From crisis response to strategic vision

Driving industry collaboration and agility. By Tim Whiteley

A silver lining of the Coronavirus pandemic is that it has served as a catalyst for positive change, accelerating digital and cultural trends that were already at play, but which were previously moving at a fraction of the current pace. Through smart and rapid reaction to the pandemic, the construction and engineering sectors have been able to keep working – a great achievement – but hopefully we have all been learning too, so that our next steps are better informed and strategically sound. To help us not only meet future challenges but enrich our working lives.

And if ever there was a time to continue innovating, then that time is now. Covid-19 is in full swing, a recession on our doorstep and Brexit is looming – all of which bring the likelihood of sustained industry disruption, with significant implications for the broader building supply chain, operating models, cash-flow and ecosystem.

So, where do we go from here?
New working practices and technologies have, out of necessity, been rapidly brought into play this year. But now, as we move out of crisis mode and consider what comes next, it is the time to assess existing implementations and determine whether they form the best strategic basis to both meet the clear challenges of 2021 and beyond, whilst also realising all the rich benefits of an agile working model. Organisations need to be able to respond to events as they arise; to maintain or even improve the quality of their work; to better utilise resources and increase productivity whilst protecting the health and wellbeing of staff (onsite and off); to reduce unnecessary overheads across project teams and ensure investment is rightly targeted at solutions that will help us not only survive, but succeed.

Connecting the digital dots in three steps
So, how can they do this? In short, construction and engineering firms need to now connect the digital dots in three key steps:

1. Recalibrate resilience:
One of the biggest threats to remote working are cyberattacks – according to a recent Threat Report from VMware Carbon Black, 92 per cent of UK cybersecurity professionals said attack volumes have increased as more employees work from home. In addition, more personal devices are in use, home networks are unmanaged, data is becoming dispersed across more locations and disparate services. Strategic planning needs to address these elements – security, redundancy, ease of management – to ensure greater resilience is built into systems, infrastructures and processes.

Having the ability to continue operating just as effectively as pre-pandemic – if not more so – is not only beneficial for larger contractors. With projects forging ahead and contracts being honoured, it also helps support the resilience of the broader supplier ecosystem such as building material firms.

2. Build-in indefinite agility:
Remote working forced firms to embrace cloud collaboration tools and services, such as virtual desktop platforms and Microsoft Teams and, having witnessed the benefits, employees are set to demand greater flexibility going forward. Leaders expect this too – a recent survey from the Institute of Directors found that 74 per cent of company directors plan to keep increased at home working after coronavirus. This may well mean reducing costly overheads such as large fixed office spaces, and companies will need to work smarter and be lighter of foot to accommodate both employee and financial pressures. Cloud services have an integral role to play here.

Construction and engineering professionals face particular challenges, especially those teams who need to collaborate on complex design files with their dependence on powerful workstations and fast network speeds. Whereas many organisations will be using remote desktop technology or established software specific services, questions need to be asked about whether these provide the desired performance as well as addressing the wider contexts of connectivity, use of building resources and overall resilience. Are there better, more innovative solutions out there? (The answer to that question is most definitely ‘Yes!’).

3. A phased approach, with a long-term goal:
Commencing serious consideration and implementation of appropriate solutions now should help cement certainty in the future, helping companies secure the edge over their competitors and generate a significant return on investment. This is not just a technological conversation, it’s a commercial one. IT teams need to co-ordinate with senior leaders of the organisation to ensure that digital technologies are incorporated in line with the priorities of the broader business.

This calls for a strategic, phased evolution; one that can be constantly reviewed and refined in line with constantly-changing macro factors and one that interrogates robustly all those old ‘certainties’, ensuring that investment is made in a progressive and intelligent manner. The bottom line is that, given the unpredictability we’re facing, leaders need to have the flexibility to rapidly pivot and change direction to meet the demands of today while anticipating the challenges of tomorrow.

Rising to challenges ahead
While Covid-19 has certainly taken its toll on firms, the technological acceleration driven by the pandemic has induced a greater robustness, flexibility and capacity to absorb shocks across the industry and power the good that it can do. The near future looks tough right now. But we can stay connected through smart strategic thinking and informed use of technologies including cloud collaboration. We can innovate to meet every challenge. And we can evolve through this time of adversity to become so much better at what we do.

Tim Whiteley is co-founder of Inevitech. Inevitech is a joint venture between Open Virtualisation Solutions and Workshop IT – two businesses that have led the delivery of IT services to the architecture, construction and engineering sectors for decades. The combined experience, insight and understanding of its founders has shaped Inevitech’s approach and the development of its signature product: Inevidesk.
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