What are the biggest challenges for the construction and real estate industry when it comes to digitalization?
The biggest challenge is getting management to understand what digitalization is, and what opportunities and threats it presents for their particular areas. It’s all too easy to leave this to the IT department. It’s important to understand that digitalization will gradually come to affect the entire organization, so it’s a top-level management responsibility to ensure that the organization approaches digitalization in a way that maximizes the company’s competitiveness. Like any other change, it can be difficult.
One key success factor is getting as many people as possible in the organization to understand why the changes are being made, and producing a realistic and inspiring vision that employees find attractive.
Another challenge is timing digital transformation right. Not everything that is predicted for the future will actually happen in the near term. It can be draining and expensive to move too early. On the other hand, it’s essential to keep an open mind about all of the changes taking place in the outside world and know when it’s time to act. Bill Gates is often quoted as saying that we tend to overestimate the change that will occur in the next three years, but underestimate what will take place in the next ten. Given the pace of development in the industry, there is still considerable potential to get a leap on the competition with an intelligent and realistic digitalization strategy.
What do you see as the most important business opportunities arising from digitalization?
Yes, it’s important to realize that digitalization offers all kinds of opportunities, not just threats. Most people perhaps think first and foremost of robots taking over our jobs, but that will probably apply mainly to monotonous tasks and so free up time for us to spend on more exciting things instead.
Digitalization can create business opportunities on the cost side by making things more cost-efficient. There are already companies in the construction industry using robots to nail and screw items together based on digital drawings.
But digitalization can also create more value for clients. Smart homes with everything from remote-controlled locks and ovens to energy-efficient building management systems are already a reality. Exciting apps for social activities and useful services such as carpools and free parking spaces are something many tenants appreciate. The opportunities are legion, and there is a real need for innovation.
What would you recommend as the first three places to start on digital transformation?
- Put digitalization on the agenda at executive level. Find out what is happening in your industry. Both at a more visionary level and at an operational level – buy a virtual reality headset and go on a digital house viewing, research new collaborative solutions and electronic sign-in systems, and so on. Be inquisitive and attend conferences on digitalization. The more you know, the better the decisions you and your fellow executives will take.
- Share experiences and insights with the rest of your organization. Get everyone involved in brainstorming on the opportunities offered by digitalization. Generate enthusiasm and a desire to succeed in the digital future.
- Get cracking. Ultimately you need to decide on something for the company to start with – a change project that is not too demanding. Be persistent and don’t give up until you get results. Keep everyone in the organization informed about progress.
The program “Executive Management for Construction and Real Estate – SBL” from SSE Executive Education singles out digital transformation as a key area both at a more overarching level, where it is tied in with other concepts such as Industry 4.0, and at a more concrete level, with discussion of how you as an executive can approach and get started on digitalization.