A​ ​SMART​ ​approach​ ​to​ ​the​ ​future​ ​of​ ​the Construction ​Industry

Technology is all around us and has become an integral part of most of our everyday lives. How we travel, how we work, how we relax, how we shop – all of these have been changed forever by the technological developments that we have seen in the last 2 decades.

Despite this change happening all around us, the construction and engineering sectors have been slow to grasp the opportunity that digital technologies present – and that is why on 23rd November a new event called SMART Construct was launched in Armagh City Hotel.

This is one event in a new series organised by Naomh McElhatton who has worked in the digital industry for almost 20 years. “Technology is revolutionising the construction industry in so many different ways but with so much technology available it’s a hard path to navigate” explains Naomh. The day was packed with a variety of speakers and panel discussions and a number of key topics emerged from the day.

Key to success for any event like this is a solid reason for existing and Naomh is very clear about the purpose that SMART Construct will serve. “This is absolutely not an event about technology first” says Naomh. “It’s an event about understanding the issues that the construction industry faces today and showcasing how others from both this sector and others have used digital technologies to solve these problems for both their own and their customers’ benefit.”

A key point to come across early in the event was the productivity issues that the construction industry faces. Steven Wood from Digital Catapult was the first to raise this issue in his keynote address and he reminded the audience that the construction industry is currently 30% less productive than industry according to a recent report from McKinsey. This was echoed by Richard Kirk of the Institution of Civil Engineers who told us that even in comparison with other European construction sectors our productivity is 30% lower. “This requires a new approach as it won’t be fixed by keeping doing the same things” said Mr Kirk in his speech. “Faced with global population growth and an ageing population we can’t simply build our way out of these new challenges. We need a new approach.”

One of the other key topics of the day was BIM – Building Information Modelling – and our relatively late adoption of this technology in how we design and build offices, houses and infrastructure was cited as a key factor in why our productivity lags behind our European neighbours.

Michael McLornan from the Government’s Central Procurement Directorate highlighted their recent adoption of the BIM Methodology while also highlighting that this had been standard practice in Finland since 2004 and North America since 2007. The system in Sweden is now so well integrated that if a member of the public notices a broken kerb stone they can simply take a photograph of it and submit it through an app where it will go to the relevant Government department and be scheduled for repair. “BIM reduces the opportunity for error and waste” explained McLornan “which results in cost savings and carbon reduction on all Government building and infrastructure projects.

Systems integrations are possible with the will to do it, the investment in it and the culture to make it work.” The topic of culture was a constant thread across the day and it was interesting to hear several of the contributors highlight how the culture of the organisations that we inhabit is a key factor in determining whether we will manage to realise the opportunity that technology offers us all. “It requires big change in many organisations” explained Tim Monroe, Marketing Director of Smiley Monroe during one of the panel discussions. “We may be operating in very traditional industries in construction and engineering but if we don’t embrace digital change then the very future of the industries we serve is in danger.”

Chris Acheson runs a company called CADshare that offers construction and mining equipment manufacturers a cloud based e-commerce platform to help them sell more spare parts. “The explosion of technology in our everyday lives it’s resulted in higher expectations from our customers in terms of how they expect to be served” he said. “The self-service culture is not the future – it’s here already and our customers want us to make it as easy as possible for them to deal with us. If we choose to ignore this then they will simply go elsewhere as what they really value is the solution that will require a minimum amount of effort.” He went on to highlight a report from Forbes which presents the opportunity that new digital technologies present while also concluding that a major barrier is that Senior Management have not done enough to understand the opportunity and as such cannot translate this into the value that these new technologies will bring for their organisations.

This skills gap in the construction and engineering sector was another recurring topic of the day. In order for us all to be able to navigate this new digital world we need to both re-skill our existing people and ensure that the industry is an attractive option for our young people.

Timothy Hegarty of BeIMCRAFT was another contributor to the event and his presentation highlighted how through connecting with a young audience in a language they understand we can make the industry relevant and engaging. The BeIMCRAFT concept is founded on the popularity of the MINECRAFT game that is very popular with school children. BeIMCRAFT takes the MINECRAFT concept and develops it so that children gain an understanding of how the construction industry works in real life. If you try and construct a building without foundations it will simply collapse – as will a road without the adequate base layers.

It also teaches them the importance of insulation and efficiency in construction by highlighting the energy lost from poorly designed buildings. The tool also focuses on the very important health & safety message that the industry has and shows young people why this is important. This was highlighted in a very real way through a video interview with a young user of the game from Mayobridge Primary School. The learnings that he had taken from playing the game were remarkable. As was his assertion that before he played it he would never have considered the construction industry as a future career but the ability to use all these technologies had convinced him that it would be a great industry to work in.

