Construction in the US must invest in Digital to stay competitive
Digital tools and access to reliable, timely, accurate data have the potential to transform the civil construction sector, but contractors and engineers in the United States currently lag behind other global markets in their use of these tools.
Findings from a new study by Dodge Construction Network and partner Bentley, published in Going Digital: Digital Capabilities in US Civil Construction SmartMarket Brief, examine the general digital capabilities of US civil contractors and engineers in eight areas and their use of 15 different tools. In both cases, the US civil contractors and engineers fall far behind their counterparts in diverse global markets like the UK and Singapore. The study demonstrates that these gaps reduce the benefits that the US civil industry gains from their use of project management software, which is widely adopted in the US.
The study used a six-point scale to measure digital capabilities, from no capabilities to utilizing best practices. The percentage of respondents who self-identified their capabilities as good, excellent or best practice, based on detailed descriptions of each, is consistently lower among US civil contractors and engineers than those outside the US:
- 41% of US respondents reported good or better capabilities to utilize a connected data environment, the highest percentage of the six capabilities studies, but outside the US, 62% report the same level of capability.
- There is at least a 20-point gap between US and Non-US respondents in those with good or better digital workflow capabilities, information mobility capabilities and simulation and analysis capabilities.
To better understand the impact of having good digital capabilities, the study used these findings to create a spectrum, regardless of market, of those with a low, moderate or high average of digital capability.
The study also examined the use of 16 advanced digital tools and innovations. These included digital activities in the design phase like design modelling and optimization, several preconstruction activities like spatial coordination, 4D and 5D modelling and extracting quantities, jobsite tools like reality capture and model-driven jobsite automation, and project management-related digital activities like document sharing, equipment tracking and using predictive analytics.
- 43% of US civil contractors and engineers on average report using those innovations and technologies, compared with 66% outside the US.
- Higher use was also generally reported among those with a high average of digital capabilities than those with low or moderate capabilities. Some of the most striking differences include use of spatial coordination, collaboration and document sharing, construction modelling and extracting quantities. Each of these is used by well over half of those with high general digital capabilities, but only by one-quarter or fewer of those with moderate capabilities and by under 10% of those with low digital capabilities.
Use of these tools will give international contractors an edge over US contractors, as international contractors will be better equipped to plan and execute their projects.
In fact, the study demonstrates a clear example of the power of digital capabilities with its examination of the use of project delivery software. Over three-quarters (77%) of US civil contractors and engineers currently use at least one type of software specifically designed for project delivery. However, they may not be experiencing its full benefits since the study shows a correlation between experiencing several key benefits and having high digital capabilities.
- 44% of those with high digital capabilities say their use of project delivery software helps them win new business, compared with only 21% of those with moderate capabilities and 9% of those with low capabilities.
- 49% of those with high digital capabilities find that use of their project delivery software encourages repeat business relationships, but only 26% with moderate capabilities and 18% of those with low capabilities report the same.
- These differentials are likely due to the ability of those with high capabilities to provide clients and internal project staff with timely, relevant information. Three-quarters of those with high capabilities report that their project management software allows them to do so, compared to only around one-half of those with moderate capabilities and one-quarter of those with low capabilities.
These findings suggest that the US civil construction industry needs to prioritize increasing their digital capabilities to continue to remain competitive as global competitors continue to emerge in US civil markets like the transportation sector.
The full findings of the study are available for free download at www.construction.com.