Speaking with the industry

Successfully accompanying the digital transformation - Schrobsdorff Bau AG

What challenges and opportunities does a digitalisation consultant see for construction companies? Eric Kalesky provides interesting insights.

Successfully accompanying the digital transformation - Schrobsdorff Bau AG

Eric Kalesky is a digitalisation consultant at Schrobsdorff Bau AG, a medium-sized construction company based in Berlin. A department has been set up in the company that is responsible for the internal digitalisation strategy. In an interview with Tenera, he describes the central principles and approaches that are necessary for construction companies to successfully meet the challenges of digitalisation. He explains how innovative solutions can be successfully introduced into functioning systems and how processes can be made more digital. He also shows how digital solutions can actually be implemented. Multipliers, an intuitive user interface, platform solutions and integrations are important keywords here. 

Principles and approaches to counselling 

The digital transformation is increasingly making its way into the industry, accompanied by the challenges that this turnaround brings for all players. For many companies, this development triggers a great curiosity about new ideas and software solutions. However, the quick purchase of a new software does not make a successful digital transformation - there are various possibilities for the concrete and, above all, sensible implementation.

A sensible starting point for the transformation in one's own company is consulting by external digitisation experts, whereby the acceptance is higher compared to an internal management consultancy and the knowledge built up also remains more sustainable in the company. Their work begins by looking at where the impetus for new projects comes from. If, for example, ideas are brought to the consultant by the company's employees themselves, the first step is an initial assessment and evaluation of possible software solutions that could be implemented. The consultant then deals intensively with potential solutions in his daily work, checks functions and benefits and sets up processes in the background. These processes are designed to ensure that the requirements placed on a software solution can actually be met.

When advising and searching for suitable software solutions for construction companies, one principle above all is crucial: digitalisation must support people. Kalesky describes exactly what this means for working with new solutions as follows: "Digitisation cannot be an end in itself and therefore it depends on where there is a current need in the company and how digitisation projects can best be embedded in the company flow in the process. It is important to listen in order to bring people's needs into focus." In order to be able to move these projects and processes forward in the first place, you need people who have the will to transform the industry. Acceptance of digitalisation plays a central role in this.

With digital-savvy "Innovators" Create acceptance for digitalisation and emphasise work facilitation

But how can you achieve acceptance of digital solutions in the company? By specifically highlighting their benefits for the individual addressees, Kalesky knows: "There are those who are always open to new things. I wouldn't base that on age, but solely on affinity with new things. Curiosity also plays an important role here. Acceptance is also really dependent on the concrete benefit." In order to emphasise this benefit and create acceptance, open communication is important. Not only should the work simplification and function of a digital solution be discussed, but also the associated residual risks. Acceptance can only be guaranteed in the long term if these risks are properly mitigated, be it by means of a contractually agreed rapid troubleshooting or uncomplicated communication. This approach sets learning processes in motion that consistently contribute to keeping possible hurdles for users small from the beginning and to cultivating an open approach to residual risks. 

Before a digital process is rolled out on a broad scale, the implementation should first take place in a circle of motivated employees, who can also be called "innovators". This refers to employees who like to try out new things and are not immediately put off by one or two complications. Kalesky has made an interesting experience here: 

"If you manage to convince people who were very critical and super sceptical at the beginning, they are the best multipliers in retrospect. There are quite a few of them. Especially here, personal and continuous communication contribute enormously to satisfaction. This effort pays off in the end because the company benefits from these multipliers."

The persuasion work described above in the sense of open communication also includes making it clear that the use of a new digital solution is accompanied by a certain period of acclimatisation, which may cause some gnashing of teeth. But once the application has been understood after two or three weeks, it is no longer possible to imagine daily work without it.  

During this settling-in period, a kind of all-round support is indispensable. You should be prepared for the fact that the users have many questions and get bogged down by even the smallest imponderables. Users should not be left alone in this phase, as even the smallest problems can lead to dissatisfaction with the entire product. Appropriate preparatory work must therefore be done with a view to this two- to three-week familiarisation process.   

Requirements for new digital solutions 

The familiarisation phase also results in a requirement for the complexity of new solutions. Since users should understand them within a certain period of time and use them as a matter of course, the user interface, for example, must be easy to understand and intuitive to use, so that users can find what they are looking for without getting frustrated. When it comes to the requirements for digital solutions, Kalesky therefore focuses on the user perspective:

"If I can explain the programme to myself without somehow having had an onboarding session, then I consider that to be a well-written programme with a good UX design. Because if I manage to explain it to myself, someone else will also manage to use the programme when it is explained to them. That's the first approach for me when I look at a new programme."

