Thursday, June 13, 2024

Construction’s the answer to Sunak’s problem tech strategy | Construction News

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Haman Manak is procurement director at contractor Stanmore

Last year, Rishi Sunak’s International Technology Strategy set the UK’s path straight: we would pivot to remain at the forefront of innovation, drive success and establish ourselves as an unwavering global tech powerhouse. Unlike before, the strategy outlined the steps to place the UK on the tech podium. Misguided or not, it seemed we would finally brush shoulders with the world’s finest in Silicon Valley and Asia.

“The trendier tech sectors are incredibly congested and construction isn’t. The industry is a blank canvas”

Unfortunately, this once-promising ambition doesn’t have the confidence of UK businesses, according to one poll that cited a lack of industrial infrastructure. The prime minister must explore routes to turn around the strategy or else he’ll be faced with a damning consensus: that it was, sadly, a failed PR stunt. To do that, he must look at industries where tech could make a real impact and drive exponential growth. Construction should be the first port of call.

By no fault of its own, construction has faced a tough 18 months. Under the stress of the challenging macroeconomic environment, several firms went into the red. To this day, insolvencies are far too common than they should be. Firms are looking to safeguard their balance sheets, build up stable cash reserves and protect themselves from collapse.

Thankfully, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. Recent PMI statistics show the “fastest expansion of construction output since February 2023”. The industry is emerging from the rubble. Growth is on the horizon.

Now is the perfect time for the industry to shift its ways. The reluctant status quo has hampered sites more than it has benefited them. Firms should take the leap and open their arms to tech innovators.

Innovative technologies could bring many efficiencies; for example, augmented reality could help eliminate faults before breaking ground; and integrating automated design could reduce the length of the construction cycle. Tech could be a genuine growth driver, taking firms away from the insolvency-teetering state they currently find themselves in.

Coaxing entrepreneurs

This is all well and good, but there is an obvious caveat. In our digital-first world, among the marketing ploys, PR and vibrant advertising, there are supposedly groundbreaking technologies that don’t quite deliver on their promises. These false efficiencies pose a risk to firms that haven’t embraced tech before – they could be led down a misleading garden path by clever campaigns, exhausting their vital capital and resources.

Although technology has huge potential across the sector, it’s critical that firms are selective about where they invest. They should develop fleshed-out ideas about where they can apply different products. That will ensure they distinguish the best from the rest.

Nevertheless, on the other side, the industry offers tremendous opportunities for tech entrepreneurs. Construction is largely a blank canvas, which, coupled with its growing appetite for technology (as noted in NBS’s report), provides an ideal backdrop for uptake and success. For tech firms, the industry offers a space to conduct their best work, generate a boom in sales and experience sharp growth.

But for this to happen, construction still needs a nudge from the government. Unlike the trendy sectors of fintech, AI, e-commerce and the like, construction doesn’t quite appeal to disruptive entrepreneurs – it doesn’t have the same glamour or clout. Of course, this is despite the fact that the trendier tech sectors are incredibly congested, and construction isn’t. As I said, the industry is a blank canvas – construction should be a hub of tech entrepreneurs on the hunt for success.

So if the government and, more specifically, Rishi Sunak want to revitalise the strategy, they must unveil initiatives that highlight construction’s need for tech. Whether that’s through well-funded publicity campaigns or even tax incentives for startups tackling the sector, tech innovators must be coaxed towards the industry.

Construction is the answer to the strategy’s problems – the industry could be ground zero for technological success.

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