Digitalisation in construction: Mixed blessing for collaboration in projects


The United Kingdom (UK) construction industry has seen the last years a proliferation of digital technologies used throughout the project lifecycle. Through this increasing demand for digitalisation, industry practitioners are subjected to an unprecedented exposure to visions and rhetoric for the ‘Construction 4.0’, a fully automated and smart industry, leveraging cyber-physical systems. Nevertheless, amidst this technological determinism, projects struggle to leverage these digital technologies. Initially, the focus of the research was to identify the effect of a digital platform, namely Building Information Modelling (BIM), on collaboration in construction projects. More specifically, the study addresses the following research question “To what extent can digital technologies such as BIM facilitate collaboration within the construction industry”? As part of the research, the primary data has been collected through eight 1.5 hours-long interviews carried out with leading industry professionals and policy-makers in the UK until the data reached saturation. Afterwards, the collected data was coded, using open and axial coding, analysed and discussed with academic literature. The industry experts agreed that digital technologies such as BIM definitely have the potential to improve collaboration in the industry. To this end, they acknowledged that digitalisation can provide better utilisation of information, integrated working platforms, clear evaluation of project requirements, ensuring a lifetime approach and increasing overall efficiency. Nevertheless, beyond these easy and obvious answers, the study revealed surprising new challenges related to the implementation of digitalisation and its relation to collaboration. To a certain extent, digitalisation was a mixed blessing for collaboration, because of cultural barriers within the construction industry, that restrict any form of collaboration. Therefore, the main focus for improving collaboration through digitalisation should be on changing the culture, making it more receptive to collaboration. Because of the key findings mentioned above, the paper turned out to be covering the cultural aspects within the construction industry, in relation to acceptance of BIM. So, although the study set out to explore an operational topic (that of collaboration), it ended up discussing the high-level concept of culture among teams and industry. The phrase ‘adapt of die’ is more relevant to construction now than any time before, because if its culture remains non-collaborative, as it is now, digitalisation will continue facing the same barriers during implementation, despite all benefits it offers. Furthermore, the study provides practical recommendations to the industry bodies. This includes paying attention to the importance of cultural aspects, introduced by Schein (2010). Moreover, there should be a proper leadership to “walk” people through the change, ideally performed by the government. Also, it is advised to encourage collaboration, through tackling the artefacts and norms, which is the “top” of the cultural iceberg to leverage digitalisation in construction.

In Project Management Congress (PM Congress)
Dr Eleni Papadonikolaki
Dr Eleni Papadonikolaki
Associate Professor in Management of Engineering Projects

Researcher and consultant at the intersection of management and digital economy