Scholarly article on topic 'Scenario Thinking Approach for Leveraging ICT to Support SMEs in the Indian Construction Industry'

Scenario Thinking Approach for Leveraging ICT to Support SMEs in the Indian Construction Industry Academic research paper on "Economics and business"

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Procedia Engineering
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{Construction / Deficits / "ICT Adoption" / "Investment decisions" / SME / "Technology adoption"}

Abstract of research paper on Economics and business, author of scientific article — Anil Sawhney, Kamal K. Mukherjee, Farzad Pour Rahimian, Jack Steven Goulding

Abstract Information and Communication Technology (ICT) plays a number of significant strategic and operational roles in the construction sector. However, studies have highlighted a series of challenges within this sector, from value-proposition aversion (regarding ICT expenditure), through to lack of aptitude (capability), and inability to ‘measure’ tangible outcomes (benefits) associated with ICT deployment. Given these issues, and also acknowledging the levels of nested fragmentation that exists in sectoral disciplines – especially within small to medium enterprises (SMEs); this paper presents a chronology of interrelated factors peculiar to the sector which has directly/indirectly engendered this slow (low) technology adopter positioning of these organisations. This paper argues that there is a need to break the status quo use of ICT by SMEs in the Indian construction industry, and a need to realise the benefits garnered in other sectors as a means of not only enhancing the existing business, but also creating new innovation opportunities (especially in the early adopter S curve). Using a scenario thinking approach, this research presents a framework which highlights the causal “deficits” associated with low ICT penetration in the sector. This framework also identifies the key forces that influence and impact upon ICT usage in the construction sector, especially the interplay of key pivotal forces (through the competing push-pull continuum). A series of different scenarios for ICT uptake, adoption and diffusion are envisioned. These were developed with the help of industry experts in order to embed relevance and establish priorities against tangible indicators. This framework presents a future state ICT vision for SME's, one which places direct emphasis on SMEs’ perspectives (operational and strategic) and their future business aspirations.

Academic research paper on topic "Scenario Thinking Approach for Leveraging ICT to Support SMEs in the Indian Construction Industry"

Procedía Engineering

www.elsevier.com/locate/procedia

Scenario thinking approach for leveraging ICT to support SMEs in

the Indian construction industry

Anil Sawhneya, Kamal K Mukherjeeb, Farzad Pour Rahimianc* , Jack Steven Gouldingc

aRICS School of Built Environment, Amity University, Noida 201313, INDIA bIndian Institute of Technology Delhi, New Delhi 110016, INDIA cThe Grenfell-Baines School of Architecture, Construction and Environment, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK

Abstract

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) plays a number of significant strategic and operational roles in the construction sector. However, studies have highlighted a series of challenges within this sector, from value-proposition aversion (regarding ICT expenditure), through to lack of aptitude (capability), and inability to 'measure' tangible outcomes (benefits) associated with ICT deployment. Given these issues, and also acknowledging the levels of nested fragmentation that exists in sectoral disciplines - especially within small to medium enterprises (SMEs); this paper presents a chronology of interrelated factors peculiar to the sector which has directly/indirectly engendered this slow (low) technology adopter positioning of these organisations. This paper argues that there is a need to break the status quo use of ICT by SMEs in the Indian construction industry, and a need to realise the benefits garnered in other sectors as a means of not only enhancing the existing business, but also creating new innovation opportunities (especially in the early adopter S curve). Using a scenario thinking approach, this research presents a framework which highlights the causal "deficits" associated with low ICT penetration in the sector. This framework also identifies the key forces that influence and impact upon ICT usage in the construction sector, especially the interplay of key pivotal forces (through the competing push-pull continuum). A series of different scenarios for ICT uptake, adoption and diffusion are envisioned. These were developed with the help of industry experts in order to embed relevance and establish priorities against tangible indicators. This framework presents a future state ICT vision for SME's, one which places direct emphasis on SMEs' perspectives (operational and strategic) and their future business aspirations. CrownCopyright©2014PublishedbyElsevierLtd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/). Peer-review under responsibility of the Diamond Congress Kft.

