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Droning Over Construction...

Physical infrastructure is useful. It houses, transports, feeds, processes, protects, teaches, divides and connects, entertains and helps us work productively. It is also taken for granted. We use it every day and drive, walk or fly past massive construction and engineering projects in progress on a daily basis.

Large scale construction and engineering projects are complex, dangerous environments with thousands of moving parts; materials, machines, people. Supply chains can be opaque making project management, scheduling and cost control a complex art/science. Overlay those elements with weather changes, security and safety concerns, and evolving sustainability demands and we begin to appreciate the logistics involved in building physical infrastructure. The other thing about construction sites is that they always look physically different each day...not like your average IT project environment (except for fresh doughnuts).

This industry is characterised by fine margins with thousands of daily decisions made that can affect schedule, cost and quality metrics. Any new technical capabilities that can help mitigate risk and simultaneously reduce cost, improve quality and enhance project management cannot be ignored.

I work closely with large global construction and engineering organisations and they strike me as being inherently practical people. From the management through the various disciplines of architecture and design, to project management and logistics, the various building and installation specialities. These people design, build and facilitate really complex stuff. I don't necessarily understand it all, but I appreciate the sheer complexity.

With so many converging technologies being applied, adapted and spun-out across so many global industries, government organisations, schools, universities and research, and of course home consumer trends, the opportunity for construction and engineering institutions to rapidly deploy and get an ROI out of a new tech is massive. The payback window is also shrinking with the acceleration of visual and other sensory platforms, such as drones, combined with Augmented Reality (AR) for the design and manipulation of data. In plain English...send up a drone to show you whats going on (or whats not), grab that video data, make sense of it, and feed it into your project management system and supply chain to issue material requests or job orders...precisely.

There are various studies that state that construction and engineering companies have a long way to go in "digitising" their business. Maybe, maybe not. But the reality is they can catchup fast by sharing a lot of the technical innovation that already happens within large projects.

There is also another phenomenon we are observing that will have an impact; that of "bring your own tools to work". A few years ago people started bringing their own mobiles then tablets to the office to enhance their own personal productivity. This led to the proliferation of productivity apps that took personal capability to the next level. IT departments at first struggled to keep up with this trend with justified concerns over security and standardisation for support and maintenance. However, like with King Canute, this was a social tide that could not be pushed back.

Now, in the construction industry I know of employees who bring their own drones to the outside office to help them get the job done better, faster and safer. This will catch on and scale naturally as large organisations get behind it, and the next wave will be the consumerisation of AR on large project sites. Drone-driven data and AR will naturally converge affording great time, cost and quality savings to global players, with the added benefit of reducing the environmental impact of man-made construction.

These large projects offer up big adjacent services opportunities for organisations not traditionally associated with these harsh, complex external environments. Insurance industry premiums will gradually erode as more large scale construction deploy drones and other robots, reducing human risk and cost/time overruns. Insurance organisations must adapt to these trends that are playing out in parallel with other insurance disruptions such as autonomous vehicles and genomic research.

So why not get ahead of the game by participating in it? Insurance companies have the scale and capital to spin-up their own "Drone-as-a-service" and offer that back into the construction and other industries that they are at risk of being disrupted by! Insurance companies are also very astute at analysing vast, complex troves of unstructured data...That could be an on-top service offered back into construction and engineering.

Global and local IT players would also be a natural service provider for drone and other robotics services. They know hardware, software, data and support services. Hardware continues to come under pressure from cloud deployments, and software distribution channels face an uncertain future from A.I. built into the buying and selling process combined with Blockchain delivery and trust capabilities. IT organisations could similarly pivot to offering drone and other robotic hardware and analytical data services to construction and engineering.

Similar to how the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were able to skip a generation (or several) of telecoms infrastructure and take advantage of Wi-Fi faster than anyone else, or how African countries are using mobile phones to move money between peoples and organisations circumnavigating traditional banks, so the construction and engineering world can get a step-change in performance quickly by absorbing so many converging, easy-to-deploy technologies into their daily practices.

There are more opportunities here than challenges. Get ahead of the game by participating in it...

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