The advent of 3D building information management (BIM) helps in getting an accurate estimation of building materials. However, there is a new thought process on modularity, which involves doing all the pre-fabrication away from the site before getting them there for assembly, points out Praveen Mysore, Director, Infrastructure, India, Dassault Systemes.
Is technology deployment disrupting the infrastructure sector? And how?
Though technology adoption in the infrastructure space was slow in the past, it is picking up speed now. The COVID-19 pandemic has also played a role here. Although a lot of things happen with bricks and mortar in the construction sector, coordination remains a herculean task for the teams involved. On the design and architecture side, the advent of 3D building information management (BIM) allowed people to get an accurate estimation of building materials. At the same time, there is a new thought process on modularity, which involves doing all the pre-fabrication outside of the site before getting them there for assembly. Today, the industry is focusing heavily on this aspect and that requires technology. Other than designing in a modular way, it also requires planning of logistics like transportation of concrete from mixers based at locations far away from the construction site. There are technology pieces available to assist you with these aspects.
Does that mean technology is helping infrastructure firms optimise efficiencies?
Project governance involves engineering, procurement and construction aspects to keep the project within the budget and timelines. This is again linked to technology where you are defining the sequence of activities, assigning timelines and monitoring activities related to procurement, construction and execution. Technology comes into the interface with several aspects in the project lifecycle, right from the architectural stage to detail engineering to project governance to construction. There is no one way to construct a building or an infrastructure project. There may be two to three different ways, with each offering its advantage. So, you may want to stimulate and iterate virtually how a construction sequence may happen to optimise the utilisation of construction equipment like cranes and dumpers. Although the industry has been a little slow in adoption, these things have now become inevitable to stay competitive in the market.
The construction industry took a while to embrace new technologies. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has said that construction could play a major role in uplifting economies out of the recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic. So, what has hastened technology adoption?
The construction industry requires a large workforce. When the pandemic outbreak happened, a lot of construction workers returned to their home states creating a huge gap in the market. Now, of course, they are slowly returning and getting re-engaged at sites. But the important point here is the need for workforce planning. Within construction, you require different skill sets. So, it is important that you have a given workforce all mapped out. In the case of a large company like L&T or GMR, they would have their staff, as well as sub-contractors, picked up from the market after conducting a proper assessment. A company like L&T will have the skill map ready. Dassault Systemes has technology for workforce planning, where you have a skill map of the entire workforce's capacity that a construction company has and then based on the number of projects you have, details on their deployment.
Will this increased emphasis on workforce specialisation and planning lead to a reduction in headcount especially with labour shortages continuing at major construction sites due to reverse migration earlier this year?
The number of people may not go down drastically on an immediate basis. If you look at the modularity approach that we spoke of earlier, they will be for different levels of skills. They may not be the same skills that we presently find in the construction industry. The modularity approach requires processes deployed in a factory, with a fair amount of automation also involved. The people engaged there will bring different skillsets and mindsets. And when you bring the pieces of finished material onsite for assembly, you wouldn't be requiring as many people as you did earlier. The scenario will change. Maybe not immediately, but in the next five years' time. The modularity approach is already being adopted during the construction of large infrastructure projects. In small ticket projects, they still follow the conventional way. But it's a matter of time before they start realising its benefits. Also, with the potential for consolidation in the marketplace, the skill level will undergo a shift. Once this modularity approach comes in a full-fledged manner, you will find a reduction in delivery costs. This will have a positive impact on the infrastructure market as a whole. We will avoid comment on the reduction part, as it's still too early.
What are some of the segments in infrastructure that will see greater use of technology?
It will be there in all segments of infrastructure. The prime minister has announced several big-ticket projects like the Bharatmala, Dedicated Freight Corridors (DFCs), Sagarmala and the bullet train project. All of these require a massive amount of work on infrastructure projects. Post-lockdown, the boost to the economy is pretty much focused on the infrastructure market. Because this is a segment in which the government can pump in money for development.
But how open are Indian infrastructure companies in adopting new technologies?
The coronavirus pandemic has pushed companies here to examine them seriously. It is a matter of time before wider adoption happens. Being a software vendor ourselves, we are today in talks with several new firms in the market. They are looking at these pieces of technology to explore aspects that make sense to them. At least that synergy is there in the market at the moment.
Any new segments that you have initiated a dialogue with since March?
We are looking at segments across the infrastructure sector. These include all the sub-segments within urban infrastructure with state governments and municipalities as well as private entities that are into building apartment and commercial complexes. Since we have solutions for each of those, we are in touch with most of the companies active there.
How can enhanced use of technology help in fulfilling the goal of an Aatmanirbhar Bharat?
The government's Aatmanirbhar Bharat programme is all about encouraging self-reliance. In that respect, all the construction companies need to upgrade themselves on the technology front so that they remain competitive and quickly adapt to the market to deliver projects within the stipulated budget and timelines. Aatmanirbharta is all about how well you can indigenise and deliver the project independently and in a self-reliant manner. Technology plays a vital role here as it makes you improve your competence in a marketplace that won't have any place for inefficiencies in the long-term. Indian companies are already doing that and we would start seeing the results within a couple of years.
At a time when the country is urbanising at a very rapid clip, how can technology help in addressing a crisis?
You might be aware that several municipal corporations went about creating war rooms to monitor the statistics on COVID-19 cases and fatalities. Today, we have applications like the Arogya Setu that are again valuable pieces of technology. So, there is a clear efficiency aspect that technology brings into place even in these times of a global pandemic. At the same time, we at Dassault Systemes also offer a city platform where you can virtualise an entire city and use it for your urban planning requirements. You could also stimulate the containment zone to assess the impact of barricading and access to medical services before actually going ahead with it. Such planning requires technology. You can leverage technology to plans things in a better way. Likewise, the kind of monitoring tools being used in COVID-19 war rooms is all technology-enabled. These can also be applied in natural calamities like floods. Today we have seen how IoT-enabled devices are helping out during this pandemic or any other emergencies.
- MANISH PANT