By Paul Walker, Vice President Technology Division, Hoar Construction
In the last year, our project teams have used a brick laying robot, the mixed-reality tech that allows you to walk through a room before it’s built virtually, and AI to track productivity on a job site. That’s pretty remarkable in an industry that is notoriously resistant to change. But construction technology is advancing faster than ever before, thanks to significant investments from major tech companies.
A recent report from Jones Lang LaSalle, Inc. shows venture capital firms invested $1.05 billion in global construction technology startups during the first half of 2018. That’s almost a 30 percent increase over the entire amount invested in 2017.
This investment into the A/E/C (architecture, engineering, and construction) industry is long overdue. According to McKinsey & Company, construction productivity has been flat for decades, while manufacturing has nearly doubled in the same time. These advancements are not only exciting, but they also practice and being employed by companies across the country to improve efficiency in our industry and help us make better, more informed decisions day-to-day.
Focusing on the value of technology
The rapid rate of development within the construction technology community doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.
The rapid rate of development within the construction technology community doesn’t show any signs of slowing down
However, we as builders must make sure we’re being strategic about the tech we employ on a project to make sure it is creating value for our client. We have to ask ourselves, “Are we buying the latest gadget just because it’s new? Or are we investing in a tool that will add value to our client’s project?” If technology doesn’t add value, it just costs your project and your client money.
At Hoar Construction, we focus on vetting technologies to understand the value they bring to our work. The members of our technology division invest the time researching anywhere from 50-100 tech tools each year. Out of those, only five or six might make it into the field. That’s because we investigate each one, test it, and build a business case to determine its real value. When it comes to new construction technology, builders must look past the “cool factor” and learn precisely if and how it will bring value to our clients.
I also would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the increased security threats that come with new technology. While evaluating new technology, we work closely with the tech companies to ensure we can protect the privacy and integrity of our clients’ information.
Changing our mindset about technology
We continue to see an explosion of technology available to use in the field and on our job sites: robotics, autonomous machines, Building Information Models (BIM), mixed reality, and even artificial intelligence (AI).
By selecting the right technology that makes sense for our clients, these tech tools will help us communicate and build better — if we let it.
Our biggest challenge is changing how we, as an industry, see technology. First, we must overcome our issues of trust. It’s human nature to be apprehensive about the changes technology brings, and I understand that it will take time to find a level of comfort, especially in a conservative industry like ours. That’s why it’s so critical to have a savvy technology team within your company to not only locate the new tech but also help manage the change process that’s associated with it.
Second, we see technology as a single tool at our disposal, but we need to embrace it as an integral part of how we operate in the construction industry. The technique is only useful is if everyone buys in and uses it properly. The mindset of the industry is shifting, but it’s a slow migration. It is going to take a commitment from companies to adopt technology, communicate changes with their employees, and provide training and support.
Much of the technology that seems revolutionary today will be mainstream in 5 - 10 years. So, it pays to stay on the forefront now and strategically vet and adopt the right tech for your teams. Looking into the future, I think we will see technology that is currently being used inside office settings, like BIM, being used daily in the field by superintendents. I think information-sharing platforms will continue to advance and, if embraced by our industry, will improve our communication, daily processes, and even reduce the number of RFIs. In short, technology has the potential to create significant value for our clients on every project. We have to be willing to use it.