Construction group Ridley is on a mission to create ‘intelligent built environments’ as it continues to buck the trend and act as a trailblazer in digitising the stereotypical slow-to-adopt, manually-driven construction industry.
“We’re on the dawn of the biggest shift we will ever see in the construction industry,” founder and CEO, Josh Ridley, told CIO Australia. “We can make the impossible possible,” he said, thanks to the power of digitisation and a raft of technological advancements.
“Winston Churchill said in the 1940s that we shape our buildings, and afterwards the building shapes us. I think that truly has new meaning today in the digital age.”
Ridley said the five-year-old company, which has a team of 120 staff working across multiple studio locations and site offices, calls itself the ‘Digital Design and Construction’ company, which aims to deliver 'intelligent built environments’ by creating digital buildings and digital infrastructure.
“It’s not just about architecture and construction anymore,” Ridley said. “We believe in an intelligent built environment, where design and construction is 100 per cent digital. We are thinking about design, construction and operations for our projects in a way that is completely revolutionary.
“The world of bricks, mortar and paper is becoming smarter, automated and more connected. The balance of power between architect, developer and contractor continues to shift, with the rise of new procurement methods and models of project delivery.”
Ridley said the company is sharing its vision of smarter environments, and showing how its services can enhance the design and delivery process, improve constructability, reduce risk and improve asset management throughout a project's lifecycle.
“At Ridley, we have the same challenges as others, although we’ve looked at the industry in a different way – we have set ourselves up as the ‘digital design and construction company’. This category, this name, didn’t exist before,” he explained.
“We employ engineers, architects, technologists, lawyers, bankers, a range of people to do something different in the industry. Our belief system is that if we can create an intelligent build environment, we can transform the lives of millions of people.”
He said the company is comprised of a team of architects, engineers, software specialists and thinkers who challenge the preconceptions of how the industry should work, looking to transform the way in which major projects are delivered.
Ridley acknowledged the construction industry has been slow to adopt technical change, is often mired in process, and continually operates under a complex mountain of people.
“The construction industry is a very old and established industry. In fact, it represents about ten trillion dollars and according to a world economic forum report, about eight per cent of GDP, so we’re talking about a pivotal, very influential industry around the world.
“But the industry has been a fairly late adopter of digitisation and change in terms of technology, and there are a number of challenges for an industry like this to change. One challenge is it is highly fragmented and siloed,” he said. The amount of consultants required on any given project in Sydney is around 50, with that number bulging when you add in the subcontractors, lawyers and bankers involved.
“It is incredibly challenging,” he said, explaining the industry suffers from inertia thanks to the status quo mentality and unwillingness to change.
“A big challenge is dealing with the old status quo brain, that says we’ve done it this way before, so why change. The biggest challenge for us is making sure we don’t do change for change's sake. Make change because it makes a meaningful impact. I find that a challenge – having to continually be that voice for change and not accept the status quo.”
He said the ongoing push towards innovation is another top challenge. “Keep pushing and keep innovating. You need to be in the river, rather than sitting on the sidelines and watching the boats go by. We’re in there, we’re amongst it and we’re wanting to make a difference.”
With escalating population growth impacting cities, and growing calls for greener environments and the need to curb greenhouse gas emissions, he said it’s imperative the industry build smarter buildings, which will rely on predictive analytics, and shift from being considered “dead data” to intelligent buildings with complex structures, systems and technology. No doubt, data is changing the way we understand, design and live in cities.
“We believe in an intelligent built environment that involves both transportation infrastructure and buildings. An environment can be intelligent when the buildings aren’t just static pieces of bricks and mortar, bits of wood and steel, but they are buildings that have data in them and that can be manipulated and analysed.
“We can start to look at how these buildings can be living systems, how these buildings and infrastructure can be intelligent and how we can look at predictive maintenance, rather than reactive maintenance. How can we work with contractors to make the contracting journey the faster and better by using technology such as 3D printing.”
Admittedly, Ridley said the construction industry can feel a bit slow off the mark in terms of technology adoption – and that’s why the company is pushing every part of its business into the digital space.
One project on the road to digitisation is the old Sandstones Precinct, a six-star hotel redevelopment of the existing Department of Lands and Education buildings in the heart of the Sydney CBD, which was built back in the 1850s.
“To do this project, we used laser scanning technology to take what is really a very complex structure and bring it into a model, a 3D smart model, that then allows the engineers and architects and the various other consultants to use that data and make it meaningful,” Ridley said.
