The future lies in adopting new technologies and changing mindsets, concludes a report presented recently at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

The report, Shaping the Future of Construction: A Breakthrough in Mindset and Technology promotes the effort needed by all stakeholders for the industry to fully realize its potential for change. The construction industry has been slower than most to adopt technological innovations. This is particularly surprising considering the industry’s central role in everyone’s daily life and its powerful impact on other industries, the environment and the economy as a whole.

The construction sector now accounts for 6% of global GDP, and about 30% of greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to buildings. Given the industry’s size and weight, even small improvements in performance would generate huge benefits for the world. Fortunately, change is already underway, headed by the construction firms themselves. Emerging digital technologies will boost productivity, enhance the quality of buildings and improve on-site safety and environmental compatibility: 3D models for guidance, robots for the dangerous work, and drones and embedded sensors to check on progress, for instance. “If you also optimize the planning and the processes, you could easily end up cutting costs by 15% and reducing the completion time by as much as 30%,” says Santiago Castagnino, a partner and construction expert at BCG, and also co-author of the report. Governments are key contributors to the industry’s evolution. A government is often not only the regulator but also the owner and a major client of infrastructure assets. By accelerating regulatory and environmental approvals, it can reduce project delays. It can improve competitiveness by inviting foreign bidders to tender, promote technological innovation by supporting academic and corporate R&D, impose environmental standards and weed out corruption in procurement practices. One of the megatrends shaking up the construction industry is an increase in the population of the world’s urban areas by 200,000 people a day, all of them needing affordable housing plus social, transportation and utility infrastructure. Challenges of this scope pressure the industry to change.

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