Construction technology coming to your job site in 2022
By Nathan MedcalfJanuary 11, 2022
Construction technology (contech) news went from a few soft whispers a few years ago to many shouting voices as the construction industry went from largely ignoring new processes and technologies to being bombarded with information about new products and solutions.
To help put construction technology into perspective, we talked with James Benham, CEO of JBKnowledge, a 260-person Insurance and construction technology firm out of Texas. The discussion focused on three areas:
- Technologies that will see the greatest adoption in 2022
- Technologies that are the most undervalued
- Technologies which will see the greatest transformation
Coming to a job site near you
For greatest adoption in 2022, Benham pointed to business intelligence (BI) software and robotic process automation (RPA) and workflow automation software.
Business intelligence software will really come to fruition this year, he said. As companies have adopted mobile apps and web-based applications, they have collected terabytes of data, which has remained largely ignored, since companies didn’t have the tools to make sense of the data. Now, BI tools are allowing companies to parse the data so they can use it to make better business decisions.
“Progressive construction companies will leverage this data to make better decisions from identifying which projects to bid on, which ones to accept, how to identify projects that are going wrong earlier in the project lifecycle, how to forecast revenue. These are all problems the construction industry will start to solve with BI software like Briq and Microsoft PowerBI,” Benham said.
For its part, RPA are software tools that allow you to automate really boring, menial tasks.
“With tools like Microsoft Power Automate and UI Path, you can automate importing and exporting data, manipulating Excel files and much more; you can also create your own RPA bots and automate workflows, so I think RPA is going to really take off in construction in the next year,” Benham said.
What people aren’t understanding
A technology’s potential isn’t always matched by its appreciation; the greater the gap between these two positions, the more undervalued the technology is.
“For me, the technology that really sticks out is estimating software,” said Benham. “Estimators perform a very important task; they can fate a project to financial doom before it even starts. If you actually survey estimators, as we did at JBKnowledge, you see too many of them are using Microsoft Excel. People think they can do it all in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, but they can’t. The reality is, you end up making a lot of mistakes, so I think great estimating tools are really undervalued.
“A vertically focused estimating solution helps produce estimates faster and with greater accuracy, enabling estimators to pursue the right work at the right price and increase their companies bid to win ratio. This offers a significant competitive edge in the construction industry,” said Dustin Stephens, vice president of construction and real estate, Sage.
“Procore recently acquired an estimating company, so you are finally seeing some of the majors getting into estimating. It’s a huge area of opportunity and software underutilization, as well as a big segment where most of the work is being done on Excel.
“Sage has focused development on increasing seamless integration with industry leading solutions Autodesk (3D) and eTakeoff (2D) with the recent addition of a 64 Bit platform which increases data efficiency. Other recent features to Sage Estimating include the ability to highlight and tag spreadsheet cells and more options in defining productivity and price factors,” Stephens said.
The other technology that could be utilized to a much greater degree is business information modeling (BIM).
“We are hearing too many excuses as to why companies can’t use BIM processes and technologies on specific projects,” Benham said.
“Most projects could be assisted by some level of BIM design coordination and technology utilization. Without it, companies are making preventable mistakes, which BIM would theoretically assist with. There is far too much under utilization despite the technology getting so much better,” he added.
A transformative industry
Technologies - either due to advancements in understanding, shifts in cultural practices, or changes to market conditions - experience periods of rapid change and development.
“Project management software is really getting overhauled, because there are a lot of well-developed project management software platforms and there has been a lot of consolidation,” said Benham. “Procore going public last year has led to a lot of other interest in the space as well as acquisitions. In the last four years, Procore went public, Fieldwire got acquired, Aconex got acquired, and eBuilder got acquired. So, I think you are going to see a lot of evolution in those platforms as they ramp up their marketing and sales as well as consolidation.”
Another emerging player in the project management space, Asite, is seeing stronger adoption of digital tools after contractors took a 20-year wait-and-see approach. “We are witnessing an industry waking up to the benefits of digital tools as they face a skilled labor shortage, supply chain disruptions, and pressures to effectively manage cash,” said Kyle Hamer, chief marketing officer, Asite. “Today, contractors are deploying software at record rates to maintain competitiveness and drive project success through connected teams and real-time visibility.”
Benham said that due to the success of other ERP platforms, companies are overhauling their own project management and project financial systems to compete in those markets.
“Asite continues to develop and enhance our platform and tools with “world-class business intelligence and reporting capability. Asite products can improve quality during the closeout and turnover process, and ensure projects are built safely with their health and safety tracking features,” Hamer said.
“So, as far as transformation from a technology perspective, you are going to see ERPs rolling out new collaboration platforms, as well as upgrading and integrating existing platforms to compete with the large project management solutions,” Benham said.
What about physical robots and augmented reality?
Although hardware robots and augmented reality (AR) won’t see the same adoption as software data and business intelligence, expect to see them pop up on job sites in 2022.
“I’m beginning to see legitimate movement in hardware robotics, such as the TyBOT from Advanced Construction Robotics or SPOT-the dog-resembling data collection robot from Boston Dynamics. Beyond 2022, expect 3D-printing robots to become more popular,” said Benham.
“I’ve finally started to see useable, practical applications for augmented reality,” continued Benham. “Until now, it’s been in the area that’s interesting, fascinating, great to demo and hard to utilize on a daily basis. But providers have made AR easier to use, easier to import, easier to export and easier to integrate into their solutions.”
He concluded, “They’re also taking advantage of new hardware, such as the HoloLens 2, which has improved processors and capabilities and sensors, as well as taking advantage of the new upgrades to tablets and phones that have built in Lidar, which provides new sensors, arrays, and processors for finally making AR easy-to-use, practical, and something the average worker can use without an incredible amount of training.”