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The Middle East construction sector has been facing a slight slowing of momentum over the past few years. Fluctuating demand, climate change, and the fluctuations in the oil market are some of the main drivers for this ongoing transformation. And today, the pandemic has completely changed how projects are built (and delivered). Companies have had to restructure their plans to reflect the changing social and economic needs of the region. The only way construction companies can keep up with these evolving changes is through digital transformation.

The current state of affairs

The Middle East construction sector (and in fact every other sector in every other region) is under immense pressure to minimize carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. Embracing a greener approach to building and infrastructure design, construction and delivery is compelling construction giants to build new strategies that could help in the decarbonization of projects. These strategies center on finding more efficient ways of working that minimize wasted effort and materials.

Simultaneously, projects in the Middle East market have been experiencing a slump in value due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Priorities have been constantly changing for companies and governments. The value of construction contract awards reached only about $24 billion in the first ten months of 2020, compared to over $50 billion for the full year in 2019.

Perhaps unexpectedly, the pandemic has also caused clients to seek greater social and economic value from their project investments at a time when investors and developers are postponing (or trimming) their investment plans in response to fluctuating demand. It is also visible that government bodies are seeking to control capital spending on all but the most critical infrastructure projects.

The scope for digital transformation

Despite the overwhelming impact of COVID-19, the potential for new projects in the Middle East remains constant. At the beginning of November 2020, projects worth an estimated $4.3 trillion were planned or were under construction across the MENA region. And the best way for construction companies to capitalize on these opportunities while addressing the new challenges of today is through the digital transformation of projects in the region.

Here are some technology approaches that can help them achieve just that.

Adopting advanced Building Information Modelling (BIM) models and associated processes can allow companies to more efficiently plan, design, construct, and manage their projects and infrastructure. These powerful tools, supported by competent technology partners, can help companies take a comprehensive view of all the elements of a construction project and drive higher levels of interoperability, flexibility, and customization while ensuring the best returns on investments.

Cloud-based digital twins offer several benefits to designers, contractors, suppliers, and operators. Through the intelligent digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility, digital twins can help in better and richer engagement between various stakeholders in a virtual world. This makes planning and coordination more effective, reducing on-site clashes and late-stage variations that lead to delays and disputes.

As the data available for construction sites explodes, AI looks set to have a far-reaching impact. AI will help in cutting down the probability (and impact) of crucial issues while improving the safety of the workforce. AI will not only help in ensuring onsite safety it will also help in mitigating risks. Through real-time monitoring and the use of proximity alarms, AI can help alert workers when they are in danger while allowing them to practice safe social distancing techniques. When used alongside sensor technology, AI can also enable real-time monitoring of construction assets, allowing for more efficient utilization, more effective maintenance as well as better optimization of service delivery.

Given how costly mistakes can prove to be, especially when the sector is already experiencing a financial crunch, modern CAD techniques will enable designers and architects to produce models more precisely – thus avoiding costly mistakes. These techniques will allow them to carry out accurate measurements, spot design flaws, and conduct advanced analysis on designs while offering the flexibility to make changes on the fly.

Many construction companies looking to adapt and evolve their businesses as a result of the pandemic are also keen on adopting new approaches and evolving practices and processes. To make on-site inspections easier (and more efficient), the Middle East construction sector will also see a rise in the adoption of remote visual tools such as drones and laser scanning. These tools will help companies to remotely monitor the progress, quality, and security of their projects.

The road ahead

As the Middle East construction sector looks to emerge stronger from the impact of the pandemic while continuing to develop some of the best construction marvels in the world, companies must undergo digital transformation to ease cost pressures, enhance productivity (and efficiency) as well as boost profits.

Given that digital transformation can open the doors to greater control and visibility, the willingness to embrace modern digital tools to transform the delivery of complex engineering projects in the region is high. In the coming months, companies will embrace modern technology to improve the precision with which they plan their projects, efficiently deal with issues, enable richer engagement, avoid project delays (and costly mistakes), and ensure continued safety and sustainability.

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