COVID prompts Scottish construction firms to embrace digital

Digital construction experts and technology suppliers have noticed a sharp upturn in demand for digital tools and specialist support since the start of the pandemic.

COVID prompts Scottish construction firms to embrace digital

Andrew Pollard

Ahead Business Consulting (ABC) and Digital Construction Skills are amongst those working to drive an increase in the use of construction-related digital solutions by, for example, identifying and installing software to improve business performance. 

Andrew Pollard, a director of Falkirk-based ABC, said: “There are 40,000 construction firms in Scotland, of which 20,000 are sole traders and nearly all the rest employ fewer than 10 people.

“It is a sector where the barriers to adopting technology are particularly high, because the margins are low and training time is non-earning time.”

But, he points out, even simple digital tools could help many small and medium businesses work more efficiently, improve their margins, and reduce risk.

“For most small and medium enterprises, project monitoring is rudimentary and relies on timesheets, visual inspection and experience. 

“Project management software has traditionally been expensive and targeted at corporate professionals. That is, however, no longer the case since there are now affordable and easy to use tools that can help construction firms improve delivery, customer communication and productivity.

“It might involve using simple technology like accessing drawings via a tablet or using a digital checklist to ensure steps are completed in the right sequence. And it goes right through to end-to-end systems which track where your builders are when they’re out on jobs and sends messages to the customer to let them know their repair man or builder is on the way.”

COVID prompts Scottish construction firms to embrace digital

Saffron Grant

Simple processes like taking photographs of work once it is complete can also provide assurance and avoid post-construction scenarios like having to knock through a wall or ceiling to check the work behind it.

And as low-carbon solutions become increasingly important in construction, technology will be key to accessing and mobilising these.

“For example, embedding low carbon alternatives is an easier proposition if firms are already using carbon calculators, have robust job costing and are able to plan well,” said Andrew. 

Saffron Grant, managing director of Digital Construction Skills, said: “Many companies in the sector do not realise they can get £5k - £25k from the CITB Skills and Training fund for training or coaching to add digital capabilities to their businesses, even if they have as little as two employees.

“Investing in technology will put construction firms in a strong position to capitalise on government spending on infrastructure and housing as the economy recovers from Covid-19.”

This includes the Scottish Government’s plans, outlined in September last year to invest £24 billion in infrastructure and an £11.5bn UK government plan to build 180,000 new affordable homes by 2026.

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