Keywords: Construction; Deficits; ICT Adoption; Investment decisions; SME; Technology adoption

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Procedia Engineering 85 (2014) 446 - 453

Creative Construction Conference 2014, CC2014

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +44-1772-893-215; fax: +44-1772-892-916. E-mail address: fpour-rahimian@uclan.ac.uk

1877-7058 Crown Copyright © 2014 Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license

(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of the Diamond Congress Kft.

doi: 10.1016/j.proeng.2014.10.571

1. Small and Medium Enterprises in Construction

SME's play an important role in the construction sector globally. SMEs are defined as non-subsidiary, independent firms which employ less than 250 employees; where small firms are generally those with fewer than 50 employees, and micro-enterprises have at most 10 employees. However, SMEs account for over 95% of firms, corresponding to 60%-70% of employment in many sectors including construction where they work as consultants, constructors, or suppliers on a variety of construction projects [1]. Given this, technology and globalisation has been seen to emphasise the importance of economies of scale and many of the traditional shortcomings associated with SMEs e.g. lack of financing, difficulties in exploiting technology, constrained managerial capabilities, low productivity, risk-aversion [1]. It is in this backdrop that a new roadmap is needed for the use oflCT by SMEs in the built environment sector [2].

2. Case for ICT in the Construction Sector

Operations in the sector are generally realised through "projects" (with well-defined starting and finishing lines and pre-defined outcomes). These projects are often conducted by firms collectively, more often in association with other specialised services providers, each of whom can be conceptualised as a "firm". Together with other stakeholders they make up the "industry". Researchers have argued for the relevance of new production philosophies unfolding in manufacturing that require production activities to be analysed as processes as against functions, controlled for such concepts as minimal variability and cycle-time[3], with continuous attention to reduce waste (processes, material etc). This process-based view of construction is seen as the basis for a new ICT agenda for the sector. However, construction firms are often slow to exploit ICT [4] and the industry invests little in ICT, with only a few contractors being able to fully integrate ICT into their business processes and service delivery systems.

3. Literature Review

There is a paucity of literature on how stakeholders can purposefully address the problems of the sector with the aid of ICT (e.g., [5][6][7]). Acknowledging this, it is recognised that the ICT landscape cuts across boundaries of organisations, functions, and stakeholders; the products and services of which create a larger picture for the potential ICT use in the sector [8]. However, coverage is scarce from a project-firm-industry standpoint, taking into account the specific requirements of the SME sector - some of the challenges of which can be seen in Table 1.

Table 1. Summary of Research Literature Reviewed

Publication

Main Findings

Integration Of ICTs With Business Processes: Insights from SMEs [9] A Business Process View of the Impact of ICT in Real Estate [10] 3G/WiMAX rollout to propel demand for IP-based networks[l 1]

This paper avers that organisations can derive economic benefits as also managerial knowledge, skills and experience to make a significant difference in exploiting new opportunities; and proposes Technical Integration, Operational Integration, Inter-Organisational Integration and Strategic Integration.

The paper highlights the need for control over project resources - materials, manpower, money and time schedules in an overall effort to ensure stakeholder satisfaction (meeting customer satisfaction without compromising on profitability).

This article shows how networks are moving completely to all IP-based networks thus freeing up applications and services from specific requirements of the network. Additionally, it also throws light on how everything could move over the same network- voice, video, text and image. This has far-reaching implications that will potentially impact business models of core ICT operators in the days to come. Major drivers of these networks include (a) price on legacy services; (b) higher and varying bandwidth requirements on mobile networks owing to proliferation of advanced edge clients like iPhones and high-end smart phones; and (c) newer Web-based data applications and increased video content on the network because of the increased use of various networking applications through fixed and mobile networks.

4. Demand-Pull Requirements

Anecdotally, the construction sector has been referred to as a sector that has "missed the ICT revolution". This may be an overstatement or media-hype; but the sector has not fully embraced ICT compared to other sectors. This

may be due to myriad issues, e.g. the peculiarities of the sector, operational boundaries, fragmentation etc. (see Table 2).

Table 2. Demand Side Requirements for ICT as a Solution in the Construction Sector

Specificity

ICT adoption as a Solution

Unwieldy paper documents Geographically separate locations

Lack of information for project management Many-to-many relationship and temporary combination of parties

Association with big players

End-user convenience

Increasing relevance ofCost, Quality and adherence to delivery schedules

Rising Volume ofWork and the resultant deluge of data

Transmitting heavy and precious documents over ICT networks reduces waste

Multi-member teams are spread out to distant locations and ICT-enabled communications are the only alternative

Lack of consolidated project information at one place delays decision making and impairs project control and monitoring. ICT represents the only way to bridge this gap

At any point in time team members are potentially members ofdifferent projects performing same, similar or completely different roles. A standardised process view as against a function-view enabled subsequently through ICT is the only logical way to reduce confusion and maximise efficiency

