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Connected Sites
Unlocking Business Value in Australia's Construction Industry

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Connected Sites: how do they work?

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

What are Connected Sites solutions?

A Connected Site is where the infrastructure, environment, people, and machinery are constantly communicating valuable information about and among one another. From a high-level perspective, these are integrated platforms that enable visible operations process management through native capabilities and the integration of smart devices and machine-to-machine (M2M) communication. A single platform for control is attractive due to its ability to centralise different features and tools that are critical for day-to-day operations.

As more and more companies look to tap into this growing opportunity, they tend to offer Connected Sites as end-to-end solutions to E&C firms. This means a one-stop platform built to digitise and centralise the management of complex and vulnerable elements of a traditional, paper-report collating construction site. Generally, we can break down common Connected Sites solutions into four key areas: data collection, data management, data analysis and sharing, and data security.

4 key areas of Connected Sites

360° data collection using smart sensors and devices

To the average person, construction sites are just fenced-up land areas filled with heavy equipment and workers wearing rubber boots and hard hats. However, with the help of IoT equipment such as sensors, NFC devices, and wearables, construction sites become valuable data sources as firms begin to capture what paper could not. Tracking and aggregating data from the environment, machines, and people are the first steps to enabling a Connected Site.

For instance, equipping workers with wearable technology such as hi-vis vests connected to smart sensors will allow construction companies to track employee movements better. As a result, teams get transparency on how to spend working hours efficiently and identify bottlenecks in daily operations. Other applications include using sensors on water, gas, and electricity meters to provide real-time energy readings and applying sensors to track the inventory of material stocks. These tools can help simplify access management into sites and enable more precise maintenance and repair of industrial machines.

Overall, this high level of interconnectedness provides construction managers with an amplified level of data visibility and the newfound ability to collect useful data across the construction site.

Real-time data management through connected platforms

The tracking environmental data or asset utilisation rates might be able to provide construction companies with better visibility on their sites. However, the main goal is to drive operational efficiency, time savings, and cost reductions. No amount of data will be helpful if subsequent actions need manual completion. Therefore, a common platform is needed to control and manage the underlying components remotely and in real-time, setting the foundation for more connected data, workflows, and teams.

At the centre of Connected Site solutions is the connectivity services that allows the platform to support data transfer across common connectivity standards—low-power wide-area network protocol (LoRaWAN), Wi-Fi, and 5G. As sensors capture telemetry data, projects sites would require low latency to enable the real-time implementation of predictive analytics and to streamline complicated workflows. A well-connected platform is essential to not only manage data but all devices, people, and the inventory without using manual, time-consuming methods.

Information integration can happen across entire projects, reaching teams, processes and equipment from nascent design stages up till the closeout and operations. Eventually, this helps construction companies win more business with better accuracy and availability of information.

Generate and visualise data-driven insights

With the rise of predictive technology, it is not enough to just track and manage data from dense project sites. The construction industry has lots to gain from turning data into actionable information. Enabled by the adoption of advanced analytics functions, this is where inputs from physical sensors come into the bigger picture. Intuitive dashboards are able to generate comprehensive, actionable insights using statistical analysis and artificial intelligence to help teams measure project metrics, detect and prevent anomalies. It can also manage vendor and supplier collaborations across different interfaces through mobile applications and an application programming interfaces (API) layer.

Some solutions have even gone one step further to provide construction firms with the foresight to make decisions based on predictive analysis and machine learning (ML). These forward-looking technologies can improve the quality of designs, create safer sites, reduce project risks, and enhance facility management. For example, projects can leverage neural networks to predict cost overruns based on different factors such as project size, type of contract, and the number of teams. This allows managers and companies to set realistic datelines for projects and expedite project delivery.

However, for these concepts to be effective in reality, large subsets of data are required to help companies unlock their full potential. Traditional industry leaders must take the initial step of setting up construction sites to become vast data pools. While some argue that these computer algorithms are taking away the human aspect of construction, others say that it is ultimately just another tool that aids companies to make the most out of genuine creativity and work on projects more effectively.

Safeguarding valuable data and information

As with all data and information, there are cyber security issues. Construction sites shifting towards a technology-enabled future will need to consider a new form of risk, one that is digital. Increased digitisation and the integration of IT and IoT will expose weak links and heighten the chances of vulnerabilities of proprietary information. Cyber security threats, if not prevented, can deal a massive blow to construction firms. Failures in the central systems will cause disruptions in the physical site, leading to delays in projects and even threaten the safety of workers.

Cyber security companies are developing modern-day solutions to ensure that E&C stakeholders can extend robust digital protection to various site components – existing and new equipment, employee devices, sensors, smart tags, and many others. All it takes is one single loophole for a destructive compromise of sensitive information, which could easily cost millions of dollars.

Along with other risk assessment and data breach management features, Connected Sites solutions will simplify the compliance process with regulatory, environmental, and safety laws. This is done by decreasing the complexity of the process and lowering the number of human interactions in the compliance journey through faster consent processing and accurate compliance evidence documentation. 

See how the advancement of Connected Sites and increasing adoption of IoT can help the construction industry sail through a post-pandemic recovery, here.

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