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Swedish construction company Skanska is increasing its use of digital technologies as the building industry plays catch up in digitsation.
Its CIO, Per Boström, said the construction industry started using advanced digital tools late compared to other sectors such as retail and banking, but the benefits are being proved quickly.
In comparison to others sectors which were quick to adopt digital business models, Skanska’s IT department is still in its early days when it comes to digital, but cloud technologies – including cloud-based services – are being rapidly adopted.
Boström admitted there is some catching up do because IT investment levels have been low in his industry. “The level of investment our industry has historically made to create digital knowledge and invest in IT has been low compared to other industries,” he said.
“For the moment, the industries that are investing the most in IT are retail, gaming and banking, where some businesses have even changed business models because of it.”
But Boström said the opportunity in the sector is huge, which has quickly become evident. “Since we started late and our level was low to start with, the impact and effects of investments now are that much bigger. The opportunity for us as an industry to take steps forward is enormous,” he said.
“We don’t have to continue to do things the way we did before, and technological tools give us the possibility to steer our business so that it can be what we need it to be,” he said, adding that this includes changing work methods with digital tools to become more efficient.
There have been early successes in the company, with mobile devices for builders being one shining example.
“Two years ago we rolled out smartphones to all our site workers, which was a big change for some of them. It was a way to build our platform and to distribute our new solution. Today, our builders use iPads, with the workers no longer gathering around a plan on paper but looking at it on the screen.”
At a time when digital technologies are being developed for a wide range of industries and has a rich ecosystem of suppliers, Skanska has careful choices to make, according to Boström.
“[The market is] clearly overwhelmed by the amount of new technological solutions, but whether or not they are good for our type of industry varies a lot,” he said. “Most of the solutions we think of when digitising various industries are solutions that can generate value in Skanska.”
However, Boström added that the organisation can and must develop and tweak these tools so they become suitable for the business, with the company having to understand the tools and adapt to the necessary thinking behind them, which is helped by an ecosystem of technology companies supporting Skanska.
“To be successful, it was important for us to work well with our ecosystem consisting of tech partners. We depend on them, so we made sure that we have the right partners,” said Bostrom, adding that the company works with major vendors such as Autodesk, Microsoft and Oracle.
“We work with these suppliers on collaboration platforms, ERP [enterprise resource planning], and so on. They are giants in the construction industry, but we also welcome and work with smaller and specialised suppliers.”
He said this gives Skanska access to tools not yet included in the solutions offered by the big suppliers but which are required at Skanska.
“Our openness with innovative companies is large now compared to how we used to handle pitches, and this is because we focus more on innovation nowadays. We find new and innovative ways to solve today’s problems,” he said, adding that the company has a highly controlled process to go through to evaluate suppliers before it starts buying from them.
Looking ahead, Skanska is analysing what new methods will work in the coming years and what core company values it should maintain at the same time. “We have things to build on and the industry know-how that we need,” said Boström.
One core technology for Skanska is building information modelling (BIM) tools, which are used by builders and others designers. “The structured form of data that we get with BIM tools is an absolute necessity for contractors today,” Boström told Computer Weekly.
“BIM has been an important and natural part of our project and construction process for at least 15 years and it has evolved over time. Our thoughts on what to do with BIM got better while we learnt more. BIM is the main element in our concept when we speak of data-driven construction and the use of digital twins.”
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