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Taking Digital Transformation Seriously: How Clark-Drain is Engaging with the Future of Construction

The world has gone digital, and the construction industry must evolve in the same direction if it is to continue to meet the expectations of both existing and new customers, partners, and employees, as a generation of ‘digital natives’ matures and makes its influence felt on the sector.

For us at Clark-Drain, this is just another opportunity for us to do what we do best – adopt, understand, and master the latest innovations that will add to the value we deliver to our customers (and their customers). After all, everything we do is, as we put it, ‘grounded in expertise’ – and digital will be no exception.

So, what is this digital transformation in the world of construction – and how is Clark-Drain ensuring it benefits its customers and its people alike?

Making construction digital: a wide canvas

The UK Government has invested over £170 million of funding in digital construction initiatives, via the Construction Sector Deal, in the Construction Innovation Hub, Active Building Centre, and various research and demonstration activities.

The definition of this transformation, however, is extremely wide. It can embrace everything from digital signoffs for deliveries, to the use of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) viewers to visualise proposed building designs in situ, through to interactive, shareable 3D design models and even the digitisation of building site logistics using sensors. (And much more besides).

It’s easy to be seduced by the technology in these digitised environments, and it is indeed extremely powerful, potentially delivering huge savings and efficiencies, but the reality of digital transformation in construction often starts with a far more fundamental activity: engaging and informing customers, prospects, and stakeholders – and this is certainly an angle we have focused on heavily at Clark-Drain, as we explore below.

Delivering engagement, showing value

In the space of just a few months, we have put in place a digital engagement strategy that has seen us vastly ramp up our content output on social media and, indeed, our website.

Why did we do this? Because the adoption of increasingly digital methods in the construction business – replacing time-honoured approaches that have long proven their worth – is not always an easy or instinctive internal ‘sell’.

The new era of digitisation must therefore be shown to deliver engagement and add value – and, of course, engagement on digital platforms like social media and websites is highly measurable.

Head of Sales and Marketing, John Carter, calls this the ‘proof of the pudding’ approach to digital transformation. Start small, demonstrate that it works, and then evolve upwards.

‘Switching to a digital engagement model delivered immediate benefits,’ he comments. ‘We were creating fantastic posts and content that were generating not only commentary, interest, and leads out in the marketplace, but an internal ‘buzz’ around how clearly and helpfully our expertise and experience were now being articulated.’

Ultimately, it has greatly benefited the customers, prospects, and other publics whose search for a solution to their problem now takes place almost exclusively in digital environments.

The ease of use of these platforms was a major factor in promoting their adoption at Clark-Drain – and this once again plays into our digital strategy. ‘You have to show the value a digital process can deliver in order to persuade people to back it and start using it,’ John says, ‘and for them to continue using it, it has to be straightforward.’

Gaining traction to build trust

Expanding this point, John also cites the example of BIM (Building Information Modelling) - a process for creating and managing information on a construction project across the project lifecycle by creating a digital description of every aspect of the built asset.

John explains that in a long-established business like Clark-Drain, there was a need for a precursor technology to convince stakeholders who are highly skilled in traditional design, engineering, and manufacturing disciplines of the wider benefits digital approaches, before actually fully committing to BIM.

‘We found another service, NBS, which connects us to the architects and constructors that will find our products useful’, he says. ‘By showing that you’re gaining traction by using one digital system, and proving it works, it enables people to buy into the idea of moving on to another.’

Tailoring training to the audience and culture

There is much discussion in the industry about how the usability and intuitiveness of digital solutions could be improved to boost their uptake and effectiveness, and this is a very valid debate.

However, at Clark-Drain, our digital strategy is also firmly focused on ensuring that our teams are properly prepared for how digital transformation will change the way they do things – and that means putting training and education in place that is receptive to the differences in digital sensibilities across age groups.

This is a theme that emerges time and again in the construction industry. In a recent paper by Voices in Construction, which you can download here, one commentator observed that, despite the fact that the process of digital transformation in construction is intended to deliver greater collaboration, younger people who make fluent use of digital tools ‘often then have to explain the results to the senior people who can’t use that process.’

There are cultural and behavioural considerations in play here, too. One of the benefits of digital transformation is that construction designs can be compared digitally, and clashes automatically flagged, but as John Carter once again identifies, ‘Admitting clashes or issues isn’t easy for older people who are exceptionally skilled in their field, so our strategy is to roll out digital transformation training not by function or department, but tailored to make sense to each person.’

‘At the end of the day, this business’s unique value proposition is built on the expertise, understanding, and diligence of those people – and they deserve more than a one-size-fits-all approach.’

Listening, learning, talking

There can be no doubt that digital transformation in construction can be a complex topic – and at Clark-Drain we take the view that a challenge shared is a challenge half-solved.

For this reason, we have engaged with specialists and experts from many other construction disciplines in forums like the Voices in Construction Insight Panel to gain greater insight into the challenges digital transformation presents, and how to overcome them.

At the same time, our customer projects with some of the industry’s most digitally savvy players (including Kier – see our recent case study) have afforded us a unique insight into how we can evolve our own digital approaches to deliver benefit not only to our customers and stakeholders, but to the natural environment as well.

At Clark-Drain, we’re serious about the future of construction – and that means getting serious about digital too.

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