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The Time Is Ripe For Radical Change In The Built Environment There is an urgent need for businesses to reimagine their business models, service offerings, processes, and client engagements with a digital-first approach.

By Suhail Arfath

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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At the end of 2020, Dubai's Ruler, H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE, approved the Government of Dubai's general budget for the 2021 fiscal year, with total expenditures of US$15.5 billion– of which 41% will be allocated to the infrastructure and transportation sectors.

While this announcement presents an opportunity for the local construction sector to take advantage of this planned spending –especially with the rescheduled Expo 2020 Dubai on the horizon– companies will need to approach it in an intelligent manner if they want to make the most of what's on offer.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also fueled a burgeoning cultural revolution within the industry. Construction firms around the world are waking up to the power and potential of technology, harnessing it to help firms continue operations while working remotely.

However, construction technology is so much more than a mere tool for remote working– in an industry mostly known for high-risk and low-margins, it offers a chance to attain incredible new highs and deliver incremental global value.

At this moment in time, the construction industry faces some of its most critical global challenges– such as meeting infrastructure needs for a rapidly increasing global population, delivering net-zero infrastructure, and last but not least, being known as one of the top waste-generating and low-productive industries on the planet.

According to a McKinsey & Company report, Imagining Construction's Digital Future, the construction industry is ripe for disruption, with large projects across asset classes typically taking 20% longer to finish than scheduled, as well as being up to 80% over budget.

In fact, since the 1990s, construction productivity has actually declined in some markets, the report highlights.

Therefore, it is no surprise that a good percentage of large and medium engineering and construction firms have been investing in exploring, choosing, and implementing the right solutions to enable their technological transition.

With approximately $1 trillion worth of projects planned or under construction through long-term, transformational masterplans and megaprojects in the UAE and Saudi Arabia alone, there is an urgent need for businesses to revisit and reimagine their business models, service offerings, processes, and client engagements with a digital-first approach that will help reduce costs and reach new profitability levels.

A digital-first approach will require more than targeted interventions and choosing technology. At best, merely investing in technology will address only a small part of the overall value at stake for the project ecosystem. At worst, poor choices and/or implementation of technology can end up adding additional cost, unnecessary confusion, and complexity to the ecosystem and project costs.

However, due to the complex nature of these projects, the industry will need to undergo a paradigm shift in many areas, so as to break from the past with all its inconsistencies and delays. If a digital-first approach is to work, the first thing that needs to be done is democratize data across the supply chain.

Nearly 96% of all data captured in the engineering and construction industry is let unused, and this is an unacceptable loss of invaluable resources and insights. Project owners will need to start taking control of their project data and take the lead in democratizing data in order to empower and enable their teams to deliver value, and not just contractual deliverables.

Data should not be left unused within an organization, role, or proprietary format. Instead, a seamless data flow and sharing culture needs to become the new norm. This is where technology-agnostic solution providers, such as Hloov, can be useful.

With a background in E&C domain processes and a strong expertise in technology implementation, solution providers like us can play a crucial role in helping businesses who are changing and moving through their digital transformation journeys at a fast pace.

By empowering forward-thinking owners, operators, and developers with this knowledge, these providers can help reduce waste with a digital-first approach, deliver carbon-neutral infrastructure on time and within budget, and reimagine the built environment in such a way that projects are conceived, designed, built, and managed by leveraging virtual representations of real-world entities and processes, synchronized at specific frequencies and fidelities.

The time is ripe for radical change in the built environment, and we can achieve this by rebuilding the project-delivery model from the ground up, with a digital-first approach.

Related: How Your Business Should Act In (And Adapt To) A Rapidly Changing World

Suhail Arfath

Director of Digital Transformation and Innovation, Hloov

Suhail Arfath is the Director of Digital Transformation and Innovation at Hloov, a data and technology startup that is on a mission to reduce waste in the engineering and construction sector.

With almost 20 years of experience, mostly in Fortune 500 company Autodesk, Arfath spends most of his time evangelizing about the possibilities and value of emerging technologies, like generative design, artificial intelligence, and digital reality to the engineering and construction sector with Industry 4.0.

He considers enabling the next generations of industry professionals a severe responsibility, and spends a decent amount of time with academia, sharing knowledge and experience with future professionals. As a catalyst, he endeavors to guide, mentor, and collaborate with people to leverage technology as they explore their own “future of design, build, and use.”

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