Digital construction has been on the horizon in South Africa for quite some time. The COVID-19 pandemic has produced a new way of working, and new possibilities have emerged offering opportunities to transform construction processes.

Digital technology trends are revolutionising the construction landscape. This technical revolution means we need to think about the future and the way in which we design, build and manage buildings.

We need a clear and well-coordinated strategy to support digital transformation and adoption to increase revenue and reduce costs. Given the importance of this sector to the economy of our country, there needs to be an overhaul of methods and ways of executing activities in the industry. Many stakeholders are advocating for this transformation but right now we’re working in silos.  We need to start collaborating to make it a reality.

The world is experiencing one of the most transformational phases in human history, and the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) presents an opportunity to search for new ways to eliminate many of the inefficiencies and problems associated with the construction process.

The world is experiencing one of the most transformational phases in human history, and the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) presents an opportunity to search for new ways to eliminate many of the inefficiencies and problems associated with the construction process.

New digital technologies such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) have made it possible for projects to be built virtually before they are even constructed physically, thus increasing the competitiveness of the construction sector. Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies are paving the way for digital transformation. IoT allows construction machinery, equipment and structures to be connected to the web for remote operation, thus enhancing workplace safety, for example. Using video game technology, construction professionals are now able to operate Augmented Reality (AR) wearables and drones to access data and make quicker and better-informed decisions while building better and wasting less.

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The threat of climate change 

According to the World Economic Forum, buildings and construction account for 38% of worldwide carbon emissions. This means that we cannot solve the climate change problem without transforming the construction and building industry. This challenge also presents an opportunity to leverage technology and improve efficiency and sustainability.

Customer expectation is also one of the factors driving digitisation in the industry. Environmental issues have become more important as customers are becoming increasingly concerned with the wellbeing of the environment.

Innovative new Green construction technologies such as self-healing concrete are expected to bring the industry a step closer to its more efficient and lower-carbon future. Currently, the global output of concrete accounts for 8% of the world’s carbon emissions, according to the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

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Urbanisation

It is estimated that 1.3 million people move into cities every day. By 2040, an estimated 65% of the world’s population will be living in cities. This pace of urbanisation requires significant investment in infrastructure and housing to accommodate regional population shifts, highlighting the need for urban sustainability.

Construction and the built environment deliver a huge amount of waste to the world — therefore choices made about how cities are built, inhabited and maintained will have long-term global impact on the environment. This is one of the reasons why many city governments are working on smart city initiatives.

Digital technologies can help governments become resilient to the effects of climate change and contribute to economic growth. Compact cities, with well-designed services and infrastructure, reduce the cost of energy provision, transport, and other services that businesses need. This, in turn, increases productivity and efficiency, and encourages private investment for economic growth.

Disruption has become the new normal. As imagination becomes innovation, we need efforts from industry stakeholders, professional bodies and government agencies to drive the much-needed collaboration between architects, quantity surveyors, builders and engineers. We need to work together across the various sectors to drive change and create the future we want.

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