- French construction company Spie Batignolles is using digitalization to streamline preconstruction and create new ways of working.
- Taking a holistic view, the company regularly evaluates digital tools and work methods to optimize production and rein in carbon emissions.
- Collaborative tools use jobsite data in all phases of construction, determining when to deploy additive manufacturing, prefabrication, and other strategies.
Ordinarily, nothing is more discreet than a satellite cybersecurity center on a military base. The facility that houses Europe’s Galileo global navigation satellite system near Paris, however, is breaking every stereotype. Ironically enough, its glass facade, like a vast mirror, reflects an open view of the world.
It’s a break with tradition that tradesfolk at French construction major Spie batignolles are well-positioned to explore as they work from Enia Architectes drawings to build on this top-secret site. In fact, it’s by breaking with tradition
that Spie batignolles is accelerating its future growth.
Reaching New Heights With New Work Patterns
In an industry such as construction, which weighs heavily on French national gross domestic product, certain practices stand to be reevaluated. Indeed, as companies drive to deliver better building and energy performance guarantees, it’s urgent to revisit some workflows as early as the preconstruction phase. In such a vast undertaking, digital transformation and BIM (Building Information Modeling) can be essential.
“For us, ‘transformation’ involves addressing organizational and work methods while ‘digital’ alludes to the tools that support these new methods,” says Thomas Germain, chief information officer at Spie batignolles. “This means that the underlying goal of digital transformation is to create an organization that is more efficient across departments, with a broader base that discourages the formation of silos.”
Many in the industry agree. In fact, a recent International Data Corporation (IDC) report on the state of digital transformation in construction outlines multiple benefits to digitalization: improved productivity levels—up to 15% higher—as a result of more efficiently managed resources and optimized costs and deadlines, as well as mention superior safety and risk management. All of these practices contribute to building a more resilient business. This next level of digital transformation depends on building a road map that outlines how to digitalize while remaining efficient. It also hinges on developing staff members’ digital skills and setting up an operational structure that encourages companywide digital integration.
As company adaptability is being put to the test, construction companies that have proven their agility through digital transformation will be in a better position for the future. “Up to 45% of global construction expenditure will be allocated to new processes,” says Autodesk Construction Solutions Vice President and General Manager Jim Lynch, who describes the mission as “making construction more resilient, safe, and sustainable.”
Focus on a Skills-Driven, Interdisciplinary Approach
“A holistic view is necessary,” says Alexis Hermet, corporate director of execution quality and technical innovation at Spie batignolles. “Focusing on digital alone would make for too limited an approach.” He goes on to explain that while the BIM process and its associated tools bring the project owners, builders, and the prime contractor together, “the transformation is above all economic, ecological, technological, philosophical, and organizational.”
Nevertheless, digitalization remains at the heart of Spie batignolles’ overall transformation process. Germain says dematerialization “represents an essential lever that boosts innovation in all fields”—and with good reason, because successful data collection and mining (BIM, connected objects, and so forth), along with industrialized construction (prefabrication, 3D printing, and so on), all rely first and foremost on efficient digital transformation.
Senior leaders also consider regular reevaluation of both digital tools and work methods to be important for optimized production. Given the impact that construction activities have on the environment—39% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide—anything that can be done to lessen their effect is a pressing matter.
With a wealth of resources at its disposal, Spie batignolles does not intend to introduce an all-out innovation policy. Rather, it will move forward step by step, continuing to experiment and to capitalize on skills that are specific to its areas of expertise, which include foundation work, public works, construction, civil engineering, real estate, and energy.
Create Expert Communities to Accelerate Innovation
Germain is mindful of respecting his workers’ expertise. “To maintain a high standard and progress toward a common goal, it is important for each of the communities to retain their technical competency,” he says. “After that, we can bring our expertise together through dedicated forums.” To accelerate innovation across numerous business lines and share key communications with various decision-making bodies within the company, Spie batignolles formed four expert communities, with representatives from each field meeting regularly to discuss topics such as BIM, lean construction, digital tools, and new building methods.
Each of the four communities comprises a member of the executive board, a member of the management board of each operational division, and professionals who are responsible for evangelizing with teams in the field and bringing issues back to the group. “Information no longer trickles down from the top of silos, nor do we envision getting rid of them, as we would have a few years ago,” Hermet says. “Instead, we are trying to make them more porous, which will give us the agility we need to adopt new technological or managerial practices.”
In 2016, Spie batignolles began to develop a new method, focused on synergies, to improve its overall performance. In 2018, it also began to develop an internal BIM community, giving careful thought to how it could keep one foot firmly planted in the field and the other in strategy. “The BIM community is a catalyst that allows us to know what is happening in each subsidiary in terms of digital innovation,” Hermet says. He goes on to explain that when it comes to deploying new processes, Spie batignolles takes a progressive approach. “We are currently conducting a number of experiments in all our areas of expertise,” he says. “Later, we will use the feedback to show how these innovations could be adapted to larger jobsites or different types of projects.”
Unleash Transformation Through Collaborative Tools
After experimenting with collaborative tools such as Autodesk BIM 360, Spie batignolles is considering ways to use jobsite data before, during, and after the construction phase. This process provides opportunities to expand skill sets, as well as to intervene further upstream to optimize budgets and further downstream to provide new services to customers. These new services could include delivering a digital twin of a structure to facilitate maintenance.
Using a collaborative platform gives the firm real-time access to total man-hours (actual vs. budgeted) and better control of reservations on the construction site with augmented reality. The platform can also incorporate connected objects, such as a device for tracking lifting equipment, so that evaluating usage is quick and easy. Finally, through BIM, 3D printing can be mainstreamed on the jobsite.
On that matter, Spie batignolles is exploring the benefits of building some formwork and reservation boxes off-site. Dematerialization plays an important role in industrialization: It is important in both the standardization of certain references and in a customized approach. Germain and Hermet note that Spie batignolles is currently exploring what additive manufacturing and on-site prefabrication can bring, given their advantages in terms of profitability, quality of execution, lead time, and safety. “The first tests enabled teams to cut down complex beam intersections from two days to one,” Hermet says.
Performance is typically evaluated by taking into account time and economic factors, materials quality, and environment, and it is calculated using an efficiency grid. “Often, additive-manufacturing partners come into the picture very early on in the process for architectural elements such as tree-shaped posts or prefab elements produced off-site. We want to approach additive manufacturing from a production and productivity standpoint and, if possible, make it a key element of our strategy,” Hermet says.
Be Willing to Break With Tradition
The new rules that guide change within the various expert communities at Spie batignolles can be counted on one hand: Communicate, accompany the shift to the next level, guide the deployment process, explore new trends, and structure data. These goals are impossible to accomplish without relying on digitalization with a digital model.
Although profitability is the prevailing driver of jobsite management in an industry with tenuous margins, Germain asserts that “at a time of deep transformation of our business model, the most important aspect is not the product we build, but the women and men who carry it.” That’s the reason why Spie batignolles relies on a new generation of managers and engineers who are attracted by the opportunity to invent new collaborative processes—a generation willing to break with tradition.