interior design
Design software is a significant cost for small businesses. Image – Canva.
  • 57% of builders and 48% of designers are still in the basic phase of digitalisation
  • Research was conducted by Western Sydney University
  • Small practices can't afford to retrain staff and spend $20K on software and licenses

While increased digitalisation in design is improving quality and standards, the cost of software and licenses remains a barrier for small businesses, according to research by Western Sydney University.

The research conducted was conducted under the direction of the Office of Building Commissioner, who surveyed 542 NSW class 2 (multi-unit) building sector professionals.

57% of builders and 48% of designers are still in the basic stage of digitalisation, and dealing with PDF document formats, for example.

The research comes as proptech expert Dr Ben Coorey argued the industry should pay attention to more advanced design technology such as AI and IoT, which are more prevalent overseas.

David Chandler OAM, NSW Building Commissioner, said the new research helps policymakers and the industry to understand the current spread of digitalisation throughout construction.

“We now have data on the industry’s current state of digital maturity which provides us with a baseline to work from,” said Mr Chandler.

“Regulators need to take industry capability into account when putting in place laws and standards, and understand that the construction industry is driven by small businesses.”

“We want NSW’s industry to be at the forefront of innovation and able to use every possible lever to increase its productivity.

David Chandler OAM, NSW Building Commissioner

“Digital technology can unlock many opportunities from helping to eliminate errors and deliver complex projects within budget and time, to supporting better communication between clients and contractors.”

Software costs

Agi Sterling, Association of Consulting Architects Australia Vice President, said small practises could not keep up with the costs of constantly retraining staff along with purchasing software for $10,000 to $20,000.

“Software vendors need to be conscious of the capacity of small design and construction companies to be able to pay upfront license costs and provide the wrap-around services to support staff, so that businesses are able to realise the benefits,” Ms Sterling said.

Yolande Nyss, Office of the Building Commissioner Program Manager, highlighted research showing that the class 2 design and building industry is predominantly made up of small businesses.

“Moving towards a digitalised marketplace we need to appreciate that 80% of the industry are small businesses with less than 20 employees and so we need to be conscious of the practical challenges that they face,” Ms Nyss said.

Professor Mike Kagioglou, Dean of Engineering at Western Sydney University, said the study would facilitate the development of digital capability in the industry.

“It is always a pleasure when collaboration between academia, industry and government results in high-impact, high-quality research. This influential study has great potential for positive changes in practice,” Professor Kagioglou said.

“I very much look forward to this research realising its full potential through continued close collaboration between all parties.”

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