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Revolutionizing Construction Technologies: Turner & Townsend

Embracing a new, digital era for construction, by Hilal Assfour, Principal Consultant, Turner & Townsend


Middle East Construction activity demonstrated remarkable growth exceeding $200 billion in 2022, with projections estimating a further 4% growth for the industry in both KSA and the UAE. (GlobalData 2023). Considering the ongoing expansion of in-region real estate and infrastructure projects, the construction market is now thriving at unprecedented levels. This has brought about emerging challenges relating to cost, time, and quality, all of which can be managed through the successful utilisation of technology and digital tools.

Addressing the challenges

Technology, when adopted and implemented under a comprehensive digital framework, can bring about significant added value. The advantages of technology applications within construction are widely recognised and acknowledged. Modular construction has proven its ability to significantly reduce construction times, mixed reality technology is being used for training purposes to enhance safety measures at construction sites, the utilisation of machine learning algorithms enhances design optimisation as it leverages the power of historical data, and the use of cloud solutions allows for effective communication and exchange of data among stakeholders.

While certain constraints such as implementation cost, lack of awareness, and lack of skilled resources can hinder the application of these modern technologies and thus significantly decrease the gained value, the specific characteristics which make up the middle east market, impose even further challenges that require addressing.

Time constraints: The middle east construction market is known for challenging timeframes for project durations, and technology can add to these. In fact, incorrect technology application combined with the lack of experience can extend project delivery duration. Over the years, I have observed major developers opting to skip essential technology implementations due to this perceived risk of added time, however this can be mitigated through proactive risk management.

Lack of digital strategy: inspired by the digital transformation programmes that in-region governments are rolling out, increasingly, we are seeing an appetite by developers for the embracement of construction technologies on their projects. Some firms are even willing to invest significant funds for these technologies, be it as a compliance to governments technology mandates, or by their drive to be at the forefront of digital transformation, where the adoption of technology and digital tools is perceived to bring about significant positive impacts on projects such as cost savings, programme advancements, or quality improvements. That said, we have also witnessed significant failures and limited benefits when technologies are applied without appropriate digital assessments or well-defined strategies. To achieve results that align with the overall vision for a development, it is crucial that clear expectations are set and that planned steps are then taken towards achieving value-driven implementation.

Data security: Recent construction technologies tend to depend on or involve data processing and cloud solutions that are hosted by servers located overseas. Government and semi-government entities in the middle east tend to adopt a conservative approach dealing with cloud data solutions, and they are cautious about projects data being hosted by third-party cloud service providers. As a result, they often opt to manage construction and project specific data using on-premises data storage to maintain control over their data assets. Investing in data processing/cloud-based platforms that offer local cloud hosting, will enable the regional construction industry to fully utilise innovative technologies whilst providing assurance that project data is governed at a local level.

The absence of an integrated framework: Insufficient consideration of project lifecycle needs and the absence of an integrated framework that effectively integrates these technologies together, is a major challenge that we tend to overlook, though it is the key to successful digital transformation in our industry. The lack of a framework that holistically incorporates new, digital technologies, leads to a significant cost and time loss as well as a missed opportunity to maximise potential and derive substantial value that correct implementation could achieve.

One example is the relationship between Building Information Modeling (BIM) and digital twins in the construction industry. When BIM serves as the backbone for digital twins, it allows for the utilisation of preexisting models and associated data to enable digital-twins-based facility management solutions. This integration can be further enhanced by incorporating Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, which provide real-time operational asset data within a 3D environment. This integration of multiple technologies is not an easy task, and it requires major cooperation from all entities.

A top-down approach

We have seen from global examples that governments are in the best position to drive nation-wide digital construction transformations. Both the UAE and KSA governments are already taking remarkable steps towards achieving digital transformation on all levels, and it is expected that the construction industry will be positively impacted by these trends. Examples of these initiatives include drone and digital twin programmes by Dubai Municipality, as well as Department of Municipalities and Transport’s Abu Dhabi Digital Twin Project. We have also seen multiple initiatives of 3D printing and BIM mandates in both emirates. In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, developers have also adopted BIM across the majority of Public Investment Fund (PIF) backed major/ giga projects and schemes.

While the vision for a digitally transformed construction industry is being established, developers can support the transition by providing their supply chain and private sector stakeholders structured guidelines to work to. Creating clear channels of collaboration will also enable and encourage effective contributions to wider digital transformation strategies such as city-wide digital twin programmes.

Embracing a digitally charged era in construction

While technologies can address many of our industry’s challenges, aligning integrated technology solutions with a clear vision is essential, and adopting a top-down approach, starting from government and major developers down to delivery teams will achieve the most successful outcomes.

While keeping a digital-first approach in mind, governments, developers, and contractors should work together to create sustainable infrastructure and overcome emerging challenges related to data security by investing in cloud solutions that offer local cloud hosting.

Looking ahead, the market is expected to witness an increase in government-backed, sustainability-driven programmes where technologies such as AI, Modular Construction, and Digital Twins will play a significant role.