How do we develop the Digital Marketplace and Innovation Ecosystem so urgently needed by the Construction Industry?

By John Hunt, Senior Market Advisor for Construction at Enterprise Ireland, UK

The UK construction industry currently faces a number of challenges, not least how to modernise, increase productivity and harness technological innovation. At the heart of overcoming these challenges will be an efficient marketplace for digital products and services that connect the needs of companies of all sizes with the most appropriate solutions. Further, the market must support an evolving Innovation Ecosystem that can attract, connect and support the investors, researchers, entrepreneurs, start-ups, and new entrants it needs.

Enterprise Ireland, as one of just a handful of early stage investors working across both construction and technology, understands that this ecosystem is globally still at a nascent stage. The underlying reasons for this are well documented, and we observe that they are closely aligned to the fragmentation and the lack of long-term thinking that have historically led to low levels of technology adoption and R&D spend. If the incumbents don’t see a commensurate return on investing, how can the industry attract new players?

A digital transition

Although the industrialisation of the sector falls well behind others, the potential for sustained growth, through the economic cycle, has been driven by a growing global drive for better utilisation of resources and lower emissions of carbon.

Nonetheless, the digital transition of the construction industry has begun, and the knowledge and capability to tackle waste, carbon and inefficiency, already exist, albeit poorly distributed across the globe. The challenge is not only to share this knowledge in the spirit of collaboration, but to help define new markets for the buyers and sellers of innovative digital products and services.

Strategic policy-making

Government interventions have also helped considerably, beginning with the UK Government’s preparations for a building information modelling (BIM) mandate in 2016 standing out as one notable example.

Perhaps the single most significant consequence of the mandate was the focus and profile afforded to BS 1192 and the subsequent PAS1192-2 standard. A single, common process for the design and build of assets (let alone the connection of the asset to the user and the wider world of Internet Of Things) has this year been accelerated through to an international standard (ISO).

If implemented effectively, the ISO 19650 standard will not only provide a consistent technology interface to identify and replace inefficient processes between and across organisations, it has the added potential for scalability. The application of the standard across many other sector verticals and international markets is likely to drive nationally significant levels of investment.

Fostering the ecosystem

Enterprise Ireland’s investment in and support for start-ups, and even to mature organisations in neighbouring sectors that are diversifying, offer us lower volume than other sectors. But as the industry transitions, our engagements have been growing, and we are keen to appraise and work with other ambitious partners.

Currently, we are actively supporting a portfolio of 30+ digital companies across international construction markets. These include a wide range of organisations that tackle customer requirements across areas including data analytics, VR and AR environments, asset data management, AI, PPM, logistics and site/field communication platforms.

Notwithstanding, the UK market for construction technology is becoming increasingly confused, as the needs and priorities of construction companies are still difficult to anticipate and capture. Huge variability in the decision-making process across the technology stack is leading to long and unpredictable sales cycles which in many cases has seen our client companies prioritising North America over European countries as the market of choice to scale in.

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