Historically, the construction sector is much slower to adopt new technology compared to other industries. But, it’s been turning a corner in recent years. The Associated General Contractors of America recently held a webinar titled “Construction Technology: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow,” during which industry experts discussed why this has been, and what the future holds.

“The transformation in the construction industry has been nothing short of dramatic,” said Rajesh Ram, chief customer officer of Egnyte Inc., who moderated the discussion. “And the vision that’s been demonstrated by their IT [information technology] leaders in this space has been very compelling. … Today’s construction industry sits on the cutting edge of adopting new technologies across both the data center and field operations.”

During the presentation, two construction IT professionals—Jim Puerner of Tutor Perini Corp. and Mark Bryant of PCL Construction—discussed the state of technology in the industry.

Puerner said the sector traditionally has been a late adopter of technology, and he showed a chart of IT spending as a percentage of revenue among industries. The “construction materials and resources” category was at the bottom. “Our industry spends about 1 percent of revenue, on average, on technology,” he said.

“You have a lot of established people that have been in the business for years and years, and they’re used to brick and mortar and concrete and rebar in the field,” he said. “That’s their impression of construction, how construction gets done. It’s not about technology as an enabler.”

He said this has been a “natural barrier” for the industry as a whole, and while it’s starting to change, he still hears the term “necessary evil” from construction professionals regarding technology.

“In the AEC industry, we’ve been building structures as human beings for a long time, and it’s a relatively mature industry with lots of great standards and processes,” added Bryant. He said the onus also falls on the technology and software sectors, which “have been late to the marketplace. … And that’s really changed. [Construction is] seeing more investments from software firms in the last five years than [it has] seen in the previous 100.”

Bryant said the industry has typically been frugal and viewed technology “not as an enabler but as a utility.” Additionally, he said the construction industry is unique given its high attention to safety for employees and quality for owners and customers. “When you start changing things, you’ve got to keep that in mind,” he said. “So that ‘proceed with caution’ [mentality] I think is something we’ve always seen across the industry.’”

Despite all of this, change is happening. Puerner said one key catalyst has been demographics. “There is a new generation entering the workforce, and I think that has a lot to do with it.” He added that by nature, the emphasis on collaboration in construction projects has forced the issue. “[In the past], we’ve had lots of paper documents going back and forth … we’re working with the owner, the architect, all the subcontractors—a tremendous amount of collaboration has to go on.”

Bryant agreed, noting that owners are demanding more than in the past. He said construction firms need to be able to provide visibility into what a building or project may look like prior to building it, and also to illustrate any changes taking places.

Bryan said his company’s business technology strategy can be broken down into four categories: cloud, mobility, integration and data/analytics. “I don’t think you can have a great mobility strategy without cloud and data. … Those three things have to go hand in hand,” he said. “… And if you can’t integrate those technologies together, they’re not going to work.”

From a mobility standpoint, he said the end users on the jobsite are demanding the ability to get information.

“They don’t want to walk back to the trailer; they want to get that information at the workspace,” he said. “In a 60-story building, you can imagine the inefficiency when you have hundreds of workers on a jobsite. … If they have that information at their fingertips, they’re going to be much more productive and efficient.” He said mobile technologies can be used for quality inspection and safety, and real-time changes in the plan room can get transferred to workers on the jobsite immediate, via a mobile device.

Ram said studies suggest 30 percent of the construction process is re-work, 60 percent of labor is wasted, and only ten percent of losses are due to wasted materials. “There are clearly a lot of avenues for improving efficiency,” he said, pointing to a HM Government study that suggested the global construction market is forecast to grow by more than 70 percent by 2025.

Bryan noted technologies that will continue to pick up steam include 3D printing, speech recognition, iBeacons and drones. “We’re finding opportunities in drones to analyze our construction sites, not only progress, but to scan the surface area of a terrain,” he said.

Puerner added his company is focusing on end-to-end project integration—taking a job from estimate to bid, schedule, execution and turnover. Other trends are perfecting the use of BIM modeling for constructability and quality control, as well as the concept of smart buildings.


1 Comment

  1. We just started using the tablets for quoting and people love them because of the job photos we can show them! Technology needs to be embraced in this industry

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