Strategy, Data and Prefabrication: What 2021 Could Hold for European Construction

european construction 2021

The events of 2020 have proven that making predictions can be very difficult. But it has also shown that being ready to adapt to whatever comes your way is critical – and looking ahead can help businesses to become more resilient.

Our previous blog explored how Europe’s construction industries adapted to the disruption of 2020, using technology to stay operational in the face of the most difficult circumstances.

In this blog, Autodesk’s Mike Pettinella, Matt Keen, Sander Lijbers and Nicholas Klokholm share their thoughts on what’s next for construction and how businesses can build the resilience to adapt to any surprises ahead.

From survival to digital strategy

For many construction organisations and owners, 2020 was about getting through – and technology played a significant role in adapting to disruption. According to Sander Lijbers, District Manager for Belgium & Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Israel and Eastern Europe, the year ahead will offer opportunities to build on those changes.

“Next year, the biggest trend in construction will be organisations refining and enhancing how they use technology,” he predicts. “Changes were often made on the fly, but now there’s no way back to the way things were before. Instead, in the months ahead businesses should take stock and look to their next steps forward, to take even greater advantage of digitalisation.”

Nicholas Klokholm, Nordics District Manager, believes that integrated digital platforms will be key to success in 2021. “Companies are increasingly focusing on their processes first, rather than individual digital tools,” he explains. “There’s growing awareness of the challenges of siloed data and systems, that necessitate time-consuming manual work to manage and transfer data.

“Organisations should look to establish a common data environment, and integrated digital platforms can offer vital advantages. That way, everyone will be working from a single source of truth, more information can be captured and organisations will be able to make more data-driven decisions.”

Combatting uncertainty with insight

Sander predicts that using technology intelligently will help businesses to contend with continuing challenges in the months ahead. “Not everything will be online; businesses will choose digital where possible, and physical where needed. But by using technology, firms can de-risk their processes to address the biggest challenge ahead: uncertainty.”

Matt Keen, Senior Industry Strategist, foresees wider changes in how construction organisations use and learn from data. “For a long time, we’ve talked about the importance of industry leaders getting visibility into the performance of projects and having access to real-time data to facilitate understanding.

“Looking to 2021 and beyond, I think visibility of performance will now move outside of board rooms, with middle management and project teams wanting to understand more about their project and individual performance and their exposure to risk.”

As well as greater transparency, this democratisation of data will lead to improved project outcomes. “I predict a growing demand for data that doesn’t just focus on monitoring progress, but allows teams to take action and avoid errors and poor performance before it materialises,” Matt explains. “I can therefore see teams across the industry defining and deploying data strategies to react quicker to changing circumstances – and more actively leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify errors earlier.”

Interest in infrastructure

The year ahead holds many uncertainties for construction firms, but there will be opportunities – particularly in areas like housing and infrastructure. “I expect infrastructure projects to rise in 2021 and for several years thereafter,” reports Mike Pettinella, Director of EMEA Sales at Autodesk Construction Cloud.

“The civil infrastructure of many countries is in desperate need of a revamp. Governments are likely to increase publicly-funded projects to fuel economies, helping to offset the potential slowdown in private sector projects.”

Interestingly, the UK government is reassessing how public sector projects are planned and managed – creating opportunities for businesses that make use of technology during preconstruction and beyond.

Prefabrication, smart buildings and sustainability

The growing digitalisation of construction businesses will open up new opportunities for the industry, according to Sander. As well as smart buildings, prefabrication will be an area of growth as organisations put robust digital platforms in place.

“Industrialised construction is a logical next step for organisations to consider. Through prefabrication, businesses can build off-site in a safe, clean environment, that’s more productive and reliable.”

Many construction owners are already considering off-site manufacturing methods, including two fifths of owners in the UK and Ireland. “Across construction, we should stop thinking about individual projects, and start considering building parts as products,” Sander continues.

“It’s like going to the BMW store and selecting the parts for your car; the vehicle feels like a tailor-made product, but actually every element is a standard component. It’s a more efficient, cost-effective approach for construction – and technology will be central to delivering that change.”

Demand for more sustainable construction is also set to grow in the year ahead. “I expect to see a rise in green energy projects, such as solar, wind and water infrastructure, as the world grapples with climate change and the need to find efficient ways to phase down fossil fuels,” says Mike.

Green building methods will also become more popular. According to our research, 41% of owners are incorporating sustainable construction requirements into tender invitations. Integrated digital platforms can help organisations to plan and build more accurately, reducing waste and rework – as well as implementing the new methodologies that owners are looking for.

So what’s the best way for businesses to prepare for these changes? According to Sander, by embracing digital in the year ahead. “My advice for all businesses is to use 2021 to get your own house in order with digital technology. Make digitalisation a part of your strategy; don’t wait until it becomes an owner demand. Then, you can improve your outcomes today – and you’ll be ready for what’s ahead.”

A brighter future

2020 has been an incredibly hard year for many of us – and organisations in construction industries across Europe have achieved extraordinary things, simply by continuing to operate. Hopefully, 2021 will give us the opportunity to build on the positives of the last year – and set the stage for a more productive, safe and sustainable future.

Miss our blog on 2020 in review? Read it here.

Amanda Fennell

Amanda Fennell is Director of EMEA Marketing in Autodesk Construction Solutions and Autodesk Ireland Site Lead. She has over 20 year’s marketing experience in IT, including working with some leading cloud organisations. Amanda holds an MA in Communications and Cultural Studies from DCU and is based in Autodesk’s European headquarters in Dublin.