Mohd Khairul Amri Ramly, Ahmad Tarmizi Haron, Rahimi A. Rahman
Measuring technology transfer performance: An insight into the Malaysian construction industry
In today's rapidly advancing world, Technology Transfer (TT) has become an essential aspect of any industry, including the construction industry.
Technology transfer involves moving technology from one entity to another to enhance the recipient's capabilities, knowledge, and competitiveness. Researchers highlighted that the world interpreted TT in diverse contexts and perspectives, such as knowledge transfer, commercialisation and innovation. Regardless of interpretation, the prevailing constant is that TT brings vast positive values to its stakeholders’ business functions, meeting and exceeding organisation objectives within the triangle of the constraint of Time, Cost & Quality. Furthermore, for the Malaysian construction industry, TT plays a vital role in enabling the sector to keep pace with global trends, improve project outcomes and boost local and international competitiveness.
Construction Industry Overview
Globally, about 10 trillion USD in goods and services are directly or indirectly tied to the construction industry every year, making it one of the greatest economic sectors in the world. The construction industry significantly contributes to Malaysia's economy, leading the overall growth of 10.1% in contrast to other industries despite the post-pandemic COVID era, accounting for approximately 3.5% of the country's GDP in 2022. The industry has undergone significant changes over the years, incorporating new technologies to improve processes, efficiency, and project outcomes. However, despite the sector's efforts in embracing technology transfer, measuring the performance of technology transfer initiatives remains a mind-boggling challenge for many construction stakeholders. No consensus has been met among industry-academia collaborators alike in measuring the real effectiveness of TT. Instead, current practices only measure the output of completed activities, quantifying investment value made and the number of new job creations without measuring the actual impacts new innovations bring in through TT activities.
Issues plaguing productivity VS technology transfer solutions in the Malaysian Construction Context
i. Fragmentation VS Building Information Modelling (BIM)
Working in silos has been a typical issue affecting construction projects. The bigger the project scale, the bigger fragmentation gaps exist, thus requiring more demanding coordination and communication efforts. In tackling this, BIM is a construction implementation technology that encourages increased communication and collaboration by working on a single-source digital model. Unlike the traditional' waterfall' method, all project stakeholders must be involved in the detailed designs of the project as soon as the preliminary design stage. Furthermore, using a Common Data Environment (CDE) within the BIM project ecosystem has increased collaboration efficiency and reduced error throughout the project lifecycle. However, the question remained whether all the stakeholders, especially manufacturers and contractors, have TRULY GAINED the positive values from this technology transfer or it remained solely only to fulfil the requirement of the project client that embraced BIM in the first place and the technology will be abandoned when embarking on non-BIM projects?
ii. Incapable of duplication and replication VS Resource Planning Management System (RPMS)
Every construction project is unique. It is almost impossible to duplicate or replicate as each project is entangled with different multicultural complexities. Due to this, some believe that embarking on new projects is an entirely fresh start, and its executions will consume much time and may jeopardise project performance, especially on the brink of unrealistic client expectations. To get to the bottom of this, Engineering & Construction (E&C) companies turn to the introduction of RPMS to improve resource planning activities, speed up decision making and improve the procurement process to counteract each project's uniqueness. Software packages like SAP S4HANA, an enterprise resource planning system that helps collect and track decision-making data. It analyses the constant data flow to allow decision-makers to make an informed decision and turn it into a lesson-learnt database that builds new knowledge and capabilities to be carried over to the companies’ future projects. However, installing IT solutions alone will not be enough to increase productivity. Often, do E&C companies adopt cutting-edge technologies and innovations without understanding whether and how these tools impact their business functions due to failure to understand their absorptive capacity relevant to the technology transfer process?
iii. Impermanence VS Reskill & Restructure with digital skills.
Project teams are not permanent and ever-changing. It is a rare sight for project teams to retain the same personnel on each project’s executions, and more than usual that E&C companies are faced with high workforce turnover as the common practices of establishing project teams will be on a project-to-project contract basis. In managing this issue, digital technologies brought in the ability to reskill and restructure the project teams by equipping them with new digital techniques, such as drone applications and laser scanners for project tracking and monitoring. This practice will shift the traditional work process to a more flexible, dynamic, and agile project approach, creating room for intellectually challenging problems. However, the bigger question yet to be answered is whether this reskilling and restructuring will create a sense of loyalty among the project team, thus reducing the likeliness of the team to move on to a different project and still utilise the same skill sets and ultimately, whether the technology has improved the workforce competitiveness or vice versa?
