Can you put too much technology on your job site?
By David WardFebruary 02, 2022
Construction tech has been one of the fastest growing investment sectors over the last several years, but how much value are contractors getting from it?
In 2021, investments in construction tech hit a record high of $2.1 billion, which is a year-over-year increase of more than 100%, according to TechCrunch data. While construction tech is changing the industry, bringing more innovation to the job site, it also begs the question of what general contractors (GCs) are actually getting from those investments.
To determine the value of any investment in construction technology, let’s first take a look at the primary drivers for the rise in this sector. The construction labor shortage immediately comes to mind. Second, we’re living in an age of digital transformation, and construction is just beginning to digitize.
In terms of the labor shortage, according to Associated Builders and Contractors, the construction industry will need one million more workers over the next two years to keep up with demand. This partially explains the increased interest in modular construction, autonomous hardware and robotics for construction.
Along with addressing some of the labor issues, these newer technologies improve safety as machines can enter areas that are hard to reach or dangerous for humans. Yet these technologies are still in their developmental stages, are expensive, and won’t entirely replace the need for skilled workers on the job site.
When it comes to digital transformation, additional technologies that are crowding the construction space are dedicated to making it easier to manage the
business. The majority of these are front office applications used for estimating and planning, project management, scheduling and resource loading. They’re built to accommodate the needs of managers, but they often lack critical insight from what’s happening on the job site. That insight can make or break a project’s profitability.
What happens in the field shouldn’t stay in the field
To put this in perspective, consider how much time was planned for drywall or framing versus the time that was actually spent on the projects. For larger projects, does the GC have data telling them which subcontractors consistently outperform or underperform? These are just a few examples of how what happens in the field should be immediately integrated into the back office.
One way that GCs are addressing these challenges is by keying in handwritten daily log information into a spreadsheet, online form or project management platform like Procore, Trimble or CMIC. Yet the data entry often happens after the fact, making it difficult to immediately make important decisions as the project is underway. Not to mention that data entry for the daily log is time consuming and a heavy administrative effort with a wide margin for error.
While most would agree that dated processes should be digitized, old habits die hard, and paper-based processes have been the standard for decades. When digital does make its way on the job site, another challenge can arise.
Once a new technology has been mastered, there’s little motivation to improve. If a supervisor or safety officer has a technology that’s worked in the past, they’ll use it on every project, regardless of whether it’s the best tool for a job.
For example, low-cost construction apps that often solve only one problem such as time cards, compliance forms and change orders are easy to download. This explains why there are many different apps on a jobsite, based on the preferences of individual supervisors. It’s also why GCs are seeing loads of overlapping technologies mysteriously show up as expenses.
Improving field software procurement
In the rush to use technology to quickly solve a specific project problem, basic rules of software procurement are often skipped. This can put a firm at risk of ransomware, or the theft and resale of company data.
Also, since important data sitting inside those various technologies doesn’t talk to each other without a huge effort on the part of IT, it’s impossible to get a big picture view of what’s happening on each project. This means GCs can’t get ahead of any potential issues before they impact the bottom line. All of these scenarios result in unnecessary risks, costs and frustration.
They also hinder a GC’s ability to improve day-to-day operations. In conversations with some frustrated GCs, they admitted to considering scrapping their entire tech portfolio and starting from scratch. Others let the tech site idle or say they know they’re not getting the most from their investments, but aren’t sure what to do.
Five criteria for purchasing construction tech
Before ditching existing investments in construction tech or allowing the field to make any future purchases, make sure the tech meets these five basic requirements:
- Ensures security, data privacy, and support
- Accommodates field conditions and job site variations such as project size, region, and a potential lack of field IT resources
- Workers in the field can quickly master it
- Delivers a fast ROI, meaning workers and project managers immediately see the benefits
- Easily integrates with existing investments in technology, such as a project management or ERP platform to present the big picture and allow a deeper view into any job site
For a long time, the construction industry has been ripe for tech innovation. For those investments to pay off, the technology must address the current challenges facing GCs. Today, and for the foreseeable future, it’s about choosing the technology that will help make projects as profitable as possible by making workers more productive, whether in the field or in the office.
David Brian Ward is the CEO and founder of Safe Site Check In, a paperless screening tool that keeps construction management informed in real time about job site activities. He has more than 30 years of experience as a technology entrepreneur and investor, working with organizations ranging in size from Fortune 500 companies to startups in their infancy stages.