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The Middle East is abuzz with excitement about ‘Smart Cities’ and rightfully so! Economic, social and technological factors have converged to make the region ready for widespread Smart City developments. Masdar City in Abu Dhabi and the recent announcement of strategic plans to transform Dubai into a Smart City by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum; six greenfield economic cities in Saudi Arabia; and Lusail’s Smart and Sustainable City are all examples.

As the Middle East ushers in this new era of advancement, much has been predicted and promised about the integration of ICT in every aspect of the completed city developments. There is, however, no reason why the benefits of technology cannot be leveraged much sooner than that – at the construction phase itself.

In the GCC, there are around $3.45tn worth of projects that are in the design, bid or construction stage until 2025. Clearly, employing technology to increase efficiency during construction could go a long way to streamlining operations and cutting costs.

The computing capabilities of mobile devices have advanced to a level that has made them capable of aiding the planning, designing, and building phases. But turning mobility into an effective tool requires not only computing power but also connectivity. And at job sites, wired connections are not feasible and cellular networks are not always available. A strong case can therefore be made for developers to use Wi-Fi solutions. These are not only easy to install and manage, but are affordable and rugged enough to see deployment in harsh construction environments.

It isn’t uncommon for construction workers to still rely on paper-based documentation. Besides being cumbersome to transport and maintain, these documents need to be regularly updated, often at the site itself.

With the introduction of tablet devices, mobile project management has emerged as a worthy replacement. Coupled with the broad ecosystem of feature-rich mobile applications and the ability to draw from vast amounts of remotely stored data and ‘cloud’ services, these devices are capable of granting contractors, engineers and supervisors access to blueprints, schematics and other vital documents.

Moreover, with the ability to instantly push updates to all members working on the project, mobile computing devices can aid collaboration and revolutionise the building information modelling (BIM) process in real time.

On site Wi-Fi can also help to transfer large amounts of data to and from headquarters, as well as offering the ability to keep track of expensive company assets like cranes, bobcats and cement mixers. RFID technology can also help contractors to keep track of the amount of inventory on site, and wireless networks also support video surveillance for site security measures.

The challenge for the developer is to find a robust, enterprise-class WLAN that is affordable in terms of the capital expense and operational overhead.

They must use systems that are simple to set up, highly reliable, and can be managed centrally, while being portable enough to be transposed from one site to another.

Finally, developers must also invest in training personnel to utilise newly deployed technologies. To ensure that the smooth transition from traditional methods to the modern mobile construction site, it is best to make sure that all team members are well-versed and comfortable with all aspects of mobile technology.

Once this has been achieved, ‘Smart Construction’ will usher in the era of the ‘Smart City’.