Chris Bell thoroughly understands the benefit digital transformation offers owner organizations. As Vice President of Product Strategy and Marketing for the Trimble Project and Program Management Division, he works closely with asset owners to optimize and streamline their day-to-day processes with the help of digital tools.
Here, we talk with Chris about The Dodge Construction Network’s recently released Connected Construction: The Owners’ Perspective Report, how owners are choosing to digitally transform, and about the problem in construction today he calls "lonely digital transformation."
We've heard you talk a lot about lonely digital transformation. What is it?
Lonely digital transformation stems from the term “Lonely BIM” (building information modeling). Lonely BIM is the condition where one trade or discipline on a project has adopted 3D building information models as their preferred design platform, while the rest of the team is still requesting flattened PDF files and living in a 2D world. The group that took the initiative to create a 3D model is lonely in that no one else is playing with them in the sandbox of the building model. This leads to fractional productivity gains for one company on the project team and often, leaves the owner without their digital twin of their capital project.
I have found the term ‘lonely’ an incredibly effective way of communicating the condition of wanting to do digital transformation, but being the only department that is actually doing it. This can happen if an asset owner creates a collaboration environment where project information can be exchanged, but it is only focused on internal workflows within their department, so other stakeholders do not use it. Contractors, architects, and engineers also need to centrally store their project information, yet often, they are stored in separate systems.
That is lonely digital transformation. Everyone has their own pocket of digital transformation, but it is not collaborative in nature; therefore, you are not getting the sought-after breakthrough in productivity.
Here is an illustration of the results of “lonely digital transformation”. As each internal department in an owner organization modernizes their use of technology for design, construction and operations of their assets, they still have interdepartmental hand-offs that are not modernized between two groups. This causes setbacks on productivity gains. While the construction department improved within their phase of the lifecycle, this may not translate into information leverate with the maintenance team. Extent this concept to external stakeholders such as engineers, architects and engineers, you have a lot of opportunity still left to turbo-boost productivity if you take a more inclusive approach to digital transformation.
How does ‘lonely digital transformation’ show up in the data from Dodge Construction Network’s latest report: Connected Construction: The Owner’s Perspective?
First of all, there are many remarkable observations in the report. One of the biggest takeaways is that digital workflows are extremely important to owners in the construction industry.
In fact, 85% of owners use and make digital connections in construction workflows within their organizations today. That figure is significantly higher than research done just four years ago. The Optimizing Owner Organizations SmartMarket Brief found that just 50% of owners used technology to help manage construction workflows—signaling a sharp increase in the adoption of digital workflows amongst owners.
But, at the same time, the data tells us that owners struggle to make the same strides outside of their organizations. 59% of owners said they experience connectivity breakdowns with contractors, consultants, engineers, and other stakeholders.
There is more data within the report showing that owners experience the most negative impacts around construction activities that heavily involve other stakeholders. So, to me that says a lot of asset owners out there are experiencing lonely digital transformation.
What are some other takeaways from the Connected Construction: The Owner’s Perspective report?
Leading owners who have embraced technology as a part of their capital improvement program or their overall operations and maintenance plan start their digital transformation by improving internal workflow processes first. For example, an owner would look to optimize their internal process for stakeholder design reviews or centralize their budget, performance, and project management information all in one place.
Those organizations that took the first step to improve internal digital connections are now moving to the next level of value by integrating external connections.
I think this report really helps to lead the way by saying, ‘Let's not do lonely digital transformation. Let's do it together, and let's encourage the owner to serve as a leader to identify the best areas to start that process.’
Do you have any examples of how your clients are approaching digital transformation?
Most organizations start with a problem that they are trying to solve. They either had a sharp increase in project volume, which is actually happening right now with the new infrastructure spending, or their projects got more complex, with more requirements that demand better collaboration than ever before.
We have also seen some organizations take a simple process, such as collecting field data, and turn that process into an efficient digital one. There are great mobile solutions that enable this. You do not have to observe the weather by yourself anymore; there are feeds that you can just capture and get weather information from. So owners will attack those simple processes first.
Another option is to start with processes that make the biggest impact—the report noted managing costs as one of the most important.
One of my past clients in the healthcare industry struggled to manage costs. They would request last-minute design changes, which increased costs and caused delays. They did two things to fix this: Automated the change process to ensure the right people were viewing potential changes, and improved the initial project design review with internal stakeholders to limit owner-directed changes.
Many organizations start their digital transformation journey in the category of project management, which is also demonstrated in the report. Starting with project management, rather than the design process, permitting, or maintenance, offers a quick-win that sets the foundation for improving other areas later on.
It is not the only place to start; organizations more focused on operations may start with improving operations and maintenance first, which is equally valuable. However, the data in the report suggests project management as a starting point.
For owner organizations further along in their digital transformation journey, how can they take it to the next level?
Before moving forward in your digital transformation, ask yourself: Have you optimized and streamlined internal workflows? If that is the case, that is an extraordinary accomplishment and you can move to the next step.
You should now begin extending those digital workflows to your primary suppliers. The report targets your general contractor as the most valuable external party to start with. As the people who build and assemble your assets, it is important to engage them, bring them into the process, and ask them about their obstacles. From there, extend to designers and other stakeholders, and bring more into the digital community.
If you are even further along in your digital transformation journey and have great internal and external processes, the next step for you is predictive analytics. Look at the data that comes from your digital systems and consider other ways to get performance data on your projects. Then, create a collective competency on business intelligence and analytical performance management. That is the path that will start to light up exciting areas in digital transformation, including artificial intelligence and machine learning.
How is Trimble uniquely positioned to help owner organizations with their digital transformation journey?
For many years, Trimble has been a pioneer in developing and innovating new techniques to transform the way the world works. Construction is one of those industries that has many opportunities for massive change, both in transforming digitally and improving productivity. As a business, we have an interest in understanding how we can make that digital transformation happen for owners, architects, engineers, general contractors, specialty contractors, and material suppliers.
Digital transformation has a network effect; if everyone starts to do it, then the necessary connections can be made across an organization.
Often, they look inwardly and focus on steps that will improve their productivity or profitability in an effort to deliver great projects for clients. That is good, admirable, and what should be done; however, does not connect all of the dots.
The owner is the unique person that ties every perspective together. Owners must establish the direction for digital transformation by setting expectations for the way information is shared. If an owner accomplishes that, productivity will skyrocket, and everybody wins. Best in class owners are now seeing how vital it is to lead the creation of a digital twin (containing all the data about their project and how it was built) of their asset as the physical project itself!
What is your advice for owners in the public sector who want to make their digital transformation work smarter, not harder?
Here is a tip if you are in the public sector and intrigued by digital transformation: There are clauses within the funding appropriations, specifically in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, ARPA Act, and FAST Act Reauthorization, that may make you eligible for grants and funding directly from the federal government to pay for some of your digital transformation.
Thanks, Chris, for talking with Constructible about lonely digital transformation and encouraging asset owners to lead the charge in bringing the players together.
Read the entire Dodge SmartMarket Report to learn more about how project owners are digitizing their workflows and benefitting from digital transformation.