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Digital revolution in the construction industry

The most prominent technology trends and how they are impacting the construction industry

Intelligent technology is having an increasingly significant role in the construction sector and promises to increase productivity, increase quality and reduce costs. With the new ‘game changing’ technologies now available, is it time to implement them throughout the industry? The latest edition of FutureTech Construction Summit at The Big 5 brought together experts and industry thought leaders from around the world to highlight the most prominent technology trends, and to explain what competitive advantage they could offer in the region, and what is needed for widespread implementation.

Paradigm shift in building technology

Speaker: Muhab Benten, Director General, Building Technologies Stimulus Program at the Ministry of Housing, KSA

Key takeaways:
  1. Saudi Arabia has created a strategy to address its housing shortage.
  2. The government will focus on streamlining the building and approval processes.
  3. Offsite and modular construction is at the core of the solution.

Saudi Arabia has a young population, with a large percentage of the country under 40 years of age. An increasing number of young Saudis are, and will be, looking for their own affordable and modern homes.

Currently, around 50 percent of the population own homes, with a stated aim of Vision 2030 being to bring this number to 70 percent by 2030. However, Saudi Arabia is facing a significant housing shortage.

The government has plans to tackle this challenge by addressing one key issue: building and approval processes. As Director General of the Building Technologies Stimulus Program at the Ministry of Housing, Muhab Benten is focusing his department on creating an evolved system with fewer delays, less red tape, and standardised procedures.

The use of modular homes within Saudi Arabia is fundamental to this strategy. Prefabricated and built offsite, this method allows buyers to design their dream home, enabling them to pick and choose the features and style they want. The nation is also looking to the world’s best designers to help create modern, future-proof homes.

Another advantage of modular homes is speed. Unlike traditional builds, these homes are delivered to the site and can be assembled in a matter of days. In addition, modular homes, as they are built in one location, represent an important step towards standardisation within the industry.

The Saudi Ministry of Housing envisions a future focused on a streamlined purchasing process, where buying a home is as easy as buying a car, and building a custom-designed home takes months, not years.

The future of construction is here and it’s called ‘digital twins’

Speaker: Paul Surin, Global Lead BIM & Digital Construction at IBM

Key takeaways:
  1. BIM is not being used to its full potential.
  2. A lack of universal language makes data collection and analysis challenging.
  3. IBM is creating software that unifies data collection language.

One of the main challenges facing construction companies is the correct implementation of BIM and effective data collection. Much of the data collected throughout the building process is unstructured and isn’t providing the insights businesses need to streamline their processes.

It is also worth noting that BIM is often utilised purely as a 3D modelling tool, when this is only one of its functions. Used effectively, BIM is a complete information management tool. However, while technology is an enabler, there is still a lack of universal language with different systems collecting data points. There still isn’t a common industry standard, so systems struggle to communicate with each other.

IBM is creating a unique “digital twins” software that will enable all systems to come together, creating a standardised data template that will allow users to compare data points across projects using different software. This will play a key role in allowing companies to fully utilise their investment in BIM software.

When applied properly within the organisation, technology has the potential to increase productivity and standardise practices. Globally, the construction industry is still in the very early stages of whole scale implementation but it is time for the industry to modernise and utilise building tech to its full potential.

The role of artificial intelligence in construction

Speaker: Krystal Herrington, AEC Cloud Solution Sales Manager, Middle East & Turkey at Autodesk Middle

Key takeaways
  1. 3,600 new buildings are required globally per day.
  2. Technology can help the industry meet this demand and do it sustainably.

The world’s population is rising at a rapid rate. By 2050, 10 billion people will be alive, two-thirds of whom will live in cities. Right now, 400,000 are moving into the middle class per day, all wanting the best modern spaces in which to live and work. In order to meet this demand, approximately 3,600 new buildings are required globally per day.

Whilst this demand is great for the industry, it also comes with a significant environmental cost. Construction accounts for 30% of waste globally, and a large amount of resources within the construction sector go unused. AI, and tech generally, are increasingly seen as essential tools for the sustainable use of our limited resources and meeting the growing demand for construction.

