Member Profile – Trimble Solutions (UK)
Intro: Trimble aims to solve complex industry challenges by connecting the physical and digital world, with a variety of innovative solutions. Ismail Makda, Business Manager at Trimble Solutions (UK), explains how these technologies are transforming the construction industry, during the pandemic and beyond.
Ismail, tell us a little about Trimble and your mission.
As a global technology solutions provider, we offer solutions to cover every stage of the construction life cycle. Unlike other technology companies, we offer both hardware and software.
Our mission is to provide technology-led solutions for our construction industry clients to help them overcome the challenges they face, concerning all the information they handle on a day-to-day basis. Our job is to help them handle that data more effectively and efficiently than ever before.
Why are construction companies facing rising costs?
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has clearly driven up costs for a lot of companies. Issues have included: operating costs rising due to different working routines being implemented on site; key staff being furloughed and those skill sets not being available; a shortage of building materials, to name but a few.
In the UK, 60% of imported materials for construction come from the EU and the lockdown of factories there has meant that supply has been restricted. The clearest problem that the pandemic has posed for the industry, though, has been uncertainty.
How has Trimble been able to help?
A lot of people have found themselves working from home and that may continue. It’s a fortuitous coincidence that we’d been developing a cloud-based way of working for a few years and encouraging our customers to move to a cloud approach, rather than accessing software via servers. Now our patrons can use those software solutions as long as they have an internet connection, even if they’re sitting at home. That’s helped a lot over the last year.
We also offer some collaboration tools, including Trimble Connect, which help people work together without physically meeting. That’s been vital for construction companies. Our solutions aren’t like Zoom or Teams, though; they offer much more than just faces on screens. Trimble Connect enables people to share 3D modelling information and drawings, assign tasks to each other and review project management, which is all very important for a construction project.
In addition, we’ve offered more online training and also considered our customer’s cashflow issues during this time. We’d already been planning to introduce a subscription model and that has been really important for a lot of companies. In this pandemic, controlling cashflow has been crucial and the new Subscription offer means contractors can adopt our solutions with much lower initial investment costs.
What positive changes have been brought about by the pandemic?
A lot of people have become used to working from home and many employers are now more relaxed about that. I’m not saying that we won’t return to the office at all and I don’t think people will ever be totally off site. However, what has changed is that people have been set up successfully for home or remote working and from now on, I think we’ll see a balance of working from home and going to the office. Cloud-based technology has proven that we can work in this way and certainly at Trimble, we’ve seen no negative effects.
The way that construction sites operate has changed as well, with Covid-19 requiring social distancing on site. That’s compelled a lot of employers to look more closely at the broader health and safety situation on site, which can only be a good thing.
How has the long-term focus of the industry evolved?
In terms of construction projects, we’ve seen less emphasis on creating office space and lots of former office buildings being converted to other uses. I think there will be fewer big retail developments in the near future, as people have got more used to shopping online. There will also be more focus on residential accommodation and big infrastructure projects.
Digital technology has really proven itself, which has been vital for companies to continue their operational capabilities. That can only increase now. This is partly because people have understood how it works and the efficiencies inherent within it. But there is also the social distancing aspect; people can’t get to see clients as regularly as they would previously have done, so they’re turning to technology to help.
A lot of contractors now use drones to capture data on site, because they’re Covid-immune. The data can then be fed into a sophisticated modelling software, such as Trimble’s Tekla Structures. There has also been more use of Trimble’s XR10, which utilises HoloLens, a method of holographically visualising data. You can sit in your office or at home and see exactly what is going to be built, without ever setting foot on site.
Other emerging technologies include developments in robotics, which can be used on site for data collection or even casting concrete. They’re efficient, they can work day or night and they don’t need breaks. All this technology is going to really lend itself to the post-pandemic world.
What will be the next steps for technological development in the construction industry?
Looking forward, it’s all about the data. Now you can capture so much more data, in so many different ways. Working from the cloud means that companies can store unlimited amounts of data because they don’t have to rely on expensive local servers.
Once that data has been collected, the key thing is data analytics. It’s very exciting to enable sophisticated computer programmes to harvest and mine data for you, using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Software is now evolving in the direction where it can recommend courses of action for the user, helping to make the user more efficient.
Concepts like AI can seem quite complicated, especially for someone new to this sphere. Our mission is to demystify all that for our customers. We’re creating front end tools that are easy to pick up and that enable users to benefit from really powerful processes going on in the background. Trimble wants to transform how we use data by creating as wide a net of users as possible and that can only happen if the technology is accessible.
We’re also trying to enable people to connect all technologies, so that companies can share data even if they use different solutions. In March, we joined the Strategic Advisory Council of building SMART International, a not-for-profit organisation staffed by industry professionals who stand for open and neutral digital ways of working for the built environment. Your mobile phone can call any other phone, regardless of the brand and we want to achieve the same outcome for data technology.