COMMENTARY

Embracing the digital revolution

How do you transform a business built on brick and mortar into bits and bytes?

BY JOANNA SZE

It is a no-brainer that technology greatly improves efficiency, accuracy and productivity. After all, design industry veterans would opt not to return to the back-breaking days of pencils and T-squares before the advent of drafting and modelling software. Yet, despite the obvious and compelling benefits of digitalisation in recent years, the construction industry in Malaysia remains mostly on manual transmission, with all its inefficiencies and quality control issues.

Hopefully this will soon change.

“Construction is a notoriously conservative sector,” says Datuk Ir Ahmad ’Asri Abdul Hamid, CEO of the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB). “However, it is also one of the major industries of the world that is ready for technological disruption.” CIDB has been pushing to elevate the local building industry in various key areas via its Construction Industry Transformation Programme (CITP) 2016-2020.

“The construction industry requires a radical transformation, not just an enhancement of current practices,” says Ahmad Asri. “Technology has to be the main driver of transformation, as only through digitalisation and new tools that provide higher efficiency can we achieve the CITP’s targets within the five-year time frame.”

Two of the main thrusts in the technology push are the adoption of building information modelling (BIM) and industrialised building systems (IBS). BIM is a process for creating and managing a digital representation of a construction project across its lifecycle, while IBS refers to a construction technique where components are prefabricated or manufactured in a controlled environment for on-site assembly.

BIM adoption in Malaysia currently stands at 17 per cent—which is low compared to the United States (71 per cent), the United Kingdom (39 per cent) and Singapore (65 per cent). With increased awareness, the government hopes to drive adoption levels up to 30 per cent by the end of the year. “Certainly, there is room for greater growth and adoption of BIM in the industry,” says Ahmad ‘Asri. “The low adoption of BIM in Malaysia is largely due to the lack of awareness, the high cost of adoption, the lack of skilled talents, and the unwillingness to adapt working processes to BIM.”

To address these issues, the Works Ministry is working to create a BIM ecosystem, with initiatives such as mandating the use of BIM on government projects worth over RM100 million by 2020 and the use of the BIM eSubmission system for initial project submissions for all city-status local councils by 2021.

Public projects worth more than RM10 million are also required to use IBS with a score of 70 per cent of more, while private projects worth more than RM50 million will need to achieve a score of 50 per cent or more.

These push factors are slowly helping to drive building and design professionals on board the digital train. “More clients, especially the government agencies and larger established developers, are insisting their consultants be competent with IBS, BIM and other new technologies,” says Ar Abu Zarim Abu Bakar, deputy president of the Malaysia Institute of Architects (PAM). “As such, many architectural practices have now established BIM units in their practice, or will have to.”

“The main focus of the Institute of Engineers, Malaysia (IEM) is in line with sustainability and digital transformation, such as Industry Revolution (IR) 4.0,” adds Ir Yasser Asrul Ahmad, who chairs IEM’s Information and Communications Technology Special Interest Group (ICTSIG).

CIDB’s subsidiary, CIDB E-Construct, is also in the final stages of drafting the IR 4.0 Roadmap 2020-2025, which aims to provide a clear direction for industry players and streamline future programmes related to the fourth industrial revolution, particularly the use of BIM and cloud-based integration.

No doubt an exciting transformative journey lies ahead for the construction industry. It may seem a little overwhelming, but if you are considering or preparing to make the digital leap, here are a few thoughts to get you started.

ASK THE WHY

First off, take a step back from the hype and evaluate why and how technology can add value to your company. “When deciding on the use of a new piece of technology or process, make sure it is underpinned by a robust strategy,” says Paul King, Bentley Systems’ sector director of Constructioneering.

“It’s really important to understand what is the challenge you have—the business need you are solving—and then to ask whether technology can help to solve some of that or not and what the likely payback is,” he adds. “That may be financial, e.g. something you can put a dollar value to, or something more intangible, such as improved safety.”


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