One of many examples where tech is being used right now is the Myanmar refugee crisis in Bangladesh, where huge refugee camps spring up overnight. To help better control the development of these camps, including properly identifying and allocating resources, AI and 3D mapping were used to capture the topography of the land, identify underground water supplies, and develop a rainfall analysis graphs.

Another AI innovation has been the now famous ‘spot the construction dog.’ The robotic dog is able to autonomously navigate stairs and avoid obstacles whilst capturing AI-analysed, 360-degree images on site, relaying these images back to engineers providing them with a more complete overview on the construction process.

Technology such as AI, 3D mapping, and more are already helping the construction industry tackle the challenges that arise onsite as well as new issues stemming from population growth and mobility. As the 21st century progresses, we will continue to see technology develop to meet new and existing demands more sustainably and at an increasingly rapid pace.

How the IoT technology is propelling smart home and smart building innovation


  • Youself Khalili, Head of Smart City & Smart Government Practice & General Manager, NXN, UAE
  • Fahmi Jabri, General Manager – Security Business for Middle East, Turkey and Africa, Honeywell
  • Kamal Kathpal, Marketing Director – Smart Buildings, AB
  • Markus Strohmeier - Senior Executive Vice President, Regional Solutions and Services, Smart Infrastructure, Siemens Middle East
  • Marwan Zeidan - Real Estate and Healthcare Segment Director, Middle East and Africa, Schneider Electric
Key takeaways:
  1. The IoT has the power to dramatically increase productivity.
  2. Data collection is key to full IoT functionality.
  3. Significant improvement in cyber security is required.

The IoT is already a USD 200 billion industry, and this figure will continue to grow rapidly. In terms of smart buildings, the market is set to grow 30% annually over the next five years. Experts now debate how it influences productivity, data collection and cyber security. Another important question is the implementation and ROI of IoT adoption.


One of the obvious benefits of IoT technology is a reduction in operational cost. Buildings can reduce their consumption and reduce utility costs anywhere from 20% to 50% with the IoT. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg of what is possible.

The real value in the IoT is a better user experience, whether for residents or in a commercial sense. IoT can help organisations maximise their existing efficiencies and introduce new ones, aligning more closely with effective energy usage, and space planning. A smart building or office increases happiness for the user and increases productivity for the people working in it as well as reducing expenses.  The ideal breakdown of expenses for company offices can be explained with the 3/30/300 rule:  USD 3 per sq ft on utility bills, USD 30 per sq ft on rent/the lease, and USD 300 per sq ft on staff.

Whilst reducing energy usage through interconnectivity and IoT is important from an environmental standpoint, it also impacts employee productivity. By some metrics, employees are unproductive for 57 days in a year. If, through an interconnected, more productive working space, companies can reduce employee unproductivity, this is where the true value of the IoT lies.

Data collection

The IoT devices available today bring the promise of interconnectivity and more fluid operations. But can they deliver? Whether it’s sensors for large industrial projects or an IoT-enabled sensor in a standard power socket, tech is collecting data.

The challenge lies in the method of collection and analysis of this data. The best approach is for companies to start incorporating IoT initially in small devices, getting used to the process of collecting and interpreting data, then gradually expanding the IoT to other areas of their business.

Cyber security

Modern homes are fitted with devices that can film and listen to the users on a nearly constant basis. With so much valuable data moving online, what impact will this have on the rise of the IoT and how can we protect ourselves?

Against this background, cyber security is a serious concern. Data collection is extremely valuable and cyber security threats are constantly evolving. IoT is the hot topic amongst tech companies right now and many are rushing to get their products to market. Often, smaller tech companies don’t have the budget to invest significantly in the cyber security of their products. And like all tech, users have to adhere to the basics of security and be aware of risks.

Implementation and ROI

For greenfield sites, IoT implementation is fairly straightforward: new office buildings, hospitals and homes are blank canvases, ready to incorporate IoT functionality directly into the build. Once operational, the devices will start to provide an ROI quickly.

