With an estimated 224.3 million users in the United States, smartphones have become the great equalizer. People use their mobile devices for communicating, shopping, banking, and even working. Except when you work in construction, where there is a digital divide between the companies that are the haves and have-nots. With internet connectivity very accessible in the United States and mobile apps lowering the barrier of entry into technology for construction, why is technology creating inequities between construction companies?
Reasons for the Digital Divide
According to Go Build America, the average age of a tradesman is 47 years old. The seasoned construction worker has effectively managed his projects without the benefits of technology and internet. While younger employees who have grown up with computers, gaming, and other digital experiences, they are more comfortable with adapting technology to improve their workflows.
It is easy to scapegoat age as the reason for the digital divide. However, with smartphone and mobile app usage widespread in the personal lives of individuals’ of all ages, the resistance to technology is endemic of the culture of the industry and company. While construction firms may understand the productivity gains through digitization and technology, the construction sector as a whole is slow to adopt process and technology innovations. Construction is recognized as one of the least digitized industries behind agriculture and hunting.
Following the technology adoption lifecycle, less than 20% of construction companies fall under the spectrum of innovators and early adopters. With such small profit margins, labor shortage, and compressed schedules that plague the industry, the majority of construction companies are unwilling to risk valuable time and dollars to adopt new technology.
As stated earlier, many construction companies are short on time and cash to take a risk on new technology. According to 2017 JBKnowledge ConTech survey, 68.2% of construction companies surveyed budget 1% or less of annual sales volume on IT expenditures. Some companies are able to bill certain IT expenditures to projects and receive reimbursement by Project Owners. However, many are assuming technology costs as an overhead expense and thus hesitant to write that check.
In addition to money, technology investment by a construction company takes on a significant amount of time by staff. Even the simplest technology and small improvement will cause changes to the employees’ workflow. Often, the team is just too busy working on jobs to stop and learn new processes, equipment, and software. Again, this goes to the culture of the organization to put a focus on training and continued professional development.
Digital Divide within a Construction Company
In many construction companies, the digital divide is prevalent between different departments. The divide exists mainly due to the nature of an individual’s work. The Accounting team is primarily in the office, so they are adequately equipped with requisite hardware and software to complete their tasks.
The Project Management team splits their time between the office and the jobsite. While in the office, project managers complete theirs tasks on their computer. Some companies utilize specialized construction project management software, while some companies utilize spreadsheets to manage their tasks.
The Foreman spends their time in the field actively working on the jobsite. Some companies equip their foreman with smartphone or tablets to complete their tasks, while some foremen utilize the old-fashioned paper and pen.
Recognizing the inefficiencies from siloed teams, many construction companies are bridging the gap with technology. Mobile devices and cloud-based software function to foster collaboration between the field team and the office team. The field team can easily capture job site activity to keep the team in the office update in real-time. Sharing project information in real time between all members of the company, regardless of location, closes the digital divide within the construction company.
Removing the silos between office and field is only one part of the equation. The separation between specialty contractors and designers can lead to confusion, complications, and change orders. Drawing software is one of the main ways that companies are breaking through the silos. Software like BIM 360 encourages cooperation amongst all stakeholders. Since many architects and structural engineers use 3D modeling or Building Information Modeling software to create the building plans, it only makes sense for contractors to have access to those models. Once they have access to the models that owners, architects, and engineers are using, they can accurately assess the project. Contractors can use their expertise in assessing the model to ensure that changes are made at the beginning of the project while changes are fairly easy and inexpensive.
Lastly, the thought process of the decision makers at the company may need to be re-engineered so the thinking is how can the company invest in the right technology that will help it generate a measurable return on investment. It’s a simple paradigm shift of cost center (IT expense) vs profit center, and being able to attribute to increases in profit per project.
When the Digital Divide is Closed – Now What?
Construction management software combined with mobile devices closes the digital divide within a construction company. The data collected from the field provides intelligence to the office for strategic planning.
Foreman can collect productivity data from the field and document job site progress. The data from the field regarding the amount of materials used, equipment utilization, crew labor hours, and percent of completion provide valuable insights. The team in the office analyzes field data to track progress, manage project profitability, and submit invoices accordingly.
With real-time data, the office team tracks information to attach issues before they can impact budget and schedule to proactively manage current projects. More importantly, is the value of the cumulative historical data from all the projects of a construction company. This data can be sliced and diced in multiple ways to determine the factors contributing to the highest productivity and most profitability.
Taking the Steps to Close the Digital Divide at Your Construction Company
Now that you have a vision of the utopia that digitization and data can provide, what steps do you need to take to close the digital divide? Do your research. From large enterprise solutions that require big budgets to single point solutions that are inexpensive and then everything else in between, the construction technology landscape is large and varied. A solution may check all the boxes of features you desire, but one important box is to ensure the company has happy and satisfied customers. Visit software review sites or talk to your fellow contractors to gather their opinion. This is a significant investment of time and resources, so you want to ensure that you select a solution that your team will be proud of and utilize.