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Digital Construction

Updated: Aug 16, 2019

A term that is used a lot at the moment is 4.0, it’s an industry term for the digital age and construction 4.0 is something that you will see a lot, certainly if you look for it, it’s there but it will certainly be a term that is used a lot more in the future. We’re back to the whole modernise or die topic that I mentioned in the beginning of this short series on future proofing your company and digital is something that we have to accept, it’s there and it’s not going away.

I had the foresight back in the 80’s to start getting into computers when really people were just starting to get ready for a fax machine. I decided to invest a loan at the time it was on an Access credit card, if any of you are old enough to remember access credit cards, very high interest rates we were getting to the point where mortgages were running towards 15% which was an absolute killer and we went into a recession but that’s another story. I remember at the time making a big investment in my first computer it was a Packard Bell it was a 286mb hard drive which is a quarter of a gigabyte I mean it doesn’t make sense, that’s on tiny little memory car nowadays multiplied by hundreds, so really really small memory space back then but Dos was the platform, word perfect was a program it came that was a word processing package and I really wanted to master using that for doing tenders, doing letters to clients, to set out our offering and doing invoices etc. so I wanted to be really professional and make our documents look good and that was the beginning into my foray of digital.

So having mastered that I went into databases, I remembered that websites started to come on the scene in the early 90s there was companies like Yahoo and Alta Vista and obviously Google eventually and Ask Jeeves and all these names from the past that you don’t really see today. But I remembered that domain names was big and I wanted to buy lucas.com and that had already gone because I think there was a lot of people already on the bandwagon early on in the states with these domain names. But I managed to get lucasuk.com which I’ve still got today and it works really well for the company because we are based in Britain and of course the UK is our home.

But I really immersed myself in this, I knew it was coming I thought this is the way its going, other industries had already started going digital, I’d heard of computers in banking and automotive etc. And that whole sort of era of ISO 9000 and what was called BS5750 back in the day was all about quality it was all about doing things to a sort of forward thinking standard so I embraced this and I’m glad I did because now it’s the way we live and everywhere you go we’re all connected and digital is the world we live in. Whether it’s photography, whether its apps, whether its websites it’s there and it’s embedded into everything they call it the internet of things, it’s smart TV’s, it’s appliances in your kitchen. So, it’s there and we can’t escape it and I think embracing it is the way forward, a lot young people now are completely ofay with technology and digital it’s second nature to them. The tools are there to make your business efficient you cannot bury your head in the sand, I get very frustrated in the construction when I look at some of the fellow contractors that are frightened of technology and they don’t want to venture into it thinking that its going to take them down another path. But we’re already there so it’s not something to shy away from, you need to get your head round it and start using the tools that are there.

So I’m just going to back again to the early 90’s when I picked up on the lucasuk.com websites, Windows 95 came in by the middle of the 90's and that was transforming the environment that we worked so we’d gone from Dos and Word Perfect which was really strange keyboard commands to get things to do things to this sort of drag and drop windows environment which Apple had already created they were definitely there ahead of Microsoft in that the whole environment of Apple in the late 80's early 90's was already a Windows environment but it hadn’t really taken off in the mainstream it was very much for people working in media and advertising, film etc. That was the world therefore, the Apple world. We certainly didn’t have Apple stores you couldn’t buy stuff like you can today it’s clearly reached a much BIGGER market. Microsoft made Windows and environment that was accessible to everybody and I remember using access database to create client billing so that I could invoice all my clients and it looked very professional, I had a log of all the invoices that had been raised and when they were paid and it was really cutting edge I mean we’re talking 24 years ago now so a quarter of a century ago we were doing this in Lucas, which back then was a painting contracting business it wasn’t a fit out and finishing specialist like it is today. But it was sort of the fore run of fore innovation in the company in the way we were going and again it allowed us to move into new areas we were working in pharmaceutical we started to get the attention of the larger clients out there that could see that we were really professional we had a website, we were able to present our tenders professionally, we weren’t shy to turn our backs on to technology which all the big companies were embracing a the time and we were heading ot wards the dot com boom in the late 90s.

So with this in mind I realised we needed to spread this wider into the business, and I remember embracing an accounts package that was sort of like a hybrid version of a software called Sage which is an industry standard software here in Britain that we use in our account systems, but his was a bespoke version called construct that had been created by a company called ATW that existed in Forrest Row near East Grinstead and I remember having relocated from London in the late 90s down to Kent, that I’d reached out to this company and id gone on a training course and we became an early adopter of this technology called Construct which was like a hybrid version of Sage working with your account system to create job costing, estimating, payroll, paying subcontractors, doing certificates thing that really were a headache and were very long hand with lots of ledgers. So having embraced that and absolutely sort of immersed ourselves in that which at the time was a leap, an absolute leap, day and night 7 days a week, really learning hard, looking for bookkeepers that could work this software, training with them, going on courses with them, doing the payroll myself, you have to go through the pain barrier, I think it’s they call it the 10,000 hour rule there’s a book about this someone’s mentioned to me that you have to become an expert in everything you do and I think that in business it’s really important that you immerse yourself in every area of your business to make sure that you understand what’s required and what has to be done so you can become an expert in all areas, and I certainly was becoming a bookkeeper now this was a new area for me and but I realised the importance of all of this and it allowed me to make sure that we embedded that into the business which we still use today.

