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Digital transformation in construction projects – The project manager’s role, responsibilities and competences


School of Civil Engineering

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Dr C Unterhitzenberger , Dr T Sainati No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Even in 2020 the construction industry is one of the world’s least digitalised, despite potential productivity gains and cost reductions. The reasons for this are manifold, but some characteristics make it particularly challenging for this industry to introduce digital technologies. These are fragmentation, lack of replication, transience and decentralization. Whilst individual construction companies are starting to digitize their operations there is still a long way to go for the digital transformation of construction projects. Such projects typically involve a number of different companies ranging from contractors to architects and engineers to consultants with each of them having their own and unique digital infrastructure. To achieve a higher degree of digitalisation in construction projects – and therefore productivity gains and cost reductions – digital technologies need to be integrated across multiple companies and the way by which communication, collaboration and contracting takes place needs to be re-considered. This systemic shift requires the construction sector to develop specific competencies on digital technologies, as well as the willingness to embrace such a transformation. Whilst initiatives by the UK Government such as the commitment to the adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM) across all government funded construction projects are invaluable drivers towards digital transformation, they are not sufficient. The proposed PhD study intends to focus on digital transformation on the project level and how the project manager can facilitate it. Currently, we don’t know how the project manager can contribute to this transformation. It is also unclear what the project manager’s responsibilities in are this area: is s/he responsible to promote and drive the implementation and integration of digital technologies in construction projects or is s/he only responsible for delivering the client’s objectives? Depending on the project manager’s roles and responsibilities in this process we also need to look at the competences required by the project manager to face this changing project environment. Recent studies suggest that organisations put a strong emphasis on the development of technical and leadership skills for project managers, but less so on digital skills with the construction industry even being below average. Overall, we need to develop an understanding of what project managers can and should do to facilitate the digital transformation of construction projects and which competences they require to successfully do so. The PhD applicant can refine the focus of this study, as long as the focus is on digital transformation of construction projects and the project.

Full description
Below we outline some potential objectives which could be addressed by the PhD research. These objectives are not meant to be prescriptive, but should inspire the PhD applicant to develop their own objectives in line with the focus of this research opportunity:

Identify the main barriers and enablers for a smooth transition of construction projects towards digitalisation
Determine the roles of project managers in the digital transformation of construction projects
Categorise the competencies required by the project manager, and its team, to enhance the digital transformation of construction projects
Map the state of the art of digital competencies in the construction sector in the UK
Compare the degree of digitalisation of the construction sector in the UK with other relevant countries or industries

Funding Notes

EPSRC Studentship for 3.5 years consisting of academic fees and maintenance grant paid at standard Research Council rates. UK applicants will be eligible for a full award paying tuition fees and maintenance. Applicants successful in obtaining a DTP Civil Engineering studentship will automatically be considered for the supplementary Civil Engineering Alumni Bursary (value £3000 p.a. for 3.5 years). European Union applicants will be eligible for an award paying tuition fees only, except in exceptional circumstances, or where residency has been established for more than 3 years prior to the start of the course. Funding is awarded on a competitive basis.


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