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While artificial intelligence and machine learning are still at the early stages of real-world construction application, the industry seems largely convinced of their transformative potential. Research conducted by InEight earlier this year surveyed 300 large enterprise, capital project and construction professionals to form the basis of its inaugural Global Capital Projects Outlook and found respondents to be vocal in their interest.

Fifty-two percent of respondents globally said artificial intelligence and machine learning will be critical to their organization’s success over the next one to three years, a narrow second to data analytics, which came out on top. 

Many AI technologies are well suited to being trialled on discrete, contained use cases allowing the construction industry to test the waters—and many companies are doing just that. In fact, 86% of respondents say that their company has invested to some extent in AL and ML. The construction industry is increasingly inspired by great strides being made in adjacent industries such as automotive—from AI predictive analytics to driver assistance and robotics on the shop floor—endless possibilities await. 

However, it is also encouraging to see that industry recognizes the need to establish and maintain a good standard of practice across other more foundational areas of digital transformation such as data collection and project management software. Rather than get swept away by the hype of more novel technology developments, organizations are considering the practicality of their ambitions and the necessary steps to get there. Building strong foundations is key, and more exciting technologies, such as AI, will only be as effective as the base they’re built upon. 

Investing in a Solid Foundation

This is being borne out by the future investment intentions of the industry. When asked about where organizations should be focusing investments over the next five years, the resounding response is for the more practical aspects of digital transformation—data analytics, project management software and operations and maintenance solutions. There is still important work to do on technologies of today before an organization can move onto those critical for tomorrow. 

One key area for improvement is that of connecting data. The industry is getting much better at capturing, organizing, and cleaning data. However, a lot of data is still siloed. Only around four in 10 respondents say that their organization is integrating and cross-examining the data it collects to uncover insights, while a similar number say data is being shared across the organization. Encouragingly though, almost all respondents to the survey (96%) recognize they could be doing more with data to increase efficiency or reduce costs, compete better in the market or better understand and manage risk. 

So why is there a gap between intention and action? The crux of it is a lack of integration and the proliferation of single-point solutions that organizations have invested in has also created a barrier to greater investment in technology. Many of these organizations are jaded by the lack of return on investment that their current digital transformation efforts have delivered but are equally hesitant to start over without assurances from technology providers that struggles with interoperability is a thing of the past. 

Connecting it All together 

Ultimately, it is in the best interest for all construction owners and contractors to improve the visibility that they have of their projects’ budgets and schedules. While single-point solutions have begun the transformation of how contractors work, they will never have the same impact on productivity or return on investment that a connected data approach offers. 

Instead, if contractors can bring together project control tools into one fully connected platform—from scheduling, planning and forecasting through to digital twin and everything in between—and allow these tools to interact, adjust and make decisions seamlessly, they can improve project outcomes indefinitely. To do so, they must put connected data at the heart of any digital transformation strategy.

Right now, the construction industry’s approach to digital transformation is a real patchwork of solutions and success. There is substantial value to be unlocked by connecting data all the way through the life cycle of a project and between projects. However, to do so, contractors need to be mindful of the bigger connected data picture. What has been seen of the construction industry’s digital transformation to date is just the tip of the iceberg. For AI and ML to truly deliver, it is imperative that the industry nails the basics, starting with a strong data foundation. Once in place, the sky’s the limit. 

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