BY: Sherief Elabd, director of Industry Strate¬gy and Innova¬tion at Oracle Construction and Engineering
Digital transformation is shaping the construction worksite of tomorrow as solutions such as internet of things (IoT), 5G, drones, artificial intelligence, modelling and autonomous vehicles enable better and smarter ways of working via the cloud.
Given that digital technology is driving rapid change across the project and asset lifecycle, we have responded by launching a simulated worksite where customers and partners can explore and test the transformative power of technologies to bolster their digitalisation efforts and stay on the leading edge. It can also help customers with their sustainability journeys by demonstrating carbon reduction strategies, a must as the world becomes increasingly cognisant about environmental impact.
When we first started thinking about this programme a few years ago, there were two guiding principles:
■ To develop an ecosystem, comprising of both Oracle and its technology partners, to work with customers across industries and help them solve problems to support their own customers.
■ Construct an environment that is credible and useful for our industry customers to pursue technology development. This was achieved by creating a physical space that replicates their work setting.
Our initial focus was on construction, and our first facility was a simulated construction jobsite embedded with technologies where organisations could field test solutions.
For example, some construction technology will require prior trials to ensure they can work in harsh weather conditions. But it is hard to test new technology on active worksites as it is disruptive.
Similarly, there are technologies that work better for certain markets but not for another!
When we came up with the idea for the lab, it was essential to add a flavor to every region to be able to capture its market demands.
In the Middle East, we have been scouting and selecting technology startups with use cases that are appealing to our specific market requirements, piloting with developers and contractors based in the region to make sure our solution is fit-to-purpose for them.
Visual progress monitoring as well as worker safety are actually experiences where we used different technology partners outside of our global US lab to meet client needs. Not all technology and cloud startups have the sufficient bandwidth to serve our global clients base. We make sure to open the door for similar technologies to be under the umbrella of our labs, each serving a specific region and specialising in industries including utilities, construction and engineering, communications, hospitality, and food and beverage.
We also collaborate with sprint accelerator programmes. We are proud of our partnership with StartAD, empowered by Tamkeen and anchored at NYU Abu Dhabi. StartAD co-creates customised, impact-driven programmes with stakeholders including governments, corporations, startups, investors, and innovation entities, furthering the UAE’s transition into a knowledge-based economy, a core part of its long-term national visions. Through such efforts, we have had the pleasure of interacting with more than 20 technology startups over the last two years that specialise in construction innovations, to build integration use cases that are unique to our market.
We have also discovered that there are common systemic problems across industries, a big example being safety. When the pandemic hit, we were able to effectively deploy a new solution though a partner that scans jobsites and analyses images to detect and tag safety hazards. This works across industries.
The lab is flexible enough so we can adapt based on what’s hot in each regional market at the time and evolve to help partners meet customers’ demands. That immediate feedback allows us to make the appropriate tweaks, and then adjust to whatever they want to do inside the facility.
Today, we are able to use technology to support our customers in reducing their carbon footprint, by looking across the entire breadth of their business and understand just what it is that they can do—on both a large and small scale—to help support the global goals.
Providing access to the lab helps our partners innovate, which ultimately improves their industries, the experience of their customers and reduces their carbon impact.
Working with the next gen
Oracle recognises the role of academia and research centres in innovation, and therefore we have connected with universities such as Heriot-Watt University Dubai to gauge interest.
When they heard that Oracle had built a safe space where organisations could work with the construction ecosystem to learn and improve, there was a great deal of excitement and support.
In return, we arranged a virtual lab journey for their engineering majors as well post-graduates, showcasing experiences such as visual progress measurement and monitoring using onsite cameras; material readiness and delivery using RFID; and the use of virtual reality in construction model coordination.
We are actively collaborating on resolving industry problems. When you tell us that you care about, say, automated progress reporting on a construction project, we take you step by step and show you what we built today and explore how we can improve it.
Within this approach, we do not shy from trial and error. When one step does not work, we go back to the previous rung and figure out how to make it a success. We created a sandbox – in a near literal sense – to help our customers innovate and to explore, test and validate technologies and then bring them to market.
We have been on this journey for almost three years now. And we are excited that we are showing results.
The lab is an idea that evolved into a commercially viable solution to solve so many issues. Innovation is a team sport, and it takes time. It does not happen in a vacuum; at its best, it happens through collaboration with customers.