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A strategic framework for enhancing technology adoption in project-based AECO firms

Pottachola, I. (2021) A strategic framework for enhancing technology adoption in project-based AECO firms.

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Abstract:The construction industry is often widely criticised for its low productivity and efficiency. A deep transformation of the industry led by advanced technologies and processes is deemed necessary to protect all the parties in the industry from suffering further damages. Various digital technologies have been introduced to the industry in the last decades, with a central focus on the exploitation of data which can be collected and used throughout the asset’s lifecycle, centralized data management, and inter-disciplinary collaboration. Furthermore, most of the prominent technologies that are available in the market today are at a readiness level to be directly used in all the phases of the AECO (Architecture, Engineering, Construction, and Operation) supply chain and the technological landscape is also very well established. However, although such digital technologies are regarded as drivers for increased productivity and efficiency, it’s use in the construction industry is not at a desirable level. This essentially illustrates the existence of an apparent gap between the theoretical benefits and operational efficiencies of digital innovations advocated by various literature, and its actual implementation in the industry. This research explores that gap, what we call the grey area of technology adoption, and suggests solutions to bridge such a gap and break down barriers hindering technology implementation in the construction industry. The clients of this research, Witteveen+Bos (W+B) engineering consultancy, are well aware of the competitive advantage and the opportunities to improve their productivity and efficiency through digital innovations. However, despite several initiatives and attempts to diffuse various digital technologies, the adoption of those technologies in the firm is not at a desired level. W+B has set the ambition to become industry leaders in digital engineering, and BIM and wants to exploit technologies to the fullest to improve their efficiency and add more value to their clients. Along these lines, they intend to scale up the rate of adoption of digital innovations in the firm and wants to instigate a natural instinct in their personnel to search for and work with technological ideas and solutions. Towards this ambition, W+B poses some key questions: ‘what’ are the factors which shapes the innovation adoption decisions of personnel, ‘why’ is it hindering the diffusion of innovations and ‘how’ to handle them. Following it, W+B wants to develop a strategy, which can aid their efforts to scale up the rate of adoption of digital innovations in the firm. In this direction, the objective of this research was to “to develop a strategic framework for enhancing digital innovation adoption, which can aid firms in construction to improve their rate of adoption of digital innovations in a sustainable manner”. To gauge a deeper understanding into the problem context and the objective, an extensive literature review was conducted, through which two priori theoretical constructs were defined. Priori Construct A explains four key factors which determines the rate of adoption of digital innovations. These factors are 1) characteristics of the social system, 2) innovativeness of individuals, 3) perceived attributes of innovation, and 4) diffusion networks. Priori Construct B illustrates a diffusion model consisting of the innovation process in organizations, the individual’s innovation decision process, and the influence of the factors affecting the rate of adoption across the diffusion process. Based on the theoretical background and priori constructs established through the literature review, main and sub research questions were formulated. The main research question was: ‘what factors affect the adoption of digital innovations in the firm as perceived by their personnel and how can the rate of adoption be increased in a sustainable manner?’. To answer the research question, an explanatory case-study research approach with solution-oriented design was used. Three cases were selected that differed on important characteristics, which contributed to an in-depth analysis of the research problem. These cases were 1) 3D BIM, which was a successful diffusion in the firm, 2) Scripting & Programming, an intra-disciplinary innovation and 3) 5D BIM, an inter- 5 disciplinary innovation. Data were collected predominantly through several face-to-face semi-structured interviews and focus group sessions. The findings indicate that the initiation of digital innovation diffusions in projects within firm were led by earlier adopters who are of either strategic (project managers) or tactical (line managers, PMC leaders) responsibility. The first stage of this diffusion process, namely agenda setting, in which the perceived need for an innovation is identified, was triggered by technological advancements from outside of the organizational boundaries for earlier adopters and from within the organizational boundaries for later adopters. Such technological advancements were then matched with the needs of the projects. But in most cases a proper feasibility analysis rooted in the project context was missing. Results also indicate that the environment for innovation diffusion created by strategic and tactical responsibility personnel were key for successful diffusion processes. Furthermore, all the cases underline the importance of the third stage in the innovation diffusion process, i.e., the redefining/restructuring stage, in which innovation is redesigned to fit the project needs and sometimes the project processes are restructured to accommodate the innovation. Following this stage, when the innovation was put into full use, further redesigning/restructuring were sometimes required. This is because of the need to address the new concerns or barriers that were raised by the members of the social system as they got more aware of the innovation. The knowledge gained from the diffusion in projects is disseminated to the organization, which then triggers agenda setting in a subsequent project, several loops of which results in the routinization of the innovation in the organization. Several factors play(ed) a key role during the aforementioned diffusion processes. The first key factor is the structure and the characteristics of the social system. The social system of the organization is a network of several autonomous sub systems (projects), each with its own decision-making authority, and its own diverse set of collaborating external parties. This complex structural characteristic of the construction industry affects the diffusion of innovations. The next factor is the innovativeness of individuals. The results indicate that while earlier adopters play a role of gatekeepers in the diffusion process, bringing in the idea of the innovation from outside the social system’s boundaries, later adopters determine the rate of adoption and the pace of the diffusion process as they make up most of the population. Another very important factor is the attributes of innovation. All five attributes of innovation defined in the Rogers Diffusion of Innovation theory were identified to be instrumental in shaping an individual’s attitude towards an innovation, them being relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, observability and trialability. A new attribute, affinity, was added to the attributes of innovation which influences adoption decision of digital innovations in construction, taking the total tally to six. The last factor identified are the diffusion networks, the nature and extend of which also influences the rate of adoption by contributing towards the increased awareness of and shaping positive attitude towards the digital innovations. The strategic framework for enhancing technology adoption was developed by refining the two Priori Constructs with the results from the case studies. The strategic framework includes two parts, the factors affecting the diffusion process and a comprehensive innovation diffusion model, thereby explaining what factors affects the rate of adoption of digital innovations and how these factors can be managed through a diffusion model. The framework was validated by domain and academic experts and can aid firms in construction to plan their innovation diffusion activities and contribute towards their efforts to enhance the rate of adoption of digital innovations. As such, the results of this research contributes towards bridging the gap between theoretical benefits of digital innovations and its actual implementation in the industry.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:ET: Engineering Technology
Programme:Construction Management and Engineering MSc (60337)
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