The main challenge is with brownfield sites, where the majority of buildings were designed pre-IoT and where building management systems were installed without a clear strategy. A lot of existing building management systems have their own protocols, and extracting data from them is a real challenge.

Retrofitting IoT systems into brownfield sites must start by assessing what systems are in place and continue with small changes, such as adding sensors to existing systems. It makes more sense financially to retrofit IoT devices, rather than to replace existing ones. With retrofitting, ROI will likely take longer, but savings will be achieved.

The next breakthrough transforming the landscape of construction: 3D printing

Speaker: Patrick Sheldon Wee, General Manager at EMAAR

Key takeaways:
  1. 3D printing is faster, more accurate and requires less man power.
  2. The technology can create innovative architectural structures and features.
  3. Dubai is set to be a global 3D printing hub by 2030.

Whilst still a relatively new technology, 3D printing has already demonstrated that it can be a real disruptor within construction. The technology is fast, accurate and can create intricate detail in builds. It requires far less manpower than a traditional build and has the potential to dramatically reduce waste. 3D printing within construction will also provide the end user with more options, in terms of both design and use.

Emaar recently completed Warsan, the world’s largest 3D home. The 640-square meter property stands at 9.5 meters tall and has incorporated a number of curves and innovative architectural features to showcase how 3D printing can create innovative designs that are extremely challenging for a regular build.

Key to the growth of this technology in the UAE has been His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who launched the ‘Dubai 3D Printing Strategy’ with a vision to make Dubai a global hub for 3D printing by 2030. The aim is for at least 25% of new construction to use 3D printing by 2025.

With support from the government, 3D printing within Dubai and the region in general will see a sharp incline in use to create futuristic homes and office spaces for the next generation.

Digital transformation era of construction industry

Speaker: Maged El-Hawary, Controls Director at ASGC

Key takeaways
  1. Machine learning to reduce waste and increase productivity.
  2. Effective data collection is key.
  3. The digital revolution is closer than many in the industry think.

It’s generally agreed that we are now reaching the fourth stage of the Industrial Revolution, combining man and machine. We are seeing a number of trends already happening as a result, including automation, augmented analytics, IoT, and integrated technology. For example, autonomous drones and robots are already available to construction companies, and soon autonomous cars will be common on our roads.

Large amounts of data are now available to companies. As technology evolves, machine learning can manage this data and extract the key elements, enabling construction companies to identify areas of waste or underutilised assets.

An interconnected network of devices that collects and exchanges data will not just enhance the end users’ personal and professional experiences both inside and outside their residences and offices. It will also dramatically increase the speed of the construction process to deliver completed projects in record time and up to international safety standards.

These trends are part of a growing connected, intelligent digital ecosystem. As the technology evolves and is adopted throughout the industry, the possibilities are truly endless and will transform the construction sector from the top to the bottom. Those who can adapt to the new digital world, will thrive. Those who cannot will fall.

Innovation and technology – expanding building lifespan to increase ROI

Speaker: Stuart Harrison, CEO at Emrill Services

Key takeaways:
  1. Many of the region’s buildings can become a lot more energy efficient.
  2. A lack of investment in maintenance is causing inefficiency and reducing building lifespans.
  3. Some form of taxation is needed to reduce energy consumption on a large scale.

The IoT is fundamentally based on the idea of connection. While the application is different, the principle of connecting things to each other has long been in use.

The majority of buildings in the region could see a number of ‘quick wins’, and reduced building maintenance expenditures, when using IoT solutions. Even the most basic building management system can be adjusted to make significant savings in terms of energy use. For example, integrated temperature and vibration detectors have long been used to give an early warning when a piece of machinery is starting to fail.

The lack of willingness to invest in regular building maintenance is a recurrent issue. Often, even basic components are not correctly installed or regularly maintained, meaning they run inefficiently. And whilst the implementation of tech into building systems does reduce costs and improve efficiency, many are unwilling to invest as the ROI is typically around three to five years. In a challenging market, businesses are unwilling to make this upfront investment for long-term gains.