New digital solutions must therefore be both user-friendly and offer the necessary range of functions to actually make work easier. On the one hand, there are solutions that can cover every special case, no matter how small, but whose complexity may overwhelm the users. On the other hand, there are solutions that offer a smaller range of functions but require less staff training and are quickly accepted by the staff. The task for counsellors is to find solutions that combine both technical aspects and user-friendliness in the best possible way. These projects are also oriented towards the trends that the construction industry is currently dealing with, first and foremost Building Information Modelling (BIM).

Digitalisation trends: Cooperative use of BIM and platforms

BIM has long since arrived in the industry, but everyone understands the term differently. Currently, it can be observed that many companies are rushing into BIM without knowing exactly what is behind it. In accordance with the principle 'digitalisation should support people', the term BIM should be filled with life when advising companies. Only then can concrete projects be derived from the topic, which can then also be backed up with a proper strategy. However, it is very likely that there will be no way around the widespread use of BIM in the future. According to Kalesky, this will also determine whether construction companies can continue to exist: 

"I believe that construction companies that currently deny that BIM will eventually become a fixed standard for everyone will have a hard time surviving in the market in the future. Especially when corresponding regulations are agreed and laws are passed that stipulate that from a certain project size onwards, tenders may only be issued with BIM. When these regulations come and companies only start to deal with them, it is actually already too late. 

Apart from the concrete implementation of projects, BIM offers the opportunity to counteract the fragmentation of the industry. However, the transformation required for this can only succeed if processes are interconnected and corporate processes are redesigned accordingly. BIM as a cooperative approach is only successful if future ways of working are adapted to this vision. The task of the consultancy is primarily to keep an eye on the overall process and to ensure that no isolated solutions are created in the course of implementing BIM. Instead, the focus should be on solutions that enable all parties to work together.

In addition to BIM, platforms are another important tool in the creation of an innovative, digitised industry. In this context, Kalesky particularly emphasises transparency and openness of interfaces: "There probably won't be one platform that can cover everything. If a company has decided on a certain platform, it is important that it is also really open and that an exchange between different platforms is possible without any problems. That should be in the foreground."

UX design, BIM and platform solutions - in order for companies to be able to make more targeted use of the opportunities offered by these digitalisation trends in the future, previously untapped potential must be recognised and new paths broken. 

Challenges and potentials: New ways of working and more start-up mentality

When it comes to efficiently advancing digitalisation in the construction industry, there is still a lot of untapped potential in the topic of standardisation, especially with regard to the prevailing fragmentation of the industry. The different ways of working that come together in collaborative construction projects can be better brought together through uniform standards . In this context, standards and rules also have the potential to improve future working practices and minimise risks. Already now, the BIM standardisation roadmap of the Deutsches Institut für Normung (German Institute for Standardisation) offers initial pointers that companies can use for orientation. 

With regard to new ways of working, companies in the construction industry could also benefit from a certain start-up mentality, especially when it comes to the fear of mistakes and failure in innovative projects. Kalesky puts it this way: "The fear that something can go wrong is an obstacle to innovation. Companies should create opportunities for something to go wrong if it happens in a protected framework and if mistakes are learned from quickly. Here, the construction industry can definitely learn from start-ups." Of course, this does not mean that companies should question their own corporate culture for this purpose; rather, they should develop a healthy mix of innovative drive for innovation and awareness of tradition in innovative digitalisation projects and an agile way of working. 

To ensure that digital solutions meet the demands of the industry, it is worth taking a look into the future, especially at developments that will give additional impetus to digitalisation in the construction industry. In this context, especially due to the expected boost from digital solutions for efficiency and transparency in construction projects, 'Connected Construction', i.e. the idea of consistent data management along the entire value chain, can be seen as a central approach to bundle these topics. 

Connected Construction' sets the course for the future 

In the spirit of Lean, 'Connected Construction' can be understood as a driver of transformation processes in the construction industry. The focus should be on clear user-centricity and resource conservation, not only during the planning and construction phase, but also during the operation and demolition of structures. In this way, aspects of sustainability and embedding can be linked with BIM, for example. To achieve this, consistent data management along the entire value chain is crucial. To achieve this, data must not only be produced and used in isolation for one project, but must also be made available and usable at all times for the next service phases and other projects. In addition, the collection of all data of a construction project over the entire life cycle of a building provides significantly more transparency. This is the only way to save time and work more sustainably in the long term. For Kalesky, the advantage is obvious: 

"Connected Construction can shorten communication channels by working on a uniform database. This means that misunderstandings and scope for interpretation can be kept to a minimum from the outset by working with a uniform level of knowledge. Thus, the comparison with reality can take place faster and more efficiently.

This reality comparison can be important for construction supervision, for example, in order to make inventory reports in a project more easily visible and to react more quickly to changes. Connected Construction' thus enables more agile project management and helps to create better transparency in construction projects.  

It is precisely these aspects that will take on increasing importance in advising companies on future digitisation projects, together with the described acceptance of and requirements for innovative digital solutions and the associated new ways of working.

Published by

Maximilian Burger


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