Although some sectors of our industry are certainly slower to innovate than others, it’s difficult to make broad strokes about the entire industry. As a construction technology consultant, I am fortunate to see a wide spectrum of technology adoption. I have experience with contractors with highly-efficient and automated fabrication shops that rival the best manufacturing facilities in the world. Conversely, I’ve also worked with contractors unwilling to transition their office operations from on-premise legacy software to cloud solutions that substantially increase efficiencies.
Software isn’t the solution to every problem, but it can solve a lot of them.
Software Technology improves the ratio of time-spent to work-completed by reducing double-work, human error, and allowing workers to focus on more important tasks. In addition to software and apps, adding automation is pivotal to saving time and improving efficiency for construction companies. Automation provides great improvements —not by replacing human workers, but by helping them produce more in less time.
Here are some simple ideas for where to begin with technology to approve improve efficiency:
• Safety management applications
• Automated cutting and welding
• Integrated business software
• Modern cloud solutions
• Technology for service departments
Fabricating in a controlled environment from a well-developed 3D model is a great method for consistently producing high quality products. The challenge is developing an adequately trained staff with the appropriate technology to accomplish this. Modern contractors that focus on performance need competent BIM/VDC personnel, robust modeling, fabrication and delivery software, and an efficient fabrication shop with equipment capable of automation.
Data collection using modern software allows contractors to track risk-related metrics. When businesses use manual processes, or Excel, they are exposing themselves to multiple risks. When field teams or fab shops use paper plans, there is a greater chance of conducting rework. A plan management application on a tablet can help them stay up-to-date and build more accurately. Tracking safety metrics and reducing errors in cost and schedule data drastically impacts the profitability of a job.
Offices must adopt trade-specific applications to help their company win and complete more jobs. Profitability in construction is heavily impacted by the amount of labor hours spent to complete a project and the number of projects won and delivered. Efficiency in the field directly impacts profitability — although efficiency in the office is also crucial to success. Robotics and automation certainly improve profitability. However, incremental improvements like implementing best practices, documenting work completed, and workflow improvements add up and become imperative to success.
The Value of Data
The word “data,” while popular, is not just a buzzword. Data enables leaders to make faster, more informed decisions and help businesses succeed by providing visibility and insights that would not exist without it. Businesses should have a documented data strategy.
Here are some considerations when developing a data strategy:
• What data do you want to collect?
• How will you collect data?
• Where will you organize and store data?
• Does the data need to be standardized because you are using multiple systems?
If yes, how can you standardize it?
• How can you visualize and interpret data?
• How does the data impact your decision?
Modern technology and integration does more than share data between multiple systems, it gives contractors the ability to integrate their company’s departments. Integrated software allows for more transparency within an organization. The field can see the status of deliveries, possess real-time access to warehouse inventory, understand the current state of project financials, and much more. Business leaders would be able to have visibility into the success of their project portfolio, understand the impacts on individual project schedules or budgets, and track key metrics per department and hold managers accountable to company goals.
These are only a few of the many benefits that technology can provide our industry. A lot of contractors are well on their way to leading our sector in innovating, while others are a decade behind because they run a profitable business without modernizing their office, shop and field technologies.
I do not advocate for companies to blindly select software and technology because not every product is the right product, but I do recommend that you do your due diligence by understanding your business or department-specific requirements and evaluate technology based on those needs.