Can machines help construction professionals think better? A recently released study by Bentley Systems implies many in the industry do not believe so—or, at the very least, their actions suggest they don’t. Of the 720 construction business professionals surveyed, just shy of half (44.3%) of the respondents in Bentley’s survey say they have limited or no insight into company or project performance. However, 45.2% say they do recognize the importance of collecting project data, they’re just not doing it or making the most of it.

It’s a digital age, and data is a new type of currency. Businesses that aren’t capitalizing on digital processes and data-driven insights are missing out, and chances are their competition won’t make the same mistake for long. In construction, Bentley’s data reflects too many firms aren’t taking advantage of digital construction and the benefits of data in decisionmaking and project workflows.

Mark Coates, Bentley’s industry marketing director, says it’s time for this reality to change. “The mindset (in construction) needs to change,” Coates says. “Before joining Bentley, I did a number of presentations for a number of clients about going digital. I did one, there were about 400 people in the room, all construction professionals, and I said, ‘I need a volunteer on the stage; can I please have a volunteer?’ And of a room of 400 people, there were about three or four people (who) actually put their hand up. And I just said, ‘Actually, I didn’t need a volunteer, but I wanted to prove a point.’ That is the construction industry down to a ‘T’. Three or four people out of a large group will actually take the gamble.”

Gambles can be tough in an industry where margins are thin, risks are great, and time and budget are always pressing. “The problem is that when it goes wrong, it goes drastically wrong, and it makes headlines,” Coates says. “People can be a little bit reluctant to move forward.” With that said, however, putting digitization off could work against construction firms in the long run. “For anybody working in the AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction) market, the sooner you can use the technology, the better it is for you and for your business and, of course, the project,” adds Coates.

When working with companies that want to go digital, Coates says he often advises construction firms not to bite off more than they can chew. “Try and do it in stages,” he says. “Your first stage might be the design stage. So, therefore, you need a connected data environment and that leads you off in design, and then leads on. You can then, if systems and technology marry, you have the ability to bolt on … additional bits of software that help grow us or grow the project as you require. You might ask someone in the design team to actually come up with something that’s (a) very, very easy transitional period but not that hard wall of ‘Okay guys, we were doing it this way yesterday, and we’re going to do it this way tomorrow.’ You can phase in that technology to make the role and the adoption far easier.”

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