“On a complex project such as this, having a 3D model that is real-time life (one-to-one), means you’re better able to brief the contractors and the client in a way that perhaps you weren’t able to do before.”
Ridley has also deployed the use of immersive technology in a bid to help the client make more efficient design decisions. “You can put a headset on and change in and out different materials to get good design efficiencies, without having to physically do a mock-up of space and rooms.”
Additionally, Ridley is spearheading the Ribbon Grocon’s flagship project on the Darling Harbour IMAX site in Sydney, which is a $700 million project.
“It is 400 keys, 150 service departments and a new IMAX theatre. It is highly complex, sitting in between expressways. It doesn’t actually have a roof. It is one big facade and an organic shape.”
He said this building required some creative digital thinking. “The side itself has extremely tight access issues, and underneath the ground there are a number of utility lines and the cross city tunnel - so mapping that out and being able to work with the contractor, Grocon, to digitise in order to visualise the process and help them get approvals from various parties – was very exciting.”
Equally exciting, he said, is the work Ridley is doing with Google company, Flux, in order to deliver real-time data and information to key stakeholders in multiple locations (from engineer, architect and the contractor on site) about the design, delivery and construction of the 400-plus rooms on a 3D model with smart dashboards.
“This platform that is being created will be the Google of the construction industry - and we are in a privileged position to be able to partner with them. We’re doing some really smart stuff with Flux that’s helping the lives of those that are delivering that project in the Grocon.”
If the real-time data project on rooms is a success, Ridley said the company will replicate the process as it applies to steel management. “We will also do a similar thing with the facade with the steel, where you will be able to see in real-time where the steel is up to in terms of its manufacture, where it is up to on site and in terms of where it will update on the life model.”
As Ridley continues to push towards cloud-based technology, it has also implemented FinancialForce and Salesforce technologies in a bid to adopt a platform that is mobile and agile.
“We like to have things real-time, open source and in the cloud. For us, we have teams that are working on site that need to have connectivity to our timesheet system and our CRM,” Ridley said.
“We needed something that allowed us to go fully end-to-end, so we could commence a project or a lead opportunity in the same system where the timesheets are being generated, and where the financial reports are being garnished – and Salesforce/FinancialForce enabled us to do that.”
FinancialForce’s ANZ CEO, Simon Peterson, told CIO Australia that Ridley’s challenge was to build a cloud-based financial back end that gave them unprecedented flexibility. Ridley was tasked with bringing every team member onto the same platform in real-time with a reliable single point of truth.
“Ridley told us they needed a back end that would support a new digitally enabled project delivery model – ‘Design-Document-Build-Operate’ – with new built-in checks and balances between designers, builders and owners,” he said.
“We tailored and implemented our professional services automation solution in the cloud for Ridley. That enables Ridley to engage with its globally distributed team of designers, partners, contractors and developers through the entire digital building development process to deliver transformative projects.”
Peterson said Ridley is growing rapidly – particularly as it aggressively pushes into the US market – and needed a platform that scaled.
“They have employees all over the world and have a unique business model. Jumping into the US, they do a lot of their project management in Sydney and some in Singapore. So leveraging the FinancialForce professional services automation solution certainly helped them scale a lot faster and act as a much larger organisation than they actually are – and that is obviously helping them win some pretty significant contracts.”
Peterson said Ridley is ahead of the pack in terms of doing digital design in the construction industry in Australia.
“Josh Ridley has a really interesting take on design and construction so he is leading the charge from that industry’s perspective. He is really disrupting his own space. In Australia there’s very few players into digital design in construction, but that is growing, and we are starting to have some conversations with other players.”
Making a difference
As the construction industry continues to undergo massive transformation, Ridley said he’s eager to see the next steps of the digitisation process.
“It is so exciting because it is such a big part of our lives. Cities, buildings, infrastructure, it is something we interact with everyday. And we can make that journey of creating buildings and creating infrastructure, more meaningful, and if we can bring the buildings and infrastructure and make it more alive to those who interact with it – I feel like we’ve made a real difference to many people's lives.
“I look at the effort going into creating a building, it is huge, and there are a lots of things today that you just look at and ask, ‘why can’t this be a bit easier?’ I think if we could make a small contribution to making this difficult process easier, more enriching, more interactive and more connected to the lives of people that are connected to these spaces, then I think we have done a great job, and I feel like we have left a legacy.”
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.