Employees once earned as they learned in construction, operating backhoes and deciphering blueprints on the fly. Even these days, workers on a construction site must think on their feet; a quick-thinking employee is a good one to have.
Still, employees don’t want to run to the trailer to check plans, or carry a laptop around in order to verify they are working off of the latest plans. Constantly revising, reprinting, and redistributing paper-based documentation is not only time consuming and costly, but almost impossible to manage. Emailing with attached spreadsheets and documents isn’t much better than a paper-based system; it slows communication and whittles profit.
Until recently, the aversion to new technologies might have been holding the industry back, but not anymore. Contractors are seeing the immediate savings they can gain by upgrading.
Technology's Learning Curve
But while more professionals are adopting mobile technology each year, how well they are using it is debatable. One study found that many industry pros still don’t understand how these tools can help their businesses. According to the 2014 Construction Technology Report & Survey by Texas-based IT consultant JBKnowledge, some construction professionals are using the cloud for their mobile solutions, but don’t know they have data in the cloud. Many respondents to the 2014 Construction Technology Report & Survey said they don’t store data in the cloud, but admitted later in the survey to using smart phones, tablets, web-based emails, and solutions like Dropbox or Google Drive for their work.
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The report began in 2012 when JBKnowledge conducted it to confirm that construction professionals were using increasing amounts of technology. The study has grown yearly, with more than 1,300 people responding to the 2014 survey, which JBKnowledge produced in partnership with the Construction Financial Management Association and the Construction Science Department at Texas A&M University. The report shows more contractors are using apps.
From 2013 to 2014, solutions that grew most in use were Field Data Collection, Building Information Modeling, and Customer Relationship Management. And the United Kingdom has mandated contractors use BIM Level 2 for all large government projects by 2016, which will speed adoption of that tool.
“Today’s high-tech solutions seem to be creating more trust and empowerment among employees.”
“Contractors over there are all in with BIM,” says Carol Hagen, a Phoenix-based construction industry consultant who owns Hagen Business Systems. “Which means the expertise contractors gain on those government contracts will be marketed to private owners who will increasingly adopt BIM.”
But the average construction industry decision-makers should concentrate on the primary cost-minimizing tasks they want the software to accomplish, experts say. Technology in construction is not just about software, Hagen says. “It’s about sustainability and increased efficiency.”
Still, some industry leaders are not taking advantage of the possibilities of mobile technology. “The construction industry is using the technology, but ignoring whole new approaches that would replace Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, and email chains,” says Todd Dawalt, a Lexington, Kentucky-based leadership consultant who runs Construction Leading Edge.
The 2014 report showed more firms are buying hardware such as smartphones for their employees to use for work—a clear indicator that firms are engendering trusting relationships with their workers.
Document and drawing collaboration platforms are widely used, but not universal, says Paul Wilkinson, a London, UK-based construction technology writer and analyst blogging for ExtranetEvolution.com. “Email still retains a strong hold in many organizations, and tools such as DropBox are sometimes used for simple file sharing. Version control and management of audit trails is not easy if companies rely on email and simple storage solutions,” he says. In 2011, the UK made BIM mandatory for centrally procured public sector projects starting in 2016, and regional and local government will follow, Wilkinson says.
“This mandate has hastened the industry adoption of BIM; some private sector clients are following the government line, too. It’s now just a matter of time before BIM becomes a normal part of project delivery,” Wilkinson says.
Building Trust in Construction
Some skills lacking on jobsites may be hindering the adoption of new technologies. One of the biggest problems is construction managers not being taught leadership skills, Dawalt says. “They have a taker’s approach rather than a service-based approach to leadership. When people trust their leaders, and they know that their leaders trust them, it’s pretty amazing what happens,” Dawalt says.
Today’s high-tech solutions seem to be creating more trust and empowerment among employees. The 2014 report showed more firms are buying hardware such as smartphones for their employees to use for work—a clear indicator that firms are engendering trusting relationships with their workers.
It’s an act of trust when a firm gives a tablet or smartphone to a worker and tells him to learn how to use it. In doing this, the firm is showing the employee can be trusted with equipment and that it’s worth teaching the employee new skills.
“Outside of desktop computers, smartphones are the most frequently used computing devices by construction professionals in 2014, and the majority of those smartphones are corporate-provided,” the report states.
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