Ever since we learned how to use tools, humans have been building things. Now, in the 21st century, construction is more modern and sophisticated than ever. Or at least, it should be!
Many construction firms are reluctant to embrace the new technologies that can make projects safer and more efficient. Why? And what should all construction firms consider as they move forward?
How technology can revolutionise construction projects
Technology is–quite simply–the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes. This means that it covers everything from best practices and safety regulations to design tools to mathematical principles to advanced equipment. While it’s true that most architects and construction planners now use digital tools to design and map out sites, other technologies have been adopted more slowly.
For example, less than 40 percent of construction businesses use drones to survey and monitor job sites. Only 15-20 percent use virtual scans and 360-degree imaging technology to design a building or document project progress. Virtual reality and augmented reality are even less popular, used by only 13 percent of firms. All these tools can improve project efficiency and ensure that the proper materials and equipment are procured. So, why aren’t more firms using them?
There’s also a large variety of digital tools that allow construction managers to take a “smart” approach. Automation technology and AI-powered analytical software helps them generate accurate estimates, optimise work schedules, issue instant reports, and much more. Plus, new smart devices and even wearable items such as hardhats, boots, and vests can monitor worker health and productivity. Everything can be processed and analyzed in mere seconds with new technology.
That’s an amazing way to reduce worker fatigue and labor turnover, optimise team assignments, and minimise budget bloat. So again, why aren’t more businesses using these incredible tools?
Slow adoption leads to slow progress
By some estimates, less than 25 percent of construction projects are completed on time. Reasons vary, but poor workflow management and cumbersome design processes stand out as obvious problems. Even good project managers struggle to align all aspects of a project — and any mismatch can lead to delays.
Without taking advantage of available technologies to streamline the project, it’s nearly inevitable that managers will overlook an avoidable detractor or hurdle. Whether they neglect to cover a time-sensitive expense or don’t assign enough laborers at critical moments, these simple mistakes can seriously slow a project’s progress.
Poor productivity hurts profitability
A delayed construction project does more than bloat the budget and frustrate the workers: across all sectors, low productivity on construction sites costs a whopping $1.6 trillion globally. That’s lost revenue for investors and owners who are waiting for projects to be finished.
By using a suite of tools to automate, monitor, and optimise the work, construction managers can overcome the typical “start and stop” approach that characterises many projects. The ability to anticipate needs and allocate resources properly is crucial to a timely project. Plus, letting computers do these tedious tasks saves countless hours.
What’s holding the industry back?
If these solutions can enable construction projects to be completed on time and within the budget, what’s preventing firms from adopting them? As with any technological innovation, many businesses are reluctant to take on the risk. Will the return on investment really be worth the cost? Would the new technology actually improve project efficiency?
It’s natural to be skeptical of new systems, especially if construction firms consider delays and inefficiencies to be part of the process. And of course, every new tool costs money. Firms may not be willing to invest that money for the future savings that might not even happen.
Because most projects aren’t completed on time anyway, this attitude is not surprising. Still, one wonders why more firms aren’t concerned about the economic cost — not to mention the safety risks. The simple answer is that safety science is already baked into industry regulations and the equipment itself. Plus, investors have come to expect projects to be delayed, and they plan accordingly.
Encouraging technology adoption in the construction industry
At a certain point, the old ways just no longer work. Concerns over worker safety and increasing demand for new development are both putting pressure on construction firms to do better, safer work faster. Add in the declining cost of new technologies, and the adoption rate is slowly but surely rising.
There has also been a major shift toward modular design and construction, in which some components of the building are assembled off-site. This practice has helped reduce overall construction costs, which means that some firms don’t see