There’s a reason a barge needs more than a third of a mile of space to turn around: It’s huge. The same is true for behemoth construction firms; their size alone can make it difficult to change course. Factor in quality control, safety, and costs, and transformation becomes a daunting prospect. In construction—which is one of the least digitized industries, with only 1.2% of revenue going toward technology investment—how does a giant, global company buck the trend?
Skanska, the world’s fifth-largest construction firm, is getting future-ready by setting ambitious goals to become a more competitive and sustainable organization. Using its Skanska Sweden division as a pilot program, the firm is rolling out initiatives to reduce construction costs by 20%; cut construction time by 25%; and improve the division’s overall health, safety, environmental record, and social responsibility by 2023. And it plans to get there by implementing the latest and greatest digital technology, with the intent to create a domino effect in its divisions around the globe.
Henrik Ljungberg, Skanska Sweden’s digital innovation manager, says the next four years will be a marathon, not a sprint, focused on the digital infrastructure needed for future success. “It’s more about setting up the technical capabilities required to make our fast-approaching deadline possible,” he says. “We don’t have any projects delivering on our goals just yet, but we’re putting ourselves in the right place to succeed.”
Two Initiatives, One Destination
Pivoting an organization of this scale involves fundamental cultural and technological shifts. For Skanska Sweden, that meant launching two new organizational programs: DigiHub and the Digital Construction Platform (DCP).
DigiHub is a development initiative promoting research and innovation—think of it as a kind of innovation center. Within it, the company can test new products and services on a smaller scale before they are implemented throughout the organization. For example, Skanska is exploring new technology initiated by the DigiHub in its design of the Sthlm New Creative Business Spaces mixed-use complex in Stockholm.
The bulk of the company’s digitization, however, is taking place on its DCP, which will better connect coworkers, partners, subcontractors, and customers through updated technologies and coordinate the large amounts of data used in building projects. Skanska plans to incorporate machine learning, Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, carbon-footprint tracking, and real-time tracking of jobsite equipment on this platform.
In short, the DCP is a single source of truth that will save time, reduce errors, and prevent change orders on-site. In the near future, it will be the place to collect data (drawings, models, quality issues, and checklists) from past projects, analyze them, and then use the results to benchmark and improve current project performance.
Power to the People
“Everything is about making digitalization a natural part of every employee’s everyday life,” says Skanska’s DigiHub manager Lotta Wibeck. “We want to use the technology to support the work and make information about drawings, deliveries, and planning available in real time.”
To make this transition, Skanska is decentralizing technology for each business unit (country) rather than taking a one-size, company-wide approach. “We think that our biggest challenge is not the technical part,” Wibeck says. “It will be people and the mind-set towards digitization, since everybody is affected in some way and we are all at different proficiency levels with different short-term goals.”
To that end, for the past two years, Skanska has made digital coaches available to individual employees and departments to help them work in more efficient, technology-supported ways. “The digital coach bridges our employees and construction sites with our colleagues and subcontractors,” says Patrik Johansson, a Skanska solutions architect and digital lead. “For example, we’re collecting data on our carbon footprint to improve our impact on the environment. Together with Autodesk, we’re then able to pick the right material for the job during the design process and easily see the impact of different materials.”
But First, a Better Foundation
All of these organizational shifts revolve around developing a strong DCP. “It is our foundation,” Johansson says. “It was built on both Autodesk BIM 360 and Autodesk Forge, together with Microsoft and Bluebeam; collaboration is key. Here we store and parse past project data, analyze it, and use our own set of internal tools to inform current projects.”
By centralizing this information, he says, “Our end users can review all previous 2D drawings, 3D models, and documents from any device, instead of relying on often outdated and costly misinformation like before.”
Various integration points, data sources, and API (application programming interface) layers are used in service of this goal. “The challenge today is that it is hard to analyze structured data with unstructured relationships,” Johansson says. “Our idea is to collect and relate data from different systems to each other logically, and we are convinced that this will unlock the possibility of both AI [artificial intelligence] and machine learning. And that will help us make better informed, faster, and more confident decisions.”
By using AI and machine learning, teams will be able to interpret and analyze bigger amounts of data and create new insights on safety, sustainability, and efficiency. “We can make insights available to our site colleagues in real time,” Johansson says. “This leads us to work proactively instead of reactively with challenges, project plans, risks, and cost controls.”
Skanska is also using object recognition to discern patterns in on-site safety and efficiency. This can alert the company to colleagues and subcontractors moving in risk areas and ensure those workers on-site have the proper safety equipment—which can all be visualized with the tools being used, such as BIM 360.
A New Way to Work
The platform is constantly evolving. “We already have a lot of data and information coming in from existing equipment, sensors, and cameras, but we still haven’t been able to automate its analysis,” Johansson says.
He adds that the data is already becoming more useful and relevant to current projects. “With the help of machine learning, we hope to interpret and analyze bigger amounts of data and share those insights with project leads and subcontractors to ultimately improve our safety, environment, and efficiency.”
So, what will it take to move the needle on Skanska’s goals? Ljungberg reiterates the importance of teamwork over technological know-how. “No one can sort through digital construction on their own,” he says. “Collaboration is key between our employees, partners, and standards.”
In short, “The winner is not the one with most digital tools, apps, sensors, and scanners,” Ljungberg says. “The winner will be the one who gets the whole company to embrace this new digital way of making and building things to the point of it becoming the way we work now. That’s what we’re hoping and betting both our DigiHub and Digital Construction Platforms can do.”