install a mentality of progress and the future, changing the organizational and business culture. Considering that digital transformation is a transversal improvement change, numerous technologies are applicable in the construction sector's different areas of a company, such as software or CRM for data management and organization of internal processes. 3D and 4D modeling tools and software for business presentations, analytical tools and applications, mobile technologies to facilitate user access, applications for the organization of human resources, and working hours.

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