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By Duane Craig
July 3, 2017
If you’ve been around construction since the 1990s, you know what a pain it has been to embrace computer technology. Without your own developers, you were left at the mercy of the marketplace. And, the marketplace was simply an ocean of software developers each carving out their own specialized piece of business.
So, you had to buy one software package for estimating, one for accounting, and another for scheduling. Then, because the name of the game in those days for software developers was “proprietary,” none of those software packages worked together.
It was as if they were all fighting, and you had to mediate using your dollars. You were left to pay more for integrations, or hiring outside developer consultants to do it for you.
It was kind of like the reality for many gold miners; it was the people selling the wash pans and supplies who really got rich.
Now, if you haven’t evolved with the times, then you might still be enduring the legacy pain points of the earlier digital model. But, if you step into the cloud that’s already surrounding you, you’ll see a whole new model where technology actually works for you. And much of it is possible because of application programming interfaces (APIs).
Today, you can log into a cloud-based platform and through the magic of APIs, collect and integrate data from every business function. In effect, you bypass all the software fights of yesteryear. APIs allow applications not only to share the data they collect, but also act upon it.
Here’s one example anyone in construction will value.
An API does for data, what an outlet does for a plug; it creates a connection point. If you extend the electrical metaphor, the electricity is the data, and the power company is the platform. The API, or outlet, can exist anywhere on the platform, allowing connection points to whatever functions the platform has.
Furthermore, the APIs allow the platform to quickly and easily accommodate new use cases. In the electrical metaphor, think about how easy and quick it is to bring a new appliance home and connect it to the electricity it needs to operate. Because of the outlet, you don’t need to hardwire the appliance to the electrical source. In the same way, the API extends what the platform has to offer. Aerial technology is one such new use case.
Who would have thought that suddenly, coming out of nowhere, small aircraft would become available to the average business owner?
These drones have quickly found many uses in construction. But along with their functions, comes a lot of data. Photos and video in particular demand huge bandwidth in exchange for providing valuable new depths of detail on construction jobsites.
Suppose you want to use a drone to capture jobsite activities at various times of the day. You could buy an app that works with the drone to supply the visuals to a hard drive or web data storage point. But then, whenever you wanted to view, use, or share these visuals, you’d have to locate, download, manipulate, select recipients, choose a transfer method, and distribute.
On the other hand, if you are using a drone API, the visuals get automatically tagged to your project activities and linked to your project workflow. When you’re ready to share the visuals, you simply select the recipients from the project list, and press send. If you just want to monitor multiple jobsites, you can do that too, and have them all available right on your project dashboard, anywhere, and on any device.
There is also one other powerful aspect to the cloud-based platform and APIs. They allow customization. This should have a powerful ring in construction because each project is custom. The platform and APIs allow you to customize your digital processes in the best ways.
Weather is one of the huge variables of construction projects. And, while regional weather forecasts might come close to reality, they are nowhere near as accurate as micro-climate forecasts. If you work in one microclimate and you set up your own weather station, in just a few months you’ll have actionable data that you can compare to the regional forecast that’s typically available. You’ll know, for example, how much the temperature highs and lows vary from the regional norms, the lag or lead in the barometric pressure, and the difference in relative humidity.
With that information, you can set up a custom API that will automatically adjust the macro weather forecast so it is more accurate for exactly where you are. With that information on your project dashboard, you’ll be better prepared to respond to weather changes. Going one step further, what if that information was laid over your project schedule? It’s possible you’d begin to see places where resources need to be adjusted, or special tools and equipment might be needed. In short, you will be incorporating advanced risk planning right into your schedule.
The cloud-based platform in conjunction with APIs are getting all of your data handlers talking, instead of fighting. Now, you’ve got some extra time for something other than being the mediator.
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