All these years on, 21 years 22 years on we’re still using sage construct which became an industry standard package for a lot of subcontract companies and main contractors and I’m glad I did that because when I look back now it’s the norm and the digital journey of Lucas we’ve got a timeline now that goes back to 1987, first computer, Danny on the floor learning, massive loan from Access on the credit card at the time and its seemed like taking a mortgage out, it was a few thousand quid I remember they weren’t cheap computers but what that did, it took me on a journey that allowed me to really progress the business and today of course things have taken off at a level that are completely transformed from where we were when we started this, we’ve got social media, we have YouTube, we’ve got apps that we can use in construction, a lot of them are free now, so they’re all open source free software, there’s some companies out there actually using free apps to create different tools in their business, a suite of free apps to run their business for snagging, for QR codes, for tagging things, for doing training and it really is there to be exploited and these are tools that anybody can access through the app stores both on Android and iOS so you really need to open you eyes and see what’s out there.

But construction 4.0 is all about the future, its all about BIMM building information and modelling this is a term that it being used a lot now over the last 4 or 5 years in construction. We hear about the 3d model, we’ve got RFID sensors being embedded into buildings, smart tools for maintaining buildings and ordering things, so it’s there and it’s something that you need to fully embrace. It’s absolutely key as is innovation and technology that digital is embedded into your business, we’ve got a number of tools now in Lucas, we set a strategy for 2020 that saw us completely adopt an app for the sites, we’ve got a team app, we have a client app and we also have another app for head office so we’ve got 4 parts of the business completely covered now and we are about 70% now in terms of deployment and by the end of 2019 we will be a fully digital fit out and finishing specialist.

And its absolutely transforming and streamlining our business, paperwork is becoming less and less, things are becoming easier out in the field or the guys, its very automated its scanning codes we are putting in a lot of effort in upfront to asset tag our projects, to pre-write all of our QA specifications into the projects and we haven’t got any army, I mean we’re talking about 2 or 3 people in the company that are doing this on the side of their day job, so it’s not a big effort, you don’t need a massive I.T team, you just need to immerse yourself in what’s got to be done, there’s a lot of learning tools that are free out there, go and look and that and embed that into your business and you will find a lot people particularly today they refer to them as the millennials, I think that anyone born after 1987 is known as a millennial, they’re all into digital they’ve been brought up with it and it doesn’t frighten them and they will help you set up these platforms and tools in your business and you will end up finding you can embed seamless, lean tools into your company that will allow your clients to engage with you in a way that is a very attractive to them because you’re making it easier for them to access your service and deal with your paperwork as you’re not running around asking them signed bit of paper, it’s a finger on an iPhone, bang and its sent by the cloud to their email and its saved in your system. What more could you want its there use it.

It’s the way we’re working we are working towards a 2020 digital strategy and we also have a 2025 strategy which is looking at the real side of construction 4.0 so we’re looking at blockchain. Lucas are members of the construction blockchain consortium which is something that we have decided to join, we looked at what was going on, we realised that we want to look what blockchain can do in construction to transform the industry and we decided to take part in that and with our own tools we are looking at how blockchain can actually work underneath the platforms that we are using and see whether it’s transformative whether it’s going to be a disruptive technology and absolutely make a difference And it may not but one things for sure, its emerging its something that we hear a lot about, anyone that has heard the word cryptocurrency and bitcoin the technology behind that runs on blockchain, and blockchain is all about trust, its all about trust between parties It’s effectively a database but its an open database that is matched on a system that is independent and everybody gets the same record that can see the transactions that happen so it’s a trusted system. And it’s basically a trusted database that you can share with other companies that you work this, clients, suppliers etc, business to business.

You’ve also got things like Augmented reality, we’ve got virtual reality, there’s AI Machine Learning, which is basically automating a lot of the tasks document control in particular, there will come a time where a machine will have learnt what you do as a company the more data you gather and it will be able to predict the documents for a project which save a load of time, it will still need human checking but it’s going to reduce the hours spent, reducing mundane tasks that are repetitive so it’s all about complementing what you do with technology, its not about replacing humans that will never happen, I certainly don’t believe in construction that we will get fully to that but definitely you’ve got to blend this into your business.

RFID sensors these are these little chips that are embedded into circuits that are sometimes embedded into documents, I’ve seen them on hangars that you hang on your car as you go through the Eurotunnel, the RFID sensors are tracking you around and can see where you are in the terminal to go through the train and its picking you up. These things go in the bin afterwards, so it’s very cheap now this technology but these sensors can be tagged with information and embedded into projects and if you’ve got the right app you can actually be presented with a bit like the parking where you park and it knows the nearest location number its picking up where you are because there’s a sensor in that parking pay and display machine that presents to your mobile phone through a sensor that your at this location and you just select. Well the same can happen in construction you can ebbed the information into these chips around the project so your phones will be presented with the specification or the colours or the QA for each for each coat of paint, clients can sign off the work and it encapsulates that as a record and it saves it in the cloud. It’s absolutely ground-breaking, it’s so lean. This has been going on in automotive for some time and construction needs to be come a manufacturing type approach industry that’s what its all about.

Construction 4.0. for me is all about the innovations and the technology and the digital tools and the lean working. So, its there to be seen, please don’t shy away from it, I really believe that there is, if you get the enthusiasm in your business you can really drive forward a digital approach and transform the way you work.