Big players often require that smaller players be ICT-enabled sufficiently as a qualification to partner with them

End user convenience often mean that service providers have to be ICT-enabled (particularly SMEs competing for foothold)

Deviations oftime, cost, scope and quality from planned/promised performance and timely decision making for responding to problems and disputes are among common problems faced in the sector today. Customer expectation will likely rise in the future on these aspects. ICTs represent an indispensable tool to address these issues

As the global economy recovers the volume ofwork will increase manifold with time, implying more information handling by the industry to arrive at the most optimum solution under the emerging constraints. Planners, too, will be deluged with data even as it becomes more imperative for them to take the right decisions at the right time with the right set of information_

5. Supply-Side Drivers

On the supply side, developments in ICT including the ubiquity of networks; prevalence of web-based services over multiple devices; convergence of voice, text and video services over IP-based networks; miniaturisation of ICT devices; technological advances and robust all-weather devices; increasing bandwidth availability; low-cost alternatives; proliferation and possibilities over open source integration; cloud-based infrastructure and services; all have an impact on ICT adoption. Table 3 presents these issues in more detail.

6. The Case for ICT for SMEs

In today's global economy it is important for SMEs to maintain their competitive edge. ICT is a tool for SMEs to improve innovative power and competitiveness, especially to develop a global network of product exchange. Indeed, ICT has become a utility item, just like electricity [15]. For example, increasing wireless penetration by 10 percentage can lead to an increase in gross domestic product of about 0.5% [16]. Essentially there are three ways in which ICT can bring competitive advantage [15]:

• by changing the industry structure and altering rules of competition;

• by creating competitive advantage through new ways to outperform rivals; and

• by spawning whole new businesses.

For example, an investigation of factors affecting ICT acceptance was undertaken in the UK with 188 SMEs. This concluded that small businesses that readily adopted new ideas and were willing to exploit new knowledge would have a competitive edge over their competition [17]. The main incentives behind the adoption of ICTs by SMEs relate ostensibly to 'gain' e.g. reduced transaction costs, lower risk, information gathering/dissemination, increased inventory control and quality control, improved relationships with customers and suppliers and the increased control over distribution and marketing of products.

Anil Sawhney et al. / Procedia Engineering 85 (2014) 446 - 453 Table 3. Supply-Side Drivers for ICT as a Solution in the Construction Sector

Specificity

ICT adoption as a Solution

Ubiquity oflnternet

Prevalence of web-based services over multiple devices

Convergence of voice, text and video services over IP-based networks

Increasing bandwidth

availability and affordability

Low-cost alternatives

Proliferation and possibilities over open source

Cloud-based and services

infrastructure

As penetration rates go up for both PCs and Internet and countries across the world roll out their broadband strategies and plans ubiquity ofthe Internet over fixed or wireless networks will definitely follow

Web-based applications and services are currently the norm and, as a direct fall-out, there is a need to deploy a variety of channels for service delivery for users to consume services anytime (24x7), anywhere (through ubiquity ofthe Internet) and anyhow (through multiple channels). Besides making available services hitherto inaccessible new channels give users have a free choice to access a service; users would choose the one that realises the highest relative value for them.

All-IP based networks are gradually becoming a preferred technology, as voice, video, and data converge onto a single system, reducing the capital expenditure for service providers. Organisations are migrating from multi-platform based network infrastructure to a single-IP based network with the latter acting as a catalyst for an organisation's network convergence between voice, data and video infrastructure. The availability of 3G/4G will further enhance quality and speed, allowing networks to manifest the full extent oftheir capabilities.

The Internet revolution is being influenced by telecom players' strategies to reduce cost of access (Smartphone costs are falling rapidly as players achieve scale economies even as the expansion of 3G/4G services is likely to reduce connectivity costs). With time, therefore, bandwidth hungry applications and services would become more common.

Massive economies ofscale will likely drive down prices for lower-end PCs, tablets and smartphones such that large numbers of less affluent families in emerging markets could afford them. This will further increase scale and enable even less expensive devices, such as the $100 smartphone. This "virtuous circle" will also make possible the perennially improving smartphone, as well as the $100 tablet (Deloitte 2014).

Open Source promises better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility, lower cost, and an end to predatory vendor lock-in. Since OSS does not limit or restrict who can use the software, the type of user, or the areas of business in which the software can be used, this makes for opportunities for customisation and community innovation within agencies as well as with other stakeholders, citizens and SMEs (Waring and Maddocks 2005).

