Published: 25 Jun 2018

Ian Mills and Mike Buss speak to Alicia Dimas about how new technologies are changing the construction industry and helping quality managers to better perform their jobs.

Digital technologies can generate value for the construction industry. The application of these new technologies can improve productivity, reduce risks and increase quality in the construction sector.

“When I talk to my peers across the sector, they are all seeing how digital technology, especially frontline digital technology, is starting to make a difference to quality and construction,” says Ian Mills, Head of Quality at Balfour Beatty.

Mills says that the technology used onsite is making significant differences for the industry. Workers are using drones or lasers to check what’s going on in the construction site. Tablets are also making an impact on the industry, as they give workers access to all the information they have on their computer, when they go out to site. “I now see people out onsite much more, rather than tied to a computer.”

He also mentions how new technologies help give improved accountability of the work that is being done, and provide better assurance to customers of what is being delivered. “From a leadership perspective, it allows us, as quality professionals, to give information that’s more meaningful to our leaders.  So, it drives quality at a boardroom level, in the same way that safety can be used, this because we are now getting real data to give our leaders.” 

“I think construction is recognised to be behind other industries in terms of innovation,” says Mike Buss, CEng MICE, MCIOB, PCQI,  Competency Working Group of the ConSIG. “We tend to be quite risk averse and we tend to borrow ideas from other industries once they have been proven. But I think that now there is a massive recognition in the industry that digital is the way to go, and there seems to be much more momentum in terms of driving that. I have definitely seen digital technology and the implementation of digital technology in recent times improve drastically.”

Getting senior management to buy into these new technologies, by proving their value to the company, can therefore be a challenge to quality professionals, Buss says. He adds that companies also have to consider the costs, not just for buying the software and hardware, but also for training staff to work with these digital technologies.

Useful tools

Buss says that he has been finding the use of tablets onsite useful to better perform his job. “They are useful for our checklists; they enable us to not only check the works, but then integrate [the results of that checking] with the programmes and task management.” 

For Mills, digital technologies are also proving invaluable to inspection and planning. “Inspection and test planning has always been a paper-based process and now we have digitised it. The other aspect is digitising actions when things go wrong, so recording and managing NCRs, snags and defects.  Again this used to paper based. Now that you can record it in a tablet form, you can start monitoring and managing howwell projects, suppliers and individuals are at closing these off, where your biggest trends are, and the types of issues that are arising.  You can measure your supply chain’s performance, and you can even measure your project management team’s performance.  So, the digitisation around frontline quality is very important.”

However, like Buss, Mills also says that getting leaders to understand the value these digital technologies can bring to the construction industry is a challenge. “It’s a real challenge to demonstrate the need for this sort of technology, and the small expenditure that comes with it. It’s not a great expenditure in terms of the defects the construction industry faces,” he points out.

Mills is optimistic about the future of the construction and believes digital technology will have a great impact on the industry: “I think the use of digital technologies in the construction industry will enhance and it will grow. We are already seeing that some technologies that we have introduced are having excellent results.”

Buss also believes digital technologies will play an increasingly important role in the industry and will continue to evolve and adapt to the sector’s needs and requirements. And the change might run much deeper: “Maybe it’s not just how digital technology is going to change, but it’s more about how digital technology is going to change construction and the way that we operate.”

As digital transformation happens, quality professionals will need to be up-to-date and ready to embrace and adapt to those changes.