You don’t usually think of technology and construction as adjacent industries. One is hammers, nails, bricks, and mortar. The other is satellite connections and microprocessors. Anyone who’s ever worked on a job site, though, knows just how untrue that generalization is.
In fact, everything about the construction industry is directly tied to cutting-edge technology. This was true in centuries past, when things like welding or tractors or even wrenches came along to change how things got built, and it’s true today, whether you’re talking about Building Information Modeling (BIM) or smart hard hats. Whatever technology can do determines what’s possible in terms of construction.
That being the case, there are a lot of ways you can frame (no pun intended) a discussion about construction and technology, but one that doesn’t come up so often is transparency. Why is “see-through building” becoming the new norm, and how is it being achieved? Why do 70% of contractors agree that advanced technology increases productivity? Those are questions that this article will try to answer.
How is digital technology changing the industry?
There are dozens (if not hundreds) of individual technologies — including artificial intelligence (AI), drones, autonomous equipment, and many others — that are changing construction sites in ways that would have been tough to imagine just 20 years ago. But against that backdrop, it’s innovations as simple as mobile apps that are drastically altering the way contractors manage jobs for the better.
For too long, construction companies have been using technology that wasn’t created for them, and that trend is finally reversing. Software built by and for those intimately familiar with the industry’s toughest challenges is emerging to radically change what’s possible in the field.
On a high-tech job site, everything — people, equipment, even the environment itself — can be connected. Not necessarily to one another (although that’s true in some cases) but to the cloud, making it possible to see anything and everything about a project in real-time from anywhere in the world.
What advantages does transparency bring to construction?
The benefits of connectivity might seem pretty obvious, but there’s even more than meets the eye. So much so that it bears breaking down into the following categories: labor, cost, and communications.
In the case of clocking in and out, downtime, and even outright payroll fraud, GPS tracking of site workers offers a level of transparency that can substantially bring in the margins on labor costs. This concept also applies to unsupervised workers; for service companies that operate on a heavy call-out basis, efficiency tracking can be cumbersome. Tech is changing that.
If the above sounds like heavy-handed management tactics, consider the fact that they also benefit employees. When every work hour is tracked and recorded automatically, there’s no more disagreement about hours worked, including overtime (which also helps employers stay compliant in a landscape of shifting labor laws). It’s not about controlling individual people, it’s about controlling a crucial variable in the profitability formula.
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Modern software allows site and job progress to be monitored in real-time, providing insight into both the financial and logistical aspects of a project. Upfront guesswork and attempts to reconcile budgets after the fact no longer have to be the reality, as live actuals take the place of budget lookbacks, making it possible to steer a project toward greater profitability. Add in the accuracy that software systems and apps provide, and you get a level of transparency that can make all the difference to project managers, supervisors, and owners.
One of the most basic problems the average construction company deals with is also one of the most pervasive and frustrating: the difficulty in communicating effectively and efficiently between the field and the office. This tends to be especially true for small teams that lack full-time supervisory structures on all job sites. Now, technology makes it possible to trade in point-to-point communications for project-wide platforms that are organized, searchable, and able to sync with third-party services. No more information silos, and no more chasing employees in circles around a job site.
The Bottom Line
This industry as a whole hasn’t leaned into the digital age just yet. The foundation and framework are there, but it takes the right people — and substantial investment — to implement the new paradigm. For the companies that do, it’s an extremely exciting time, and the upsides are evident: higher productivity, smarter building, and ultimately, bottom-line growth. For those that drag their feet, the walls will keep closing in around them.