Technology: cost versus value

April 2, 2018

Kevin Latimer, director at Trench Networks Ltd, reflects on the impact of technology in the construction industry

There has been a dramatic shift in recent years in the construction industry’s attitude towards ‘digital’. For some, this means laptops, tablets and smartphones. For others, it’s all about BIM and project management software.

The truth is somewhere in between – each of these technologies is an enabler or participant in a wider digital construction strategy, one which needs to encompass data acquisition and collaboration for each stakeholder across the entire supply chain to really deliver ROI. It’s now time to focus on the benefits of deploying the right technology in the correct way, looking at the improvements in productivity and the value of collaboration rather than ‘technology for technology’s sake’.

Digital needs site buy-in
A well-conceived digital strategy and deployment of one of many emerging and established collaboration platforms can deliver huge benefits to all stakeholders, from transparency with clients to interoperability and accountability with subcontractors. The value of a project delivered with BIM is now easy to see, especially in the years after completion.

As an example, modern tablet computers are an ideal data capture and delivery device – with built-in cameras and powerful processors, they can be used for everything from validating the credentials of site operatives to comparing live plans against actual work.

One thing that always surprised us is the lack of engagement from one of the most important yet overlooked stakeholders in the entire process – the site team itself – but a long-held culture of being ‘stuck out on site’ still holds true to this day. What we see in most clients we engage with is that a site IT and communications deployment consists of handing the agent a laptop, mobile phone and dongle because it has a predictable, minimum impact on the bottom line and is usually quick to mobilise.

What this doesn’t do is deliver the value of your other digital investments to the site, or more interestingly, doesn’t leverage the value of the data the site itself brings.

At Trench Networks, we recently engaged with a top contractor to compare the low-cost dongle approach with a deployment of our Outpost communications system and to observe the benefits. The improvements in productivity were clear – by effectively turning the site into an extension of the office, they could work in familiar ways and the team immediately became more engaged.

Looking ahead to what a larger scale deployment would look like, it becomes easier and more cost-effective to leverage new technology investments, such as using tablets to capture the most valuable data directly from the site itself, as well as deploy more diverse site teams when network connectivity is a given, rather than a possibility.

Network security is a step towards data security
With GDPR on the horizon, never before has the security of your data been so important. Another benefit we’ve noted for clients moving away from dongles has been the improved control over IT assets. With total visibility over an IT estate, it’s easier to enforce security policies and with Outpost’s end-to-end encryption and private cellular network, there is no possibility of data leakage or interception as it travels between your systems.

A great security addition to any remote site is Network Access Control (NAC), something which is standard on Outpost. With an increasing number of devices spending time on other networks, it’s so much easier to pick up malware or miss out on vital security patches, but NAC ensures no device is allowed onto your network until it has been thoroughly analysed and is adequately secure. This also makes it easier to secure these ‘edge’ locations from prying eyes by taking a multi-faceted approach to security.

The cost versus value argument will no doubt wage on but when considering the demonstrable impact on productivity, security and having your sites fully bought-in to your digital strategy, the argument for deploying robust, fit-for-purpose on-site communications to site is more than compelling.

Trench Networks Ltd

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Supporting role: Lyndsey Britton and Gemma Carlile