Data is the oxygen for any business

Data may well be the new oil, but the ability to interpret it properly is the oxygen for any business. Rob O’Connor reports on an insightful webinar on how digital transformation can help the UK build back better in the post-Covid recovery.

The vital importance of digital transformation to enable the construction industry to help the nation build back better as part of the post-Covid recovery emerged as the major theme of the first Infrastructure Intelligence webinar of the year on Friday 15 January 2021.

The special business webinar, Data – the foundation of construction transformation, in partnership with Atkins, gathered together a hugely influential panel of industry big-hitters to discuss the importance of data and its key role in construction transformation. Hosted by Infrastructure Intelligence editor Andy Walker, a top line up of panellists was led by Atkins UK CEO Richard Robinson. He was joined by Mace chief executive Mark Reynolds, Alison Atkinson, CEO at the Atomic Weapons Establishment and Stephen Dance, the director of commercial advice and delivery at the Infrastructure and Projects Authority. 

Together, they outlined why the power of data is transformational at every level and essential if the industry is to make the improvements the nation is striving to achieve. The Covid-19 pandemic has forced the construction sector to think differently, embrace digital and accelerate its transformation to a more technological driven and digital industry and the webinar reflected on this during an insightful and informative 90-minute session. 

Building on the conclusions of a successful industry roundtable held on this issue last October, the panel drilled down into the debate about data, access to data and the importance of sharing data, as part of an illuminating discussion on how the industry can realise the full potential of construction's digital transformation.

Richard Robinson, Atkins UK CEO, said: “Digital transformation is not a new topic, but it’s more important than ever before. The Covid crisis has underlined the need to stimulate the economy and our industry has a crucial role to play in building back better. However, our industry’s productivity has been pretty flat for over 20 years, compared to a 20% rise in productivity in other industries. So, it’s clear that a huge digital transformation is required across the industry, but the sector has made huge strides, especially in the last 12 months.

“We’re well on the way to creating a common data environment, sharing information right across the supply chain and leveraging data will help us transform construction on a day-to-day basis.” Asked how he saw data impacting decision-making around infrastructure delivery, Robinson said: “I think, put simply, we’ll be able to actually do some decision making. It would enable us to make decisions on a minute-by minute basis, rather than weeks or months as has previously been the case. It would help the industry work faster, cheaper, and much more effectively for everyone.”

Looking positively to the industry’s emerging and future workforce embracing the digital transformation, Robinson said: “We’ve noticed that graduates are focussing very much on climate change. That means access for the industry to recruit new data scientists is changing at pace – and that bodes very well for the industry and society as a whole.”

Mark Reynolds, Mace chief executive, said: “Some say data is the new oil and if the past ten months are anything to go by, that’s certainly true. No matter what we do, how we do it, or at what stage of the process, data is essential to make better decisions, learn and build a knowledge database.”

Covid had made a difference to industry forcing it to work differently, said Reynolds. “It took the coronavirus pandemic to get our teams and clients to realise the real value of data and what can be achieved if you think enterprise and data - it has been transformational,” he said. 

“It’s providing us with information to make better decisions, seek areas for lower costs, drive efficiency, improve safety, quality and productivity which will allow us to pay higher salaries and create a more attractive industry,” Reynolds  said. “The power of data is transformational at every level and essential if the industry is to make the improvements we are all striving to achieve,” he said.

Alison Atkinson, CEO and managing director at the Atomic Weapons Establishment pointed out that data security is obviously paramount and described data as “the oxygen of any business”. “Data, and the ability to interpret it properly, is the oxygen of any business. The reliability of business data coming through is vital, and there’s a need to achieve consistency right across the industry,” she said.

“It’s still about people who interpret data and produce fantastic outcomes – and there’s a huge opportunity to link the digital savvy of today’s established and emerging engineers with upgrading the skills of current decision makers,” Atkinson said.

Stephen Dance, director of commercial advice and delivery at the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, said that digital transformation provided a “massive opportunity” for the industry to help the nation build back better as part of the post-Covid recovery.

“When the economy is in deep trouble - which it is - and we want to build our way out of trouble, then we’ve got to look at the whole issue of companies that have been unproductive and have maybe procured in the wrong way,” he said. “We need to look at the whole lifecycle of buildings - from carbon, cost, modern methods of construction - and at the heart of that has to be the way we use and measure data,” said Dance. 

“From a sustainability standpoint, it’s important we use the data technology to help us build back better and greener. Without breaching people’s personal data, I would like to see data become free for the common good - and I’d like to see information shared as benchmarks for best practice,” Dance said.

Commenting on the webinar, Infrastructure Intelligence editor Andy Walker said: “There is no doubt that senior decision makers and clients across the infrastructure sector want to see digital innovations from the design, engineering and consultancy sector to help support their organisations and it’s abundantly clear that data will be a crucial part of this change. 

“The panellists at the webinar have done the industry a real service by sharing their insights and thoughts on how construction’s digital future will unfold and crucially what that will mean for those that work in the industry and also those that experience that work. Full marks too to Atkins for taking a leadership position on this crucial issue for the sector.”

Click here to watch a recording of the “Data - the foundation of construction transformation” webinar

This webinar was brought to you in association with Atkins

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