Advances in cloud computing make it possible for agencies to share the same ICT infrastructure to access software, services, and data storage through remote infrastructure, making it possible for ICT to become a new "utility" model. For an organisation, therefore, for a set or variable, usage-based fee (and sometimes, free) it could contract with a provider to deliver applications, computing power, and storage via the web. Computing therefore becomes location- and device-independent, and computing tasks and information are available anytime, anywhere from any device—so long as there is access to the Internet (AGIMO 2011).

7. ICT for SMEs in Construction

Love and Irani [18] noted ICT adoption issues should take into account relevance (a) for SMEs in the sector; (b) for ICT adoption by SMEs in general; and (c) for ICT adoption in construction sector (Figure 1). Figure 1 shows the complexities caused due to the intersection of demand-side factors, supply-side factors, and specificities of the construction sector. These complexities have been encapsulated as "deficit" areas for the sector; which has resulted in low adoption of ICT by the construction sector in general and SMEs in the construction sector in particular [19].

Through a detailed literature review and expert interviews the following deficit areas relevant to the issue of adoption oflCT by SMEs in the construction sector were identified [8]:

• Collaboration Deficit, with ICT networks, and applications like knowledge management systems, social media and other Web 2.0 systems that allow synchronous and asynchronous exchange of data;

• Standardisation Deficit, with standardised processes across the industry;

• Service Delivery Deficit, with customer-centric applications backed up by appropriate capacity building interventions and policy level prescriptions and enforcement;

• Efficiency Deficit, with appropriate process re-engineering efforts;

• Decision Support Deficit, with on-demand data availability, statistical analyses, trends and forecasts;

• Transparency Deficit, with necessary information dissemination and awareness building/enforcing rules; and

• Démocratisation Deficit, with ICT infrastructure/applications at affordable rates.

ICT ADOPTION BY THE BUILDING CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY

DEMAND.SIDE FACTORS

* Unwieldy paper docum ents

* Geographically separate locations

* Lock of information for project management

* Many-to-many relationship and temporary combination of parlies

* Association with big playera

* End-user convenience

* Going Global

SUPPLY SIDE FACTORS

* Ubiquity of Networks

* Technological advances and robust oil-weather devices

* Increasing bandwidth availability

* Lowered prices of devices, particularly mobile devces

* Low-cost alternatives [Indian context]

* Proliferation and increasing possibilities over Open Source

* Cloud-bosed Infrastructure and managed services

Fig. 1. Commonality oflssues to be addressed for ICT adoption for SMEs in the Indian Construction Industry

From Figure 1, this paper builds on previous work in the following areas:

• It takes into account more holistically the information requirements of all stakeholders including the end-users, regulators and the industry associations;

• It presents three views as illustrated above to provide information and services- the project view, the firm view and the industry view;

• It has a predominant thematic focus on the SME segment of the industry in an overall effort to bring about equitable development of the sector; and

• It also talks about institutional arrangements to operationalise the solutions.

8. Research Methodology

Scenario thinking or planning concerns planning based on the systematic examination of the future by picturing plausible and consistent images of the future [20]. Delphi, in turn, attempts to develop systematically expert opinion consensus concerning future developments and events. Numerous researchers have stressed that both approaches are best suited to be combined. Due to their process similarity, the two methodologies can be easily combined. Generally speaking, the output of the different phases of the Delphi method can be used as input for the scenario method and vice versa. In this case, the methodology adopted was the "Prospective Process Approach Using Scenario Planning Techniques" in conjunction with Delphi with industry experts across the board. A scenario is the set formed by the description of a future situation and the course of events that enables one to progress from the original situation to the future situation [21]. Scenario Planning (SP) is a disciplined method for imagining possible futures that organisations/industries have applied to a great range of issues [22]. Also called scenario thinking or scenario analysis, it is a strategic planning tool/method that enables the development of flexible long-term plans [23]. Ranking the issues and trends according to (a) Level of impact upon the strategic question; and (b) degree of uncertainty (likelihood) of occurrence, four different scenarios as illustrated was constructed (Figure 2). The most favoured "Globally Competitive" was then developed further for elaboration.