The dire need to measure technology transfer performances.
It takes extensive knowledge of the industry's goals, the available technologies, and the recipient's absorptive capacities to assess the effectiveness of technology transfer. An efficient measuring system may include but is not limited to, selecting pertinent measures, gathering data, performing analysis and interpretation of the data, and informing stakeholders of the findings.
A few of the indicators that may be used to assess the success of technology transfer in the Malaysian construction sector;
Productivity is a critical metric for measuring technology transfer performance in the Malaysian construction industry. Technology transfer initiatives are expected to enhance the productivity of the recipient and the project outcome. Measuring productivity involves evaluating the number of resources utilised to produce a specific output. F
For example, a construction consultant can measure productivity by evaluating the time to complete a project before and after implementing technology transfer initiatives.
Malaysian construction companies can significantly improve productivity, with the rapid usage of digital technologies such as;
· Building Information Modelling (BIM),
· Digital Twin Model (DT),
· Virtual-Augmented-Mixed Realities (VR-AR-MR),
· 3D printing
and automation of business processes using Microsoft Power Automate, Python, and Power BI to optimise and reduce time to complete repetition activities, Malaysian construction companies can significantly improve productivity.
Next, quality is another critical metric for measuring technology transfer performance in the Malaysian construction industry. Technology transfer initiatives aim to improve the quality of the recipient's output and the project outcome.
Measuring quality involves evaluating the level of conformance to the specifications, requirements, and standards. For example, a construction consultant can measure quality by evaluating the number of defects in a completed project before and after implementing technology transfer initiatives.
Using technologies such as BIM, Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and drones, Malaysian construction companies can significantly improve the quality of their projects.
In the Malaysian construction sector, safety is a critical criterion for assessing the success of technology transfer. By helping the receiver understand legal guidelines, how to utilise safety gear, and how to recognise and reduce safety risks, technology transfer projects seek to increase safety. With the right technology application, safety incidents, accidents, and injuries can be monitored and reduced. Malaysian construction businesses can greatly enhance the safety of project sites by utilising technologies like wearables, sensors, and artificial intelligence (AI).
Last but not least, cost-effectiveness is a crucial indicator for assessing the success of technology transfer in the Malaysian construction sector. Initiatives for technology transfer seek to save costs by streamlining procedures, cutting waste, and increasing productivity. Cost-effectiveness is measured by comparing the price of producing a particular output before and after implementing technology transfer measures. BIM, automation, and prefabrication are just a few of the technology Malaysian construction firms may use to cut costs and increase profitability.
Alternative approach to TT measurement
Alternatively, researchers are looking into new ways of measuring technology transfer performance in general. Exploring new sets of parameters beyond productivity, quality, safety, and cost-effectiveness is the key to unlocking a new paradigm in TT effectiveness measurement. Currently, researchers are looking into internal and external factors as parameters to consider in the measurement matrix. Internally speaking, the capabilities of the people to embrace new technology and skills, the process to adopt a technology, be it long or within a short time frame, types and how the technology meets the organisation goals and business functions and competent key decision-makers within an organisation's management are criteria that should be given more consideration.
Furthermore, analysing how external factors interrelate with internal factors highlighted earlier will provide a more comprehensive understanding of how the TT process positively or negatively impacts an organisation. Understanding local politic sentiment, perceiving economic spillover aftereffects, improvement of social standings, simplicity or complexity of a technology to be implemented, relevant legal guidelines that are ready to support the new technology implementation and lastly, the environmental impacts that come together with the technology transfer process are parameter to be pondered upon.
In conclusion, TT is an essential channel in ensuring an industry spurs positively and directly increases Malaysia's macro & micro economic growth. However, for years people have highlighted TT efforts, but the lacking of measuring real and true performance will continue to provide misleading indicators of the effectiveness of the implementations not only in the construction sector but also in other economic sectors as well. In short, measuring technology transfer performance is crucial for the Malaysian construction industry despite its difficult execution. This will ensure that the enormous investment made within the industry will provide a genuine impact and ensure the spillover truly benefits the country.
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