The recent Digital Foundations white paper by #StartupAUS (supported by Aconex, Lendlease, EY and the Victorian Government), identified four stages of digital maturity for construction companies. It is a useful framework and worthwhile reflecting on my own experience in the Construction Technology sector, in particular bringing Docketbook to market.
Stage 1 is described as the initial shift from static data. It involves turning basic forms from paper to digital. Benefits realised from Stage 1 include creating active data, minimising error, eliminating duplication and establishing a single source of truth. This has been a goal for electronic site capture since the days of the Palm Pilot where supervisors would mash data into a tiny keyboard often sitting at the desk next to their computer in the site shed. We are now at the stage of practical ubiquity for smart phones so the creation of data need no longer be bottle-necked at the supervisor level. It is now a reality that information can be created at its true source - the operators, drivers and workers on our construction sites. Moreover, machine integration enables the machines themselves to provide the data, which is then validated by the guys and girls onsite.
Stage 2 involves the integration to internal systems. Digitisation is about flow of data, it’s about connecting systems. Rarely is the repository for the collected data the form or system in which it was collected. In fact, taking that approach would require the users on site to know exactly which system to use for what information - that is a challenge in itself. EY identifies the need for a digital core as a way of moving data around between systems. This is important. The alternative is that systems are connected as a series of stove pipes where removing just one application, for example as a result of a JV partnership, can cause the house of cards to tumble.
An important recognition about Construction is that it’s a multi-player game - information is never produced and consumed entirely within one company. Stage 3, therefore, drives integration of the supply chain. Information must move across company boundaries as efficiently as it moves within the company. This improves decision making both for the general contractor and the sub-contractors unlocking further efficiencies in project delivery.
Finally, EY identifies Predictive Analytics as Stage 4. With rich data collected and shared instantly, there is opportunity to apply machine learning to assist in decision making on the project. This is still a few years away for most projects and there must be a big data set in place to embark on AI/machine learning. The action we must take now to prepare for Stage 4 is to capture and store data in a way that it can be used in the future. We might not yet know how, but we do know it will be a valuable asset.
Docketbook is designed to replace the triplicate docket books on our construction sites. It moves companies, even with a low technology base, rapidly through ‘Stage 1’. The web services architecture of the solution enables integration with internal systems from Xero through to the largest ERPs, ticking off Stage 2 for those ready to take that step. Stage 3, supply chain integration, is fundamental to our approach - it is a B2B docket exchange platform. Data is exchanged between companies electronically and a common workflow solves docket management for both parties. Add to this Order management between General Contractors and Subbies and job allocation to workers and subcontractors and the multiparty picture is complete.
With hundreds of thousands of dockets being created every month the opportunity for big data analysis is there, the integration points are available, we just need to understand how we want to learn from this.
The model is a powerful validation of the approach we have taken to solve one of the industry's most hated processes - paper dockets. By adopting such a simple solution, companies can accelerate through the four stages at an unprecedented rate.
And as the Digital Foundations report recognises, “Organisations that remain in Stage 1 will not survive the future”.
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