The coronavirus has delivered one massive change order for both contractors and construction technology providers. Disruptions in supply chains, new safety protocols, remote work, and major project shifts have forced SMACNA contractors to improvise, adapt, and overcome in remarkable ways. Construction software companies have also been busy, seeking to catalyze a major digital shift.
“The COVID-19 crisis looks set to accelerate an overdue transformation of the world’s largest ecosystem,” writes McKinsey and Co. While past McKinsey and Co. studies have focused on the proliferation of new technologies entering our industry, a new study titled “The next normal in construction: How disruption is reshaping the world’s largest ecosystem” reports accelerated increases in IT investment by construction firms to adopt those new technologies.
In the past, the software options for construction companies were expensive to implement, hard to use, too complex for smaller firms, and didn’t integrate with other software solutions. Contractors made do with clipboards, binders, excel spreadsheets, emails, and whiteboards as sources of truth to run projects. Information lived in silos — literally stuck in computers and analog solutions. In 2020, this doesn’t work.
Distributed teams, a fluctuating workforce, shifting project scopes and timelines, and economic uncertainties demand a new level of agility for contractors to continue to be profitable. The “new normal” requires teams to have instant access to information — anytime, anywhere. The good news is that technology is catching up to make this a reality for all sizes of contractors.
Con-tech Is Now Modern, Connected, and Competing
Over the last few years, billions of dollars have been invested in construction software ventures. The best-of-the-best, from top tech platforms to startup communities, have turned their attention to the construction industry looking to revolutionize operations. The resulting ventures are operating in ways that have major benefits for contractors looking to digitize.
First, they are creating modern solutions that can be accessed from anywhere and are intuitive and easy to use. Teams can now access the entire suite of software — from the office, at home, on the road, or directly in the field from a mobile application.
Modern solutions integrate. Most new applications do not pretend to be do-it-all solutions. Instead, they are laser-focused on specific areas of a business, such as streamlining manufacturing and prefab processes or moving estimating process to the cloud. These focused solutions then integrate with other solutions so data can flow from the field to the back office and between stakeholders.
Integration also unlocks novel, new workflows not possible as standalone systems. Here are two innovative examples we have seen from our own partner community:
Nyfty.ai sends text messages to everyone on a project to fill out a health survey on their mobile device each day before entering the jobsite. It then logs all the responses for tracking within each project. Specialty contractors that have their project directory up to date with worker contact info simply need to turn it on to see the data.
OpenSpace provides a solution to capture 360-degree imagery of projects by walking around. Through integrated software, anyone can visually reference, create and update observations and RFIs without ever arriving at a project location.
There is a proliferation of new solutions competing to target every facet of a contractor’s business. They have significantly lowered the barrier of investment, compete on ease of use, and are looking to integrate data where possible.
Enabling an Information Supply Chain
Everyone in your company is a technology user — both consumers and creators of information in your information supply chain. The services team needs information from the construction team that built the projects they are maintaining. The estimators are working remotely to address change orders coming from the project team. The field is trying to maintain productivity while reacting to changes in safety protocols and materials delays. Information has to flow dynamically through your organization.
To get this right, leaders should think about technology strategy at three levels:
Applications (point solutions) that make your people better at their job.
Platforms that bring apps, data, and workflows together to help you collaborate with stakeholders and your teams.
Insights extracted from the platform that help you help your company win.
A proactive approach that considers each of these stages should be adopted by contractors of all sizes. Great apps will delight your employees and provide the tip of the spear for data and insights. Left unmanaged, teams will begin to adopt separate solutions for separate projects, with no consideration for insights or integration, ultimately frustrating other parts of the business. Selecting a platform that brings these apps and data together through integration can provide the backbone of a sound strategy, allowing for rolled-up analysis of your operations.
This has been a tough year. It has tested every process, workflow, and supply chain and required everyone to rethink their operations. Many of you have already emerged stronger than before by overhauling your processes and getting your teams online in new ways. For the rest of you still working toward a better new normal, the tech world is here to help.
Eric Tucker leads partner strategy for specialty contractors at Procore.