Despite the scale of Africa’s construction industry and the demonstrated benefits of technology adoption in other industries, the sector has been slow to invest in modern hardware and especially software. This is in part due to Africa’s lower levels of internet penetration and the existence of a large, informal construction sector.
Resistance to Change
While the industry has many skilled artisans, most of them may have only worked in construction, thereby limiting their exposure to the benefits of technological advances in other sectors.
The proliferation of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the industry often sees larger projects involve a great many specialist but small-scale stakeholders. Where these SMEs have invested in technology, they may well have chosen different software packages, which can result in systems conflicts.
The perceived complexity and costs of modern technology (including the cost of hiring specialists) can also act as a deterrent to investment. Modern technology can be daunting to the uninitiated, and crucially, it lacks the tangible outcomes by which construction workers typically measure success.
Given the technological advances in other industries, the momentum for change may soon become irresistible, with those companies who continue to resist transformation finding themselves at a serious disadvantage.
The construction industry in Africa faces multiple challenges, including stagnant productivity and increasing costs driven by a shortage of skilled labour. These could combine to create an increased desire for technological solutions.
Measures brought in to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic have increased the focus on technology as a solution in a world where remote working and social distancing are part of the ‘new normal’.
Ripe for Increased Technology
On closer inspection, it is clear that the construction industry is an ideal candidate for technology adoption. Factors such as multiple disparate locations, the inherently hazardous nature of construction sites, and overcrowding in the sector; all suggest that construction companies that do adopt more advanced technology could gain a distinct competitive advantage. These include productivity and efficiency gains, in addition to the following benefits:
- Enhanced risk management through embedded processes in software solutions.
- Increased collaboration and idea-sharing;
- More rapid conceptualisation and modelling;
- Budget and cash flow management, with each site run as a separate business unit; and
- Improved cost and reconciliation control in multi-supplier scenarios.
What Needs to Change?
While Africa’s construction industry remains significantly under-digitised, resistance to change can be overcome through structured change management and by providing support to employees. Carefully planned integration is more likely to succeed than ad hoc implementation.
Innovators are also needed to overcome the somewhat insular nature of the industry. These tech champions may have to be recruited externally; that is, from sectors that have already experienced the benefits of investment in new technology.
Ultimately, increased technological adoption in the African construction industry will depend on two key factors: leadership within companies and an enhanced understanding of the impact that technology can have on people.