Several years ago, I read an article on the McKinsey website that was written in June 2016. It was shocking to see a graphic in this article which showed that with regards to digitization, the only industry construction ranked higher than was agriculture and hunting. This shocked me because according to the Association of General Contractors (AGC), construction in the US is building $1.3 trillion dollars in structures each year. It was hard for me to imagine how all this construction is being done without the adoption of technology. As I thought about it more I was no longer surprised because for so long we have gotten by with an “if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it mentality”.
Since I read this article, I have seen a tremendous shift by construction leaders. They have recognized that the status quo is no longer sustainable. They have also realized that there is a need to embrace technology and change or get left behind. Finally, they also understand that leading change and getting the workforce to adopt new ways of doing things isn‘t going to be easy. It is through this that leaders are now providing the necessary support and funding to put in place and embrace more technology throughout the organization.
To be able to do things better, faster, and cheaper we run into some significant challenges. Yet, if we can continue to embrace the use of construction technology, we can overcome them and start to make some real movement on the bottom line. Some examples of these challenges are:
- Skilled labor shortage
- Tighter margins
- Shorter delivery times
- The rise in materials cost
- Increased safety regulations
- Reducing the carbon footprint
I was excited to see that for a decade through 2018, there has been an investment of over $10 billion dollars in construction technology. These investments are providing solutions to real problems. They are also helping to grow the adoption of technology by delivering better products to the market at a quicker rate. Most of these products are being built with the field in mind which has resulted in products that are easy to use. They are enabling the completion of tasks in as few clicks or touches as possible. These solutions are allowing for the easy capture of images and videos. Additionally, they are giving easier access to real-time data. This ease of use is allowing for the quicker collection of data which ensures that quicker and better decisions are being made to reduce risk and impact.
Some of the areas that I am excited to see further investments towards developing the future of construction technology are:
By utilizing robotics to augment tasks that workers are having to do we can address labor shortages. This also allows for skilled workers we have on the job sites to focus on more important assignments.
• Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
There have been some significant advances in these technologies to produce solutions that provide better data analytics and advances in the use of unstructured data such as images and video.
I touched on the use of images and videos above but felt it deserved its own breakout mention. There are some solutions that are using imagery to tie back to the BIM model and project schedule to identify potential impacts and risks. They are also able to use images to identify safety issues or accolades. One final area of imagery that I want to touch on is the value they provide to owners. It is allowing them to virtually walk the job site and see the progress of their investment.
• Natural language processing
NLP can make a significant impact on the industry by being able to perform tasks like talking into your mobile device to generate an RFI, time card entry, constraint log item, or daily report entry or to be able to speak to a device and ask a question about your project and get an immediate answer. How great would it be to say, „Has my profit margin on project X decreased this week?“ or „What is my cost impact for unapproved change orders to date?“ and get an instant answer back.
At the end of the day, we are workers that enjoy building structures, highways, and performing renovations. We take pride in the quality of the product we produce, we want to go home safe to hug our families, and we want to work smarter not harder.
I will leave you with some final words from a Chinese proverb that I feel are true about embracing and adopting construction technology, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is NOW!”