HIGH c .0 SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST | Q_ C CT £ LOW £ GLOBALLY COMPETITIVE

Regulation and Control BUSINESS AS USUAL HIGH SET YOUR OWN HOUSE IN ORDER LOW

Fig. 2. Illustrative Four Scenarios

Table 4. Indicative Requirement ofStakeholders at the Project, Firm and Industry Level

Stakeholder Industry Level Firm Level Project Level

Owners Land use policies Geo-data based landscape planning Project Tracking and Monitoring

Regulatory Requirement Knowledge Management Usage ofproject-level ICT applications

Market rates Fully integrated internal ICT systems

Matchmaking ICT infrastructure and common

Advocacy forums applications

Statistical analyses and Trends Procurement

Planners Geo-data based landscape Online Participation Participation in Online Meetings

planning Land valuation and acquisition data Clarifications

Forums Knowledge Mgmt. Alerts & Reminders

Land valuation and acquisition Integrated internal ICT

data ICT infrastructure and common

Statistical Trends applications

Participation and marketing of Procurement

skills

Designers Forums for participation Online Participation GIS/BIM/CAD etc.

Matchmaking Knowledge Mgmt. Participation in Online Meetings

Participation and marketing of Integrated internal ICT Clarifications

skills ICT infrastructure Procurement Alerts & Reminders

Contractors Regulatory Requirement Standards and Guidelines adopted Usage ofproject-level ICT applications

Market rates Fully integrated internal ICT systems Real-time project management

Matchmaking ICT infrastructure and common Alerts/ Reminders

Forums for participation applications Onsite usage of applications

Participation and marketing of Knowledge Mgmt.

skills Procurement

End-Users Market rates Matchmaking Forums for participation End user conveniences and utilities Project Tracking User conveniences Alerts/ Reminders Mobile applications

Regulators Laws and regulations Knowledge Exchange Statistical Trends Knowledge Management Periodical monitoring and enforcement

Industry Industry Events Online Participation as and when Online Participation as and when

Association Requirement elicitation required required

Standards/ guidelines Fully integrated internal ICT systems Advocacy

Stakeholder Industry Level Firm Level Project Level

Request Comments ICT infrastructure and common

Statistical Trends applications

Knowledge Management

9. Conceptualising the Landscape

There is a direct requirement for ICT systems to transform the SME-centric sector; similarly, it is important to acknowledge the need for: appropriate economies of scale, adopting common standards, protocols and guidelines for solutions that are interoperable to meet the information needs of all stakeholders [24] [2]. However, different requirements of information and services emerge at each of the levels of project, firm and industry. Table 4 presents an indicative set of requirements for the stakeholders at each of these levels.

Cloud-based infrastructures and open source need to be considered for different components of the solution to make these solutions affordable to smaller organisations. It is recognised that a Total Cost of Ownership comparison needs to be made before making a specific choice and a blanket preference is not advisable. Whilst these issues are beyond the scope of this paper, Figure 3 presents the different components of the composite ICT landscape and trends for the building construction industry at each of three levels of project, firm and industry.

APPLICATIONS AND DATABASES

SHARED INFRASTRUCTURE

POLICIES AND PROTOCOLS

Industry

Whole of Industry Portal

Matchmaker Service

Social Media

Statistical Analyses

Landscape Planning

Forecasts and Trends

Data Ware Data Minin

Firm Portals/Websites

Web 2.0 based col

(exchange of voice, text, graphic:

eProcure-ment

house and g Solutions

BIM, CAD Engineerin

Electron Soluti

Project

Project Portals/Websites

aborative solutions

s, video over secure IP networks)

Project Mgmt

and Other g Solutions

c Office ons

Alerts & Reminders

Payment ies

Customer Feedback

Multi-stakeholder Knowledge Management Systems

Spatially and Temporally Seamlessly Integrated Databases

Open Networks

Secure and Privileged Networks

Centrally Hosted/Managed Cloud-Based Data Centres

User-Driven Content Interoperability and Security Guidelines

Regulatory Requirements Pre-Agreed Industry-wide processes and protocols

Fig. 3. Components ofthe Composite ICT Landscape for the Building Construction Industry

10. Conclusion

The ICT landscape for the construction sector is still predominantly fragmented. Solutions are therefore needed. For example, the different categories in the solution landscape could be further decomposed and customised into modules through a conceptual "rack" based on pre-agreed industry-wide standards, protocols and guidelines (to create interoperability). Adherence to such globally accepted standards together with the advantages made available

by ubiquitous networks, affordable devices and cloud-served applications and services would ensure that the best platform is presented to SME's. Users would then need to make a choice of modules from the rack depending upon their suitability for their operations at each of the three levels of project, firm and industry. In some respects, this is happening through the use of Building Information Modelling. Solution conceptualisation must however consider and acknowledge that data integration and interoperability can completely transform the industry. This may need further strategic roadmaps and support/promotion by regulators and/or industry associations to manage and drive this transition.

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