Copiloting construction: John Holland embraces generative AI to enhance the productivity of its workforce – Microsoft

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The construction industry has traditionally lagged in digital transformation and adoption of emerging technologies. According to a 2016 report by McKinsey, construction was the second-least digitised industry, above agriculture and hunting. More recently, a 2023 report by Deloitte highlighted the slow adoption of AI and machine learning by construction and engineering businesses in Australia, Japan and Singapore. Only 26 per cent use these technologies, and just 35 per cent plan to use them in the future.

 An building site crane with the branding of John HollandJohn Holland, a leader in Australia and New Zealand’s construction industry, is challenging these norms. Over the past six years, the company has increased its focus on technology and digital transformation. A key pillar of its digital transformation strategy, launched in 2021, is rapidly emerging capabilities such as AI, digital twins and the Internet of Things.

“Exploring these technologies is crucial for our growth and to stay ahead in a competitive market,” says Bastian Uber, Chief Digital and Information Officer at John Holland. “We’re always looking at new technologies to see if we can gain value from them.”

From machine learning to advanced AI assistants

John Holland’s AI journey began in 2021 using machine learning and optical character recognition to process invoices. This early adoption yielded significant productivity benefits, spurring further exploration of AI’s potential.

In 2023, the company collaborated with Microsoft to build a private version of OpenAI’s chatbot, ChatGPT. This enabled employees to harness generative AI’s potential while preserving data security.

“The generative AI genie was out of the bottle and we could see the benefits for John Holland,” says Uber. “We quickly realised that if we didn’t provide a safe and secure solution for our organisation, we’d risk having our data shared in public-facing generative AI applications.”

The company’s private ChatGPT solution is open for all employees and has more than 200 unique daily users who transact over 1,000 queries every day – a clear testament to the workforce’s eagerness to embrace generative AI. Having assistance to write and summarise content faster boosts employee productivity. It also enables those working on joint venture projects with other companies to use generative AI capabilities safely and securely.

The technology’s potential culminated in John Holland joining the Copilot for Microsoft 365 Early Access Program (EAP) in September 2023.

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