Last week, I visited Digital Construction Week. I went with a genuine thirst to learn and see for myself how technology, talked up for a few years, is being utilised by construction professionals. The first seminar I attended was given by Doug Brent, Senior Vice President Technology Innovation at Trimble Inc. He hit the spot for me immediately, as he talked about connecting the digital and physical worlds, with examples of how contractors in the US visualise the road that they are about to construct, using geo-enabled tablets and how it relates to the local topography and geography. One particular take-away was the way that VR is used to visualise a huge quarry, showing the trucks descending and ascending the trackways to the foot of the quarry. All great, but the fact that this can be viewed in real time from anywhere in the world is hugely impressive and adds to the efficiency of the site. In a separate conversation, I learnt that you can overlay this with driverless technology, with the trucks passing through the quarry, endlessly charging and dispersing their loads 24/7. Add to this the technology of automated robotic diggers, that Doug demonstrated, then this is surely a better view in terms of efficiency, accountability, cost saving and, very importantly, health and safety, doing away with the need to have human operatives on the ground.
The take up of BIM by SME’s was discussed by Andy Ainsworth of Project Five Consulting using insights from research carried out by Construction News. Unsurprisingly, this showed that there is a significant gap between SME’s, subcontractors and the rest of the industry. The gap along the supply chain is significant, with a large majority of main contractors, consultants, professional services and clients either having fully embedded BIM Level 2 standards into their business management systems, or were using Level 2 on a project which dictated it.
I returned to the theme of connecting the digital and physical worlds, with an impressive presentation by Paul Surin from Wienerberger and Chris Gage from IBM, who demonstrated the Cognitive Home Solution, a real-life example of digital construction and smart technology in action.
Paul demonstrated how visualisation can show local planners the exact locations of houses within a new development at any stage of the build and how this interacts with the local geography and provision of utilities and services, to make the planning process smoother and more efficient.
The next part of the presentation is what got me thinking about how the whole evolution of digitisation across the construction industry will impact marketeers, now and into the future.
We are now comfortable with how smart technology has integrated into our lives, with the ability to regulate the heating in your home, of the operation of security blinds, or who can access your house through the front door, all powered through apps on your phone.
So far, so good, but all of the apps above perform in isolation to the surrounding building and will perform differently in my house, to your house, to your neighbour’s house and so on.
The Wienerberger Smart e4 Home was then introduced to give these digital tools context, in the form of a physical house. Using the BIM details for the house, we (and an AI) know how many rooms are in the house, how many doors and windows and importantly, how that house should perform, given the knowledge of the thermal capacity of the materials, the insulation, window ratings etc. Sensors in the house then act as a monitoring system to register levels of temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide. Connecting the whole BMS to the system can then inform you, should you be away on holiday, that your house has sprung a leak, or that you have left the back window open, enabling you to act accordingly.
It is the introduction of this house’s brain, IBM Watson, that transforms this into a connected dynamic entity.
As an example, Watson can report on a faulty boiler, then look into the BIM details to discover if the boiler is still within warranty. It will then contact the boiler supplier and arrange an appointment. Your only interaction as the homeowner is to approve a convenient time for the boiler contractor to visit to do the repairs.
Or another situation in which you have to repair some damaged tiles in the bathroom. You ask Watson, a voice activated virtual assistant (we are of course used to talking to Alexa, Siri and Google), to sort it for you. Accessing the BIM details Watson will know the make and dimensions of the tiles and look for a like for like replacement (if directed), or alternatives, should you be tired of the colour scheme. It will then access the internet to find the best deal on the tiles and the lead time and serve the information up for you to decide upon, before ordering them to be delivered.
Going further, as the e4 house is built to a standard design and with standard materials, it can also calculate and schedule the costs to add an extension, or a loft conversion and let you know the likely increase in your house’s equity.
So, welcome to the world of digital integration. But how will this affect product manufacturers that are looking to market their products and who, more importantly, are you marketing them at? The specifier/contractor/installer of today, or the AI of tomorrow?
Put yourself into the near future. A building is designed using all the available digital technologies. The products are loaded into BIM, the building is commissioned and the QS starts the procurement process, but in this case the QS is AI. The AI knows what it needs to purchase and will search for the products specified. What influences the search? Product compliance for definite. Price – dependent on the budget set for the project. Availability - again dependent on the project completion date. The robot then sets out on the search to procure the products.
But is this near future so far away? As referenced by the eHouse and IBM Watson, we now have the example of how it is today. If you are still doubtful - that mythical fridge that orders food directly from Amazon Prime is already here. Just search for LG InstaView ThinQ.
If the AI becomes the primary procurer, how does the marketer influence this being? You can’t wine and dine it, or take it to the rugby. It doesn’t read magazines, open an envelope, read a newsletter, or accept emails. Will it be building a sense of brand authority from your social posts, or comments on LinkedIn? Or just go straight to Google as the authority and look at the star ratings of Google reviews? I certainly have my own thoughts on this and you’ll be pleased to know that, despite this fast dash to digital, marketing principles remain marketing principles, despite the change in channels, platforms and media.
Needless to say, that next year’s visit to Digital Construction Week has gone straight into my electronic diary, courtesy of Siri.