CIF Director of Specialist Contracting Sean Downey on why more data means smarter decisions resulting in much better outcomes

by | Jun 8, 2022

What are the practical uses of accelerating adoption of digital solutions to productivity issues?

From a practical perspective the digitalisation of the sector is expected to provide very significant benefits in improving productivity. Primarily when you look at the level of resources required to perform certain operations, but also in the value of the dataset itself. Digitalisation and BIM are not just about the development of a model that captures all the data relevant to the actual building or asset that’s being constructed, really what it does is create a databank.

The major benefit is in the accessibility and the value that information actually has – for all the different parties associated with a project and ultimately with the client who has to manage that asset. It will reduce time wasted, eliminating a huge proportion of waste in terms of information transfer, validating decisions or even in instances of challenging clashes that arise from a decision, and recording what has actually been built.

How does Ireland compare with other European countries in implementing digital solutions in construction?

Ireland compares favourably for certain sub-sectors, we haven’t advanced as fast as we could in terms of driving the mandate from government to say that you must have digital delivery of major projects. That mandate hasn’t been installed but we do believe it is coming
down the line. One of the benefits of that is that we have been able to look at how other countries have mandated digitalisation and learn from the mistakes they may have made.

Compare, for example, the UK standards driven mandate versus some Nordic countries that are driven by asking what value does the information add. If there is no value to the asset manager in capturing that data then it’s useless. Ireland, to a certain extent, is very agile when we do make decisions. We tend to find novel solutions when we do choose to tackle problems.

CIF Director Sean Downey. Picture Conor McCabe Photogrphy

In what areas is Ireland succeeding in digital adoption?

What’s really driving the development and the growth of innovation and digital adoption is that the State really has invested heavily through the Construction Sector Group (CSG) and the CSG Innovation Digital Adoption Group. Appointing PJ Rudden who has serious pedigree in the sector, he’s been there and done that and knows what the industry needs to do.

So that’s a huge acknowledgement of the need for a transformative re-direction and a signal that the Government really is prepared to invest in driving that. When we couple this with the significant intervention by Enterprise Ireland (Construction Technology Centre), The Dept. of Public Expenditure and Reform (Build Digital) we have seen the State leading by example and putting the supports in place to make this happen.

What digital innovation might have the most positive impact for the industry in Ireland?

This happens where connected devices and tools, small scale software, is put into the hands of the people actually doing the work or managing the logistics and design process. Interactive collaborative tools at that level that help the actors who are trying to deliver a project, whether that’s physically, in design, materials procurement or the management space, those tools will have the biggest impact. The more we can connect people to real time information the more we can pre-empt and respond to needs. Perhaps this is where AI is going to have a huge role, if we are capturing really intelligent information on projects, the next time a complex project is being considered maybe that can help them make decisions before needing to go through a repeat of an iterative process. The use of AI and other smart applications is
not as prevalent in the industry right now, but it is used perhaps in more niche settings. Manufacturing is one example, but it is emerging and those who pioneer in adopting it early will reap the greatest benefits.

MMC encourages a collaborative environment

Can innovation bring disruption to the industry?

Innovation naturally brings about disruption to any industry and construction is no different. The wider adoption of off-site manufacturing and advancement of Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) is definitely going to bring disruption but there is no sense in trying to hold back the tide. Companies need to try and work out where the value stream is going. Compare the challenges of a business delivering fully on site against the benefits of another business providing a much more synchronised solution to multiple trades at pre-manufactured value. That’s where the sector is going.

In the past we might have seen people continuing with the traditional construction methods and just waiting for MMC to catch up and reduce costs but what has forced a rethink is the question as to whether the traditional skills are still out there. Cost is not the only issue now, if you can’t find a traditional tradesperson to do the installations on site to deliver within a timeframe. A huge benefit to MMC is that it encourages a highly collaborative environment between all parties in a contract that rewards everyone for keeping costs down.

Is there any emergent tech that you are personally excited by?

The thing I’m most excited by is the people, it’s the way in which our youth coming in to the sector is so enthusiastic. What that means for new entrants into the industry is the potential for good gender balance and diversity. That’s including international experience as people come in from different educational and training systems. We might even see people coming in from different sectors like manufacturing and production that cross into construction. That’s what really excites me.

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