In order for people and businesses to implement real energy saving tech into the region’s buildings, it will realistically require some form of taxation or incentive program to ensure adoption on a large scale.


The final part of the FutureTech Construction Summit saw the introduction of round table discussions. Each table was led by an industry expert and provided the attendees the unique opportunity to express their opinions on some of the most pressing issues with their peers.

Hot topic 1: How will blockchain impact on the future of construction?

Chaired by Anoop Srivastava, the Chief Transformation Advisor, Energy and Natural Resources at SAP Middle East and North Africa

Key takeaways:
  1. Blockchain can increase productivity, transparency, and reduce waste.
  2. A difficult implementation process is holding back blockchain.

While it is recognised that blockchain is a great tool for increasing productivity, transparency and reducing waste, the question is how blockchain is being utilised by the industry at present.

A fair assessment is that blockchain is still difficult to implement. There are multiple stakeholders in the industry, and with so many moving parts, getting everyone on board is a challenge few in the industry have been able to overcome.

Within the construction industry, there is an overall consensus that blockchain is in its infancy, and that a cloud-based approach is likely to be the first way companies begin to use blockchain on a larger scale.

Hot topic 2: Why are prefabricated buildings and modular construction gaining so much traction?

Chaired by Sreekanth Sreenivasan the VP for Business Development at Katerra.

Key takeaways:
  1. Several issues exist around building codes.
  2. Large scale investment is needed in prefab buildings and modular construction.

On a global scale, the uptake of modular construction has been slower than expected. Whilst the benefits of this building method are clear, there are misconceptions around design flexibility and architectural freedom. In fact, prefabricated homes actually provide more design freedom than many realise.

Another reason why modular construction hasn’t grown as expected is that modular builds have experienced issues with buildings codes. This issue could be resolved if government stakeholders and civil bodies lent their support to this form of construction. Saudi Arabia in particular has been proactive, which is exciting for the future of modular construction in the region.

A number of smaller projects have been completed successfully, which is encouraging and shows the benefits of the technology. But the general feeling is that large investment is needed in order to make this technology scalable, and industry still has a long way to go before it becomes common place.

Hot topic 3: Automation in the construction industry – boon or bane?

Chaired by Ben Piper, the Principal and Partner at Killa Design, and Maged El-Hawary, Controls Director at ASGC.

Key takeaways:
  1. Automation is difficult to implement on a large scale.
  2. The lengthy ROI period is a major deterrent.

There is a general consensus that automation is positive for the construction industry, as it increases efficiency, while reducing errors and waste.

There is a concern, however, that the widespread use of this tech would reduce the number of employees onsite and that it would require a significant shift in both thinking and approach toward labour on all levels within the industry. However, whilst traditional roles may be reduced, automation would create different opportunities for employment within the industry.

Some key questions remain unanswered, such as what areas should be automated as a priority and what incentives can be offered to push companies to implement automation.

With profit margins fairly tight across the industry, it is difficult to convince managers to invest in automation at the moment, particularly in light of a complicated implementation process and medium-term ROI. However, with reduced regulation and increased government support, there was real optimism that this region is well-placed to be early adopters of automation and other technologies.


There is no doubt that technology is shaping the future of construction. The industry needs to take advantage of the increase in efficiency and improvement in quality that new tech offers.

However, implementation is slow. Traditionally, the construction industry has not been an early adopter of new tech. Not many are ready to take the gamble and embark on the daunting task of incorporating new tech into every aspect of their business. Whilst many new technologies are being used, their adoption into large scale projects is still relatively untested. Much new tech is difficult to connect to each other and using data effectively is difficult when there isn’t yet a universal method for data capturing.

With the applicable tech still in its infancy, a lot of the issues preventing companies from adopting on a large scale will, eventually, be resolved. Support from governments, especially through some form of subsidy, would be useful in giving the industry the confidence to invest in new technology, and the time is soon coming for the region’s construction industry to move into the future.