GUEST ARTICLE: The building industry needs to embrace digital technology to thrive

  • 30 Oct 2019

Luke Polach is CEO and Founder of Buildiro, the world’s first mobile app designed to optimise the supply of building materials to sites and make that process more efficient. Luke’s ambition is to digitise the construction industry through the use of digital technology, data and integrated software. Here, he writes about the building industry needing to embrace digital technology to thrive.

I ran my own building company in London, where my role was to get materials to site on time and on budget. During that time I was staggered at how far behind the building sector was in embracing digital as a route to transform our industry into a far more efficient and competitive one.

At the same time, I witnessed the huge penetration of smart phone use by individuals, and the advantages technology was affording other industries.

Both seemed to pass our sector by. Instead, the building industry seemed content to plod along in the traditional way; driving around for hours trying to source a much-needed item, securing deals with a handshake and you still saw some scribbled calculations and plans on notepaper.

I am often asked why, as a Czech national I decided to start my tech start up in the UK during the Brexit negotiations.

In my opinion the UK is much more likely to embrace change in the building industry than counterparts in Czech. Brits are more willing to be early adoptors, on both the trade and merchant sides.

I identified a very specific problem facing the UK building industry and devised a way to improve it, plus I knew that whatever happened with Brexit, the UK construction industry would continue at pace on both a commercial and domestic scale. 

I have long wondered why, as an industry we have been so slow to adopt technology. The big construction companies seem to be more adept in using digitised sourcing systems for example, but the smaller companies seem far more reluctant.

Is it because we are not a regulated industry, meaning that there is no central body to make us keep up with evolving best practice standards?

I certainly think there is a fear of embracing technology in the work context, plus there are of course the prohibitive up-front time and cash costs involved, as well as a skills gap amongst people already in the industry to be able to innovate in this direction themselves. I think a lot of people are comfortable with the status quo.

In spite of this, over the last couple of years it has been encouraging to see the emergence of contech; from Checkatrade through to Roofing Calculator and Truckast.

However, I’m not entirely convinced that the penetration of such technology is particularly widespread, and there are certainly still countless areas where technology could help small (and large) companies from all avenues of the construction sector.

Contractor – sub-contractor communication is one obvious one. I know from experience that clients put contractors under constant pressure for progress updates, and in turn the contractor passes that on to their sub-contractors.

A simple software platform would manage these three-way communication requirements very efficiently without any party needing to chase another.

Two other advances I think could make a big difference across the industry are smaller outfits adapting the scheduling technology used by their larger counterparts, and a sub-contractor recruitment platform which means that at the click of a mouse you could find the skills you need, available when you need them.

I urge everyone in the building trade to adopt the technology already available to us, whilst being open to new advancements, because it is changes in attitudes as well as the development of technology itself that will help the industry to ‘go digital’.”

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