The event also included presentations detailing how digital technologies could be used from a marketing perspective to shorten sales cycles and increase client engagement during the design process. Gary McCausland from the Richland Group demonstrated how the creation of engaging 3d animations of new developments increased the possibility to sell off plan and maximise the value secured from projects.

Finally we’ve all undoubtedly heard how the robots will be taking all our jobs in this new digital world. There was some good news in this regard from Steven Wood who highlighted the emergence of Cobotics – where human beings work alongside robotic technology to maximise efficiencies in construction projects. This was brought to life by the story of SAM 100 from a company called Construction Robotics. SAM 100 lays 3,000 bricks per day – which is 6 times more than the human average. The interesting part is that while SAM 100 is putting the bricks in place a human being is needed as well in preparation of the mortar.

And that sums up the theme of SMART Construct and the message that we should all take from it – there is a huge opportunity with digital technologies for us to improve productivity and efficiency. It’s about understanding the technologies that will be most relevant for our businesses – and interestingly that requires that we stop focusing on the technology for a while and instead ask ourselves what the future challenges for our business are.

Once we’ve got these answers it will be far easier to see how technology can help our individual businesses to continue to grow. Steven Wood of Digital Catapult highlighted a resource that we can all use to help, with the launch of a new Technology Readiness Level (TRL) benchmark in early 2018. This tool will allow companies to assess where they currently sit on the technology adoption journey and will suggest the most appropriate actions for you to take to move along the scale.

Plans are already underway for SMART Construct 2018 and details will be announced early in 2018. Speaking about this Naomh McElhatton said “SMART NI is all about digital education for businesses. We are already plotting and planning next year’s SMART Construct. There’s a huge demand and appetite for this information and we will keep you up to date with the latest industry insights and best practice”

Peter Craven
Bluesky Video Marketing

Data, Data, Everywhere!

“Data, data everywhere, but don’t know what to think!”. Apologies to Coleridge and the Ancient Mariner but, today, many retailers are sailing in a sea of data, much of which is not relevant, specific to their business, insightful or actionable. The thirst for such data about shoppers has never been greater nor more important.

I suppose I am a bit like an Ancient Mariner myself, having started in the retail industry 36 years ago with no EPoS system, no merchandising or supply chain data. So we had that fixed, initially with NCR tills that recorded sales on magnetic audio tape and a Wang mini-computer running software that we had written for us! It transformed our business – we could get insight about what was selling, what made us the most money and what inventory we needed to purchase. All pretty basic stuff today. But it was OUR data, it was insightful and we could action it very quickly.

Today’s shopper, though, is a different proposition altogether – informed, issue aware, connected, mobile, channel fluid – and the retail market is much more competitive. E-commerce was a thing of science fiction in those days (the first secure online sale transaction was not until 1994!)

There are oceans of market intelligence data, consumer data, demographics, etc., etc. available today which can help to guide and set context with respect to macro shopping behaviour, but it is inadequate to provide the real, deep, actionable understanding that is needed to compete, survive and grow.

There is a revolution underway in the retail market driven by major disruptors like Amazon and the biggest disruptor of all – the modern shopper themselves. Focusing on the fancy new technologies or stores that brands like Amazon and Walmart are building will not help smaller retailers stay relevant—but their shoppers will.

Retailers should look beyond the flashy headlines and focus instead on the “era of the individual”. It is neither necessary nor feasible to take on Amazon or Walmart, but retailers can create the same type of experience for their shoppers that drove their competitors’ massive scale success – build your strategy from your shopper up, rather than the boardroom down.

So, just as we did all those years ago with inventory and product sales, retailers of all sizes must take control and build up their own data to understand what their shoppers want, what they do when not with them, how their behaviour changes over time, by mission, etc. It’s smarter and faster to buy or license technology platforms to get going quickly and then over time get much better at using technology strategically to drive the shopping experience.

This becomes insight that can be used to personalise that experience across the full customer journey, grow qualified footfall and basket size – more shoppers, spending more, more often.”

Wise words from David Morgan, COO at Velocity WW


Marketing Responsibilities

You’ve been appointed marketing executive, marketing manager, digital marketing assistant, whatever the title. Now it’s up to you to sort out the Company’s marketing and online presence.

Easy peasy … right?

Our Founder, Naomh McElhatton, delivered a workshop recently on the value of Instagram for Business, there was about 120 people in the room. Before talking about “Instagram” there was a discussion around marketing, in the most general terms. Everyone in the room was looking for that magic ingredient to drive news sales through their online efforts.

Playing devils advocate Naomh asked a few questions. “Hands up who has a business plan?” About 60% of the crowd put up their hand. “Hands up who knows how many sales per month you need to make to break even?” About 80%. Then I asked “Hands up who has an actual, physical written marketing plan that highlights and defines the business goals and channels being used to drive the business forward?” About 2% of the crowd put up their hands!! 2% … the rest of the audience looked at their shoes, as the tumbleweed drifted across the floor.

Surely it’s worth the investment in putting some time into drafting the aforementioned document. Not only does it help you stay focused on what you’re trying to achieve it also lets the rest of the team see how the business is going to move forward (from a marketing perspective!)

Now, heres the thing. The marketing plan does NOT have to be War and Peace. A guideline document that highlights the mission and vision of the business, the tone of voice and that it defines your marketing channels and content pillars.

Following the end of the workshop we had another Q&A session. Lots of really great questions were asked. How many times per week should you post on social media? How often should you upload blog content to the website? Should you boost posts on Facebook? How do you know if Google Analytics is installed on the website? What is Google Analytics? What is SEO? We could’ve talked for hours.

Much to their disappointment the secret ingredient doesn’t actually exist. Online success comes from planning, iteration and integration. Listening to your customers, understand what their needs and wants are. Know where they hang out. Just because Joe Bloggs down the road is doing it, doesn’t mean you have to – don’t be a sheep!

Never assume (you know what that means!!)

Whilst the responsibility ultimately lies with the marketing team or person, this has to be a collaborative effort from the top down. Guidance and highlighting objectives must be given to make it work.

If you’re struggling to get to grips with your marketing plan, get in touch with one of the SMART NI team and we can help connect you with the right agency or person to help.

Posting on Facebook does not equal Digital Marketing!

So you post on your Business Facebook page twice a week … well done.

Can I just point out, this does not actually equate to you “doing” digital marketing!!

It amazes me how many brands and businesses are somewhat confused. Just because they post on their social media channels does not mean they are utilising the digital marketing real estate available to them. According to Smart Insights 50% of Businesses do not have a fully integrated marketing strategy!

Below is a little food for thought on how to put your digital strategy in place so that you can really start to take action and reap the benefits.

The starting line … ask yourself:

  1. What are your business goals?
  2. What are the objectives (as in what does online success look like)
  3. What is your online value proposition (OVP – what can you do better than anyone else)
  4. What channels are you going to use (take note you DO NOT have to be everywhere, just go where your customers hang out)
  5. What’s the competition up to!

At this stage it’s a good time to introduce and implement Dave Chaffey’s SOSTAC Approach. SOSTAC is a planning model, originally developed in the 1990s to help with marketing planning by Dave and PR Smith.

SOSTAC stands for:

  • Situation – where are we now?
  • Objectives – where do we want to be?
  • Strategy – how do we get there?
  • Tactics – how exactly do we get there?
  • Action – what is our plan?
  • Control – did we get there?

Take a look at all the factors that may have an impact on your marketing environment.

How do you build rapport with your customers? Think of how you sell to them, is this effective?

How do you speak to them online? Make sure you define your tone of voice.

What are your customer service levels really like? If there is room for improvement, fix it.

Can you develop some sizzle? Think about your online personality, is your content boring? If so don’t be afraid to jazz it up a bit.

I live by the rule of thumb if your content does not EDUCATE, INFORM or INSPIRE Do not post it!

We engage and buy from businesses because we trust them, we feel part of their community. So it is vitally important that you understand how you acquire and retain your customers. Yes, we all love the quick sale, but it is the retained customer that sustains us.

When it comes to building your business and customer engagement online, think about the 4 I’s:

  • Involvement – why does the customer get “involved” with you
  • Interaction – how do they interact
  • Intimacy – what emotion does your brand, product or service evoke?
  • Influence – how do you convert these guys into brand advocates and get them to share the love?

Every channel you embrace must be reviewed, none of us want to be a busy fool. Using the iterative process alongside your analytics and insight data, you will be able to identify very quickly what’s working and what’s not.

Although a laborious process to begin with, having a structured plan in place will definitely be worth it in the long run.

If you need help with your strategy do get in touch or drop me an email naomh@smartni.online

Good luck!!

Remember “A Goal without a Plan is just a Wish” 😉