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New twists on the traditional supplier-customer relationship are becoming more frequent across the building materials and construction industry. This is happening as companies all along the supply chain push to open up new competitive opportunities, operate more efficiently and forge stronger, more collaborative relationships with customers. They are reinventing themselves as digitally intelligent, data-driven enterprises that, instead of purely peddling products, are delivering new, customer-centric services and business outcomes.

What does an intelligent enterprise look like, exactly? The following six fundamental elements provide a good starting point.

1. Achieving customer centricity

The ability to collect, share and analyze real-time data from across the supply chain—information about ordering, production, inventory, transportation and delivery—is helping to forge stronger relationships between construction companies and their suppliers. The free flow of data can eliminate traditional supply chain boundaries and silos, leading to better-informed, more collaborative supplier-customer interactions and decision making.

By embedding its equipment with IoT-connected sensors, one tool and equipment manufacturer is helping customers to solve construction’s “billion-dollar problem,” which is tracking the whereabouts of assets at the construction site. Instead of relying on paper-based tracking, builders and contractors are using the company’s IoT-based system to virtually manage on-site assets. Which formworks are at which site? What are the whereabouts of a particular piece of equipment? The app can provide answers in real time.

In the digital economy, shortening the cycle time to sense, analyze and respond to the needs of the customer is a huge competitive differentiator. By combining the end-to-end visibility provided by IoT connectedness with analytics capabilities embedded in business processes, suppliers gain the customer insight they need to provide the right solution, at the right time.

2. Offering individualization

 Nowadays, builders and contractors expect their suppliers to offer customized products and services. IoT connectivity in the factory and along the entire value chain, coupled with artificial intelligence and machine learning, enables suppliers to analyze data to gain insight into customer preferences, so they can deliver highly customized solutions built according to the customer’s exacting requirements, at a cost not much higher than a standard order. Suddenly mass customization is viable. 

3. Running smart factories, logistics and digital networks

By 2021, IDC predicts that 90% of manufacturers worldwide will have the ability to leverage real-time equipment and asset performance data to self-diagnose issues in advance and trigger a service intervention to avoid unplanned downtime.

To get there, manufacturers serving the construction industry are using automation and robotics, along with IoT-connected equipment and machine learning- and artificial intelligence-driven operational decision-making, to develop smart factories and flexible distribution options capable of responding in the moment to customer demands and conditions along the supply chain. These same digital tools also provide powerful predictive quality and maintenance insights.

With an intelligent, integrated supply chain, meanwhile, they gain the ability to adjust supply sourcing, production and more according to prevailing market, regulatory and geopolitical conditions, responding on the fly to shifting tariff policies, supply disruptions and other factors that could influence product availability, price and/or quality.

4. Supporting value-added services and new business models

 The combination of rich customer data and powerful analytics gives companies the means to identify and develop new products and services to create new revenue streams and in the process, to better serve customer needs. Construction industry suppliers can recast themselves as outcome-based solution providers thanks to the new level of digital intelligence. That helps them to deliver greater value to, and strengthen relationships with, their customers. 

5. Operating with purpose

In a business shaped increasingly by concerns related to sustainability, the environment and corporate stewardship, becoming an intelligent digital enterprise enables companies to identify and mobilize on opportunities to cut energy and material consumption, support recycling and offer safer working conditions. These types of behaviors not only increase brand recognition and attract talent, investors and customers, but they also position a company to capitalize on opportunities in the emerging zero-waste circular economy. 

6. Supporting BIM and digital construction

 The intelligent enterprise dovetails nicely with the construction industry’s growing use of building information modeling, enabling digital product information to flow among all participants in a BIM-based project for real-time collaboration among all the parties.

As companies that are involved in the construction industry are already demonstrating, embracing digital-first fundamentals such as these isn’t just good for business, it’s imperative to survival in an increasingly customer-centric, outcome-oriented world.

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