Building a digital transformation strategy

Construction firm PCL is using the latest technologies to enhance services.

Video: Why some companies won't succeed on their digital transformation journey

When you think of the savviest technology users, construction companies might not readily come to mind. But PCL Construction, the largest building firm in Canada with revenue of $8.5 billion, is trying to be a tech trailblazer in the industry.

The company, which operates in the US, Canada, Australia, and the Caribbean and takes on about 1,000 projects per year, is using big data, analytics, drones, and other newer technologies to enhance its services.

One of its more noteworthy recent IT efforts is the use of a cloud-based document management, storage, and collaboration system called Egnyte Connect from Egnyte. Like many other businesses, PCL has been steadily generating more large files, data, and content. But until it deployed the new platform ,the company lacked a standardized strategy for reliably managing documents.

Of its yearly construction projects, more than 200 at a time are large enough to require a dedicated server to support a large number of computer-aided design drawings and other large file types.

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With the Egnyte platform, all users within the firm can collaborate on the most recent file version regardless of their location, an important feature because many of them are working at remote sites. Employees can access and upload files, regardless of the size of the file or the device they're using.

To date, PCL has migrated more than 100TB of data to the Egnyte system, and it has stopped buying spinning disks for its data center. It has also archived at least 40TB of data while still keeping the data accessible. Despite seeing its data double in the last few years, PCL has been able to keep its storage costs flat.

The biggest benefit of the technology has been an increase in employee productivity and efficiency by allowing people to access information anytime and from virtually anywhere, according to CIO Mark Bryant.

"On large construction projects there is no longer a need to walk to and from the workface to the jobsite trailer, creating significant time saving related to information changes," said Bryant.

PCL integrates the platform into key applications and services already in use by the company through open application programming interfaces (APIs) that are customized against PCL homegrown applications. "These integrations enhance our mobility with key applications and services consumed by all PCL employees, while also simplifying where information is stored," Bryant said.

Technologies such as drones and advanced analytics are playing a bigger role in construction. PCL has used drone technology to survey land geomatics and visually see the results of the testing of construction practices to provide opportunities to decrease project completion times, reduce costs, and enhance quality.

"We have also leveraged drone technology to assist in the planning and scheduling of certain construction activity, by seeing the construction site through a different lens," Bryant said. "We have also used drone technology to measure and visualize job progress."

Analytics "is helping us have meaningful conversations at all levels of a construction project as it relates to performance, schedule, quality, safety, trade performance, and cost against original plan or budget," Bryant said. "The specific advantage of having real-time or near real-time data on a construction project is that it allows issues or trends to be noticed and corrected quickly."

PCL has a "robust pipeline" of artificial intelligence, machine learning ,and Internet of Things initiatives under development this year to complement its business analytics offerings, and to augment is construction services business, Bryant said. PCL is focused on smart cities, smart buildings, and bridging technology tools together that drive safety, quality, energy efficiency, and cost savings for its customers, he said.

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