After decades of under-digitization, builders are embracing digital solutions like never before. Technology can improve decision making and project management across the project lifecycle, replacing assumptions with objective data into how humans, tools, and machines are interacting onsite and how projects are progressing.
When I look at the current construction technology landscape, the technology generally falls into two categories:
1) Tech that digitizes existing workflows, such as software and mobile apps
2) Tech that introduces new processes and data sets.
The latter category revolves around the growing construction Internet of Things (IoT). Emerging IoT solutions—such as drones, wearable devices, or equipment sensors—that can collect and transmit data in real time from the jobsite (e.g., workers, tools, machinery) to the cloud, where it’s stored and available for access and analysis.
IoT devices are at the center of the smarter, connected jobsite, but they also introduce new variables – procedures, internal buy-in and support, data and security considerations – that challenge how organizations do business today.
Change is never without some hurdles or hesitation. That’s especially true in a traditionally conservative, risk-averse industry with tight competition, timelines, and margins.
But these factors, combined with the skilled labor shortage and increased activity/demand, are precisely what makes the construction industry so ripe for digital transformation. There’s a lot of waste at the jobsite – wasted time, movement, and human potential.
Technology and the data-driven insights it enables are the key to unlocking new efficiencies and improving outcomes.
So, where do we begin? How do we set ourselves up for success and maximize the innovation happening in the construction and engineering sector today?
When I work with contractors, my first question always is, “What problem are you trying to solve?” As a data scientist by training, I know the importance of having an end goal for technology adoption and data collection.
Worker safety, suboptimal resource utilization, or bottlenecks – whatever it is, it’s essential to define what you hope the data will illuminate, disprove, or confirm. Identify a business challenge that cannot be solved by existing processes or tools.
Begin to evaluate the solutions available today that can tackle these challenges.
The most successful organizations incorporate different departments and functions. For example, these companies involve tech, risk, and operational teams to discuss how a solution needs to perform to add value.
Nobody knows your business like you, and it’s important to synthesize what you know about your organization with what’s possible today.
At the same time, it’s essential to invest in and develop your own internal infrastructure – especially in the case of IoT technology – so you can act upon the insights.
It’s been said before, but a solution is only as good as the processes and people that support it.
Incorporating different stakeholders and asking how else the data can be used/integrated reveals further use cases or applications.
For example, an organization might be looking for a tool to detect worker falls or to evacuate jobsites. At the same time, they can uncover additional benefits and uses of the data—such as worker time and attendance, or resource utilization—by exploring what else a system can do.
Having a strong technology partner can help organizations to tailor a solution and ensure relevant insights and action.
It’s critically important to remember the workers at the core of the solutions. When I envision the worksite of tomorrow, it’s not full of robots or machines, but optimized, empowered, and enabled human labor.
As we navigate this shifting landscape, investing in a blend of solutions – those that digitize workflows, and those that introduce new variables and data – will be essential to adoption.
It’s also important to see how technology has contributed to gains to justify future investments.
Amid this backdrop, collaboration and partnership will become more important than ever.
Solution providers need to work together to integrate, share data, and accelerate adoption. This creates a better experience for end users. It also challenges various providers to advance how their solution operates and communicates.
By working together, the industry can increase productivity, improve safety, meet demand, and shift our image from low tech – and at times, stagnant – to one that is literally building the future. Getting to that future state, however, starts with embracing technology and practicing innovation today.