Integrated Construction Business Software Is A Must-Have

Integrated Construction Business Software Is A Must-Have

By Kenny Ingram, Global Industry Director, Engineering, Construction & Infrastructure at IFS

The engineering, construction and infrastructure industry is facing huge disruptive changes. We are at a stress point and need wholesale change.

While global construction productivity has improved about a quarter of the rate of manufacturing productivity since 1995, a recent Research and Markets report states that South Africa’s construction industry suffered a downturn during the period 2017 – 2018. When we look at rich countries like Germany, France and the United States, things are not much better —there, construction productivity is also falling. The United States’ top contractors according to ENR have recently experienced a decline of 26 percent on their return on working capital. The top 10 contractors in the UK have increased their debt by 24 percent in 2018, and British contractors delivered an average operating margin of negative .5 percent in 2018.

Since global construction productivity has been atrocious for a long time, why must we act as soon as possible? Consider some of these facts:
· 55 percent of the top 100 construction companies are now in Asia – a huge increase from where it was 10 years ago – so for the rest of the world, foreign competition is intensifying;
· Modular and off-site construction, which can improve productivity, is forecast to grow by 6.9 percent per year;
· Demand will be high, with 2 billion new homes need to be built over the next 80 years according to the UN.
It is very clear that running a construction business successfully is becoming extremely hard and the complexity is increasing at a rapid pace.

The essentials for business growth
The need for tight project control and business governance is not optional but essential if you want to grow and prosper in the future. Those who do not have timely and accurate information about how their projects and businesses are performing will be unable to make the right decisions and risk being the next casualty in the industry.
Today, most construction businesses are running their companies using a patchwork quilt of non-integrated systems. In fact, the most common management information system in use, is Excel. A patchwork quilt solution does not support best practices and will not be capable of supporting this highly disrupted industry in the future.

Integrated business software
The term enterprise resource planning (ERP) is often talked about in the construction industry but it is usually interpreted as meaning the finance and maybe human resources systems. But ERP is meant to be an integrated enterprise wide system which is what it is in many industries such as manufacturing.

Interestingly productivity has increased by 760 percent over the last 50 years in manufacturing and yet construction has achieved a pathetic 6 percent increase over the same period. So maybe we could conclude that this is because the manufacturing industry has recognised and exploited the benefits of integrated processes and systems for many years.

Of course, the answer is more complex than that and I would agree that the construction industry is unique. Unlike manufacturing, construction contractors deliver large, long-term one-off projects rather than products. Construction-centric ERP systems have evolved and become mature solutions so there is no longer a good excuse for not implementing ERP properly other than a resistant culture. We are also seeing the construction industry converge with the manufacturing and service industries so there are even bigger reasons now to become more efficient and agile by implementing an integrated ERP system. This should also be viewed as the platform to integrate the emerging digital technologies such as BIM, 4D scheduling, robotics, augmented reality (AR) and IoT into the core ERP backbone.

Can we adapt and be an agile successful business if we continue to run our business using a patchwork of non-integrated business systems? I would argue that the huge pressure on businesses to deliver high quality projects on time and at lower cost can only be met by moving to more integrated and agile business processes and systems.

Smart building data makes business sense

Smart building data makes business sense

By Neil Cameron

Buildings have become so much more than brick, mortar and glass. They are smart business tools which assist organisations to achieve their business objectives. Today’s buildings are essentially technology centres, embedded with complex networks of connected devices and systems. The constant flow of data that these devices (or end points) generate, typically through IP (Internet Protocol) interfaces- provide businesses with the information that enables seamless and efficient functionality.

Recent years have shown a tremendous surge in connected end points within buildings, foretelling an exponential rise in technology embedded in residential, commercial and institutional buildings. This represents the true, smart building. For businesses especially, the value can be highly advantageous.

The value of connected, smart buildings
Most security and fire control devices, temperature management systems, lighting controls, energy management systems, audiovisual networks and more, are equipped with data-generating end points today. The increased capacity to interconnect multiple end points on a single, intricate network allows organisations to optimise incoming data and perform advanced analytics, giving building managers and owners heretofore unknown value.

Building owners can now track things such as energy consumption and temperature preferences in various building locations, giving them real insight into how to optimise these areas. Moreover, they are able to receive this data in a simplified, easily read format on any device of their choosing. The value of this is being realised as a necessity and no longer an unexpected perk of a particular system, creating an increasing demand for smart enabled buildings

Value vs Cost
Although the value of smart buildings in unparalleled, there are still concerns around the infrastructure costs to support such an ecosystem. Increased data calls for increased connectivity and bandwidth. While the image below highlights a reduction in costs to increase connectivity and enable smart buildings globally, South Africa is still known for its high connectivity charges. However, data costs are on a slow but steady decline and, according to this recent article, are set to drop even more in coming years.

Maximising value
Organisations are starting to realise the potential of data to streamline their people, assets and resources for more efficient operations and improved productivity. Data generated by smart buildings offers insights which can solve a number of operational problems, while enhancing the environment of all who inhabit the space during working hours.

Energy and operational efficiency remain high concerns for building owners. Analysis of the data generated by connected end points highlights inefficiencies and money-draining problems, providing cost-saving benefits when these are addressed. The goal is to not only reduce building operational costs, but to maximise the value of these buildings, making them effective business tools for attaining objectives.

Smart buildings offer multiple benefits to different industries. Hospitals are able to better cater to patient needs when they have fewer redundancies. Airports are able to improve traveller experiences. Universities are able to streamline, leveraging student data to become more productive and drive down tuition costs.

The value, when properly leveraged and maximised, easily outweighs the cost and can provide for far higher gains than losses. Smart buildings make smart business sense.

Johnson Controls is a global diversified technology and multi industrial leader serving a wide range of customers in more than 150 countries. The company employees creates intelligent buildings, efficient energy solutions, integrated infrastructure and next generation transportation systems that work seamlessly together to deliver on the promise of smart cities and communities.

Neil Cameron is Johnson Controls’ Area General Manager, Building Efficiency – Africa