The Best Tool for Reaching Net-Zero in Construction? Improved Communication

2023 was a year of discovery across the construction industry. According to InEight’s Global Capital Projects Outlook, 2023 Edition, the largest organisations with the most capital projects consistently fell behind, nearly half (44%) consistently delivering past schedule and 46% delivering over budget. Of those organisations, 63% cite gaps in stakeholder communication, and 60% recognise non-standardised systems and processes affecting that final delivery.

The connection is clear. When stakeholder communication and transparency suffer, so does project certainty. Nowhere is that relationship more evident than in our current energy transition. Net-zero emissions are a wholly worthwhile pursuit, but the goals set by our governing bodies are often at odds with the complexities of construction.


24-Year Delays Cannot Become Routine

In the United Kingdom, the recent HS2 cancellation — phase two of the UK’s high-speed train service, designed to connect London through Birmingham and north to Manchester and even as far north as Glasgow — emphasises the impact of those gaps.

Proposed in 2009, HS2 was initially estimated to cost $45.6 billion and be completed by 2016. The project had ballooned to over $120 billion at its cancellation, with final delivery delayed until 2040. Naturally, in 2009, we could never anticipate a global pandemic and the disruption it caused. Still, a 24-year delay reflects more than just an act of God — it shows total misalignment and a significant lapse in communication between the owners and the contractors. Policymakers simply lack the experience to set practical expectations for infrastructure projects, and contractors struggle to communicate, particularly when the initial proposal refuses to align with the customer’s expectations.

Governing bodies worldwide want to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest. We want electric vehicles, wind farms, and better battery energy storage systems. Our goal is to decommission coal-fired plants, but are we ready to shoulder the weight of colder winters and temporary spikes in electric costs? We are long overdue for an honest, pragmatic conversation about how we achieve those net-zero ambitions. Our existing infrastructure simply is not equipped to support that demand. Renewable as they may be, those energy sources still come at a cost, and without government support, those utility companies still expect to recoup their losses.

Let’s Talk About the Spreadsheet in the Room

In 2024, expect a radical revision in how we talk about the energy transition and how owners and contractors collaborate, to bring those projects to life. While we cannot control the cost of solar panels or the speed of innovation, we can improve the processes contractors use to deliver on those aspirations. For example, Excel has been the cornerstone of project management since its debut in 1982. There are oil and gas giants that would crumble if Excel suddenly disappeared.

Entire energy grids, held together by a spreadsheet.

Our lives have transformed a dozen times since 1982, yet Excel remains unchanged. Spreadsheets simply were never intended to support this burden of responsibility. Today’s vastly improved technology, like ours at InEight, effectively structures and integrates project data, even automating the input process and pushing the entire library into a separate cloud environment, making everything easy to share, maintain, and secure – and making it possible to give up our spreadsheets at last.

A Realistic Vision for AI and Data

Similarly, the rise in artificial intelligence presents an intriguing opportunity for any organisation with the data to support it. AI is no magic bullet, but with enough structured data and an AI engine suited to their needs, companies can drastically improve their estimates, manage their timelines, and communicate with stakeholders in a way that is more pragmatic and realistic than the estimates we know now. Unfortunately, those structured data pools only work when the organisation-wide digital ecosystem communicates effectively.

Historically, our software solutions have been chosen to meet an immediate need. We needed a document management system; we found one. We needed a time tracker; we found one. This ad hoc approach leaves data siloed and organisations stuck with buckets of unstructured data that are nearly impossible to leverage. A consolidated toolkit and clear data strategy helps ensure new tools communicate and integrate, deepening the data pool and fostering an AI-friendly environment for the future. With that vision in place, stakeholders can focus on immediate needs, knowing that each of those individual steps fits in a greater strategic plan to move to an overall platform.

Whether it’s our net-zero ambitions or an organisation-wide digital transformation, there’s no simple solution for managing change. The path to change inevitably includes many failures as we move toward our goals. It demands clear communication, a shared vision, and dedicated leadership to move even the smallest of mountains, but that’s no reason to stop us from making the effort.