James Hepton works at Actavo Direct, heading up ecommerce and Marketing for its Hire and Sales division.
According to McKinsey (opens in new tab), the construction industry is under-digitized, with companies failing to realise the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) as a driver of growth and efficiency.
Implementing AI means significant investment for construction companies, but the rewards can far outweigh the initial outlay.
Actavo Direct’s James Hepton explores the next steps for AI in an industry generally slower to adopt new technologies (opens in new tab).
Another dimension to AI
Construction designs have traditionally been created using pen and paper, painstakingly focusing on every detail and angle.
The emergence of 3D planning revolutionized construction design and now, building information modelling (BIM) has again transformed the process further.
BIM allows everyone involved in a construction project to access all ongoing project information on one design platform. Available materials include a 3D walkable design plus all planning and financial information.
Thanks to AI, even complex plumbing, mechanical and electrical work can be theorized within 3D modelling design (opens in new tab), meaning logistical challenges can be worked through while planning, saving time and costs in the building stages.
The BIM industry is believed to be worth over $10 billion now. While it may mark an initial investment for construction companies, the rewards speak for themselves in time, financial savings and subsequently allowing businesses to undertake more projects.
Plus, with pressure on modern businesses to align with environmental standards, improving the planning stage could mean construction companies waste fewer materials when it comes to building and reap the benefits of increased reputation management.
AI: Always learning
One of the main components of AI is machine learning (opens in new tab) – the ability of technology to take on unlimited amounts of data and learn from it as algorithms – onboarding key messages and using trial and error to suggest improvements for future projects.
The key for construction companies, therefore, is banking as much data as possible for every project, giving AI as much information as possible to learn from.
Comprehensive databases include information on stock levels, schedules and even project-specific data like weather and disruptions. This means you’ll be better placed to improve in the future by avoiding any mistakes or issues encountered in previous projects.
When planning future projects, businesses will be able to better assess timeframes and get more accurate insights into the number of employees and product stock needed to complete projects. This will ultimately minimize waste, cut costs and make projects more efficient.
Machine learning provides benefits beyond business profits, too. One of the oldest realizations of AI is using data to detect examples of a specified event or product. We experience this machine learning every day in the form of technology like automated spam email detection, but as technology has advanced, new applications have been brought to life.
Now, using live video and image detection, machine learning can be used to learn and spot construction hazards in real-time, like employees not wearing appropriate health and safety gear on site, or dangerous gaps in scaffolding structures or buildings. AI can spot dangers and alert employees in real-time to ensure a safer site.
Machine learning is not only transforming the way businesses are able to execute projects but now has a real impact on the working conditions for employees on-site day-to-day.
When most people think of AI, they imagine Hollywood movies, with autonomous robots taking over the world. While the reality is tamer, there is a robotic future in the construction industry.
Self-operating and self-driving construction machinery are already in production, making repetitive manual tasks like excavation possible via these technologies and freeing up employees to focus on project management tasks.
The growth of efficient construction will be facilitated by powerful 5G networks (opens in new tab). Major networks are currently racing to get this latest offering on the market, and with it will come the ability for construction companies to launch remote machine operation.
5G will finally provide the platform for remote operation of construction machinery thousands of kilometers away – plus operation of machinery below the ground, too – without the latency issues suffered by previous network generations.
Construction workers will be able to operate machinery from one single remote base, speeding up project timings and avoiding health and safety issues that can delay work on site.
As construction companies continue to move sales and marketing activity online, providing the best digital services will see companies move ahead of the competition.
Those able to adopt AI as a tool for improving customer insight and providing tailored product and service offerings will reap the rewards.
Machine learning means gathering as much customer data as possible – like buying behaviors – to inform your sales and marketing strategy going forward.
For example, understanding buyer intent means you can align any discount sales or marketing materials to peak buying times and even offer personalized recommendations for products that complement the shopper’s basket.
This provides value for both business and customer alike.
James has worked in the ecommerce industry for 15 years and has a wide range of tech experience across a variety of sectors. He currently works at Actavo Direct (opens in new tab), heading up ecommerce and Marketing for its Hire and Sales division.