IT Brief Australia - Exclusive interview: The tech guru making construction more productive

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Exclusive interview: The tech guru making construction more productive

As one of Australia's largest private construction groups, Built offers a portfolio of total solutions as well as the expertise and resources to tackle any project from large construction builds, to complex refurbishments and fit outs in live environments.

Claiming to have annual revenue in excess of $1 billion, the construction group works across all major property sectors.  

Built includes many of Australia’s largest brands in their national client base including Virgin Australia, Event Hospitality & Entertainment, Westpac, Cartier, H&M and major real estate groups including Charter Hall, Investa and Dexus. 

Leading the company’s IT team is Wai-Lum Tang who has over 15 years’ experience in helping businesses build an IT function by developing core IT competencies and smart, innovative solutions.

In this interview, Tang discusses the role of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Australia's construction industry, deploying Dropbox, and how disruption in the industry will empower businesses. 

What are some common pain points customers come to Built with?

The needs of each of our customers can be very different depending on the project but a common requirement is to create a high-quality end product, on time, on budget and without bureaucracy and red tape.

What technology trend has had the biggest impact on the construction sector? What role do technologies such as cloud and IoT play in the construction industry? 

Recent research by McKinsey shows that the construction industry is one of the least digitised sectors of the economy. The industry hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years but is now on the cusp of rapid change.

Technology is helping to drive increased productivity and efficiency by abolishing the old ways of working and adopting a more agile and mobile approach see the recent article in the Australian.

From the use of robotics and 3D printing to solution-focused apps and online platforms, there is no single trend but rather a move toward reshaping the construction industry for the future.

It might not be the most disruptive but we certainly believe our industry needs to harness the Big Data that comes out of IoTs, augmented reality tools and learn to use AI technology to help us make better decisions.

Whilst it’s still too early to predict how these will disrupt our industry we are slowly seeing these technologies assist in the design process. At Built we are already starting to use these on some of our constructions sites to assist with better design evaluation and management. 

For example, we are now using a combination of these technologies to build data-rich building design models to enhance traditional construction programs and better manage project sequencing, spatial coordination and clash detection, the result being that we can build a structure in the most efficient and cost-effective way.

As technology continues to evolve and continues to disrupt the construction industry, what can businesses do now to better prepare themselves for this?

Businesses need to be adaptive and entrepreneurial. The disruption of the construction industry is a positive movement for the industry as a whole and one that will help us design and build better products and address our customers’ needs.

Our customers are naturally wanting smarter buildings with more intricate technology that brings a greater amount of automation. We need to respond accordingly with the right blend of technology and human intuition. 

Which technologies have been the most effective in increasing Built’s productivity levels and efficiency?

We’ve been busy deploying a new integrated 4G and fibre network, a new enterprise service management platform, Dropbox, custom applications for better safety and sub-contractor management, new BIM (Building Information Modelling) technology, mobile app and devices on construction sites and the list goes on. 

However what has been most influential in transforming us to be more productive and efficient is not just the technology we adopt but the cultural shift of our people.

Built already has a very strong internal culture and values followed by everyone in the organisation. We call it being Built Worthy and it is the mark of everything we do and part of our DNA. 

Whilst technology will continue to change, it is our people and their ability to support and drive our desire to lead our industry and not be afraid to make some mistakes along the way that will ultimately drive productivity. 

The last 18 months we’ve had a very busy technology program and we wouldn’t be getting positive outcomes if it wasn’t for the commitment of our people.

What role do file sharing technologies, such as Dropbox, play in Built’s overall productivity levels?

When we first used Dropbox it was all about getting large Indesign files between marketing team members quickly. It was a simple need but enabled us to start collaborating at a national level.

As we increased our adoption and introduced other teams to Dropbox, it became more than just a file sharing technology. It’s become an information sharing platform we’ve used to replace old processes such as emailing files and printing out documents for handwritten comments.

It’s also introduced new capabilities for our constructions sites to have access to their project information from different tools and mobile devices anywhere and anytime.

Our people are spending less time emailing and chasing people for information and more time working collaboratively to improve the final outcome for our clients. 

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