Since the rapidly changing circumstances that the world has been facing in the last few months due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the construction industry has come under pressure and uncertainty on the ongoing construction projects and contracts.

4 months ago

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Who led the digital transformation of your company? A brief view of how the construction industry is reacting to the COVID-19 outbreak and how to improve your workflow, as a small design and engineering office.

Since the rapidly changing circumstances that the world has been facing in the last few months due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the construction industry has come under pressure and uncertainty on the ongoing construction projects and contracts. Construction businesses have seen their projects being put on hold or cancelled, architects and designers have been advised to work from home and the need to work and collaborate remotely with digital means can no longer be delayed.

Most governments worldwide, have now announced strict measures for self-isolation, limitation for traveling to work, closure of non-essential shops and community spaces, and avoiding gatherings. As a result, some of the main impacts on the construction industry are the labour and supply chain shortages and the financial difficulties that all the businesses are now facing. For example, in Italy, the industry is expected to contract by 0.7% in 2020, down from a previous growth forecast of 1.5% due to the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Despite construction on-site not being prohibited by some governments, you are advised to follow common sense and social distancing measures in place. This renders collaboration in your team, that needs to be involved in a construction site, almost impossible. Sites that will not follow the outlined measures by their governments, such as avoiding close contact, hygiene procedures and reducing public transport use, will most probably be forced to shut down.

On Largo La Foppa, Milan the #GucciArtWall features a phrase by Coco Capitan. Her handwritings appear on Gucci ready-to-wear & accessories. Image by: Glossi Mag Source: https://twitter.com/GlossiMag

What is happening though, on the management side of things? As a first step, AEC businesses are using the most common methods of remote communication between their team, either by phone or online calls. If your company does that, you begin to notice the limitation that a call has in exchanging essential information and relevant documentation that you want to achieve during an in-person meeting at the office. You would then turn to other common resources such as emails and group chats which however lack speed and limit the amount and size of documents you can exchange with your colleagues.

At this point, a new need arises for working remotely at an online hub where meetings, exchange of documents and information can be done fast and with no limitations, in the same way as you would do in the comfort of your office. Narrowing communication channels to a handful of online platforms will essentially enhance your productivity and minimize confusion and miscommunication, that leads to design errors, which haunt you in construction.

Most probably, if you are a large construction company you would have your staff management and administrative staff working remotely by now, but how do you cope with having everyone informed about the day-to-day progress, and what about the development of content and ideas or the current stage of the project?

What you need is a couple of one-stop shop resources; if not one, for your staff that will offer them the tools to work online without worrying about print outs, drawings and workstations. This is to enable your team to collaborate at any stage of the project. So your digital transformation must stick throughout, and not just be a temporary fix.

But the truth is, not all small companies are able to develop an internal centralised software and introduce new tools to support their business continuity online, and some of the available online platforms are not affordable for small and medium sized businesses. It would be great if governments put in place programs to encourage digitisation of businesses and move one step closer to creating smart cities free of pollution from too much commuting.

So, if you are an architect or designer, this too might be a challenging time, even if working from home is not new territory. Now it’s required to exchange designs, ideas and experiences digitally and to continue the collaboration with your peers and clients.

If your projects move to a cloud service, where sketchbooks and sketch rolls will not define a physical work-space anymore, working from home could save you both time and money. You have to define your needs and figure out the technology that can be used to gather all your information in one centralised system, for effective collaboration.

The simplest solution I can think of now, is to ask your IT professional at the office to create a VPN connection to your servers at work from your home laptops. If that choice is not possible you can migrate to cloud solutions that offer fastness and reliability. For architects and engineers that produce a lot of drawings and 3D models and they need to visualise, comment and collaborate on them live, there are solutions that costs around €49 to €120 per person, per month. You can contact us at info@parametricos.com for more details on our Studio 3DX cloud solution and its benefits or you can give it a go for 7 days at studio3DX.com.

There are other solutions as well to communicate your ideas and drawings such as Google Drive (Sheets, Docs, Slides), Dropbox, Box. All these are secure content management applications that require little to no knowledge, and you can easily collaborate with anyone, anywhere. There's even WeTransfer Pro for up to 1TB storage and transferring a maximum of 20GB files.

Going back to the construction industry, an example of how much technology has helped humanity during this difficult time, is the construction of temporary hospitals in many countries to accommodate those affected. In Wuhan, China the hospital was built in just 10 days with the scale and speed of construction achieved with prefabricated units.

Time lapse video: Construction of Wuhan Huoshenshan Hospital completed. The construction of Leishenshan Hospital in central China's Wuhan is well underway, with the project halfway done. With a bedding capacity of 1,500, it is scheduled to be put into use on February 5 and take patients on February 6. #coronavirus

Tang Zhouping, the neurology professor at Tongji Hospital in Wuhan, was assigned to take charge of the temporary hospital, to treat corona-virus patients.

'He transformed the Guanggu Fangcang Hospital, an exhibition space in Wuhan that was converted into a makeshift medical centre, in just seven days, into a "smart" facility by adopting technologies already being used at Tongji Hospital, a top facility in the city. The cloud technology-based smart system at Tongji Hospital was extended to the makeshift hospital in 10 hours.'

Robots that use cloud technology to help medical workers treat patients with the coronavirus are tested by a developer in a lab in Beijing this month. The smart devices are being used in hospitals in Beijing, Shanghai and Wuhan, Hubei province. (JIANG WENJIE / CHINA DAILY)
“Using the system, experts from Tongji Hospital can share information related to patients in the temporary hospital and provide guidance for treatment"  - Tang Zhouping

'The use of the smart platform means patients do not have to undergo the usual lengthy registration procedures to enter the hospital and can immediately be transferred to designated brick-and-mortar facilities for treatment if their condition worsens, thus reducing the odds of medical staff members being infected, he said.'

At the end we have to look out for our options in order to survive through this crisis.

References:

Fitch Solutions: Italian Construction Industry To Contract Amidst Covid-19 Outbreak

CNN: How to design a hospital that's built in days, by someone who's done it before


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Martha Matsi

Published 4 months ago