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Behind the curve: Construction and AI

The construction industry still relies on traditional methods and is under digitized compared with other sectors, says a McKinsey report

Joanna England
|Sep 29|magazine6 min read

Despite being worth $10 trillion annually, the construction and engineering industry is falling behind in terms of digitization, a recent report has found. In the Artificial intelligence: Construction technology’s next frontier from McKinsey, an analysis of the data from the construction sector reveals only a modest shift towards technical solutions, compared with other leading industries.

Although construction has seen numerous increases in software and tech solutions, especially since the global pandemic, the sector has doggedly hung on to far more traditional styles and systems of project management and execution. But, the report suggests, a change is coming, and construction will be forced to enter a new, digital age.

Digital partners

Recent data suggests that because so many business partners of the construction industry have entered a new, digitized era, by association, the construction sector will be forced to play catch-up.

Areas where construction can apply a technical solution are numerous. The study points to start-ups that are already applying AI tech to improve performance and efficiency. The areas of greatest success are:

  • Project planning, assisted by project schedule optimizer
  • Site management surveillance using image recognition to identify unsafe worker behaviour and site practices, to improve training and employee education
  • Data analytics systems that collect and analyze information which forecasts maintenance issues, cost-cutting opportunities and downtime prevention

However, adoption of AI systems remains low, despite the positive uptake of new businesses using the technology. Another challenge is that AI relies on experience and past learning to forecast helpful outcomes. And because it is new to the construction industry, there is a lack of ‘critical mass data’, which will only improve as the industry develops and turns increasingly towards AI solutions.

Five apps transferable from other industries

There are applications that are used in other industries that could assist the construction industry in its transition to AI solutions. These are;

  • Transportation route optimization currently used by transport companies
  • Outcome prediction applications that are used in the pharmacy industry
  • Retail supply tech which assists in inventory management
  • Image recognition used in healthcare to carry out risk assessments
  • Machine-learning algorithms

But ultimately, before swifter progress can be made, the report points out that construction companies will need to reverse their current trend for under-investing in AI. They will also need to focus on hiring experts with technical backgrounds and implementing and integrating new software platforms to bring them up to date with other, leading industries.

McKinsey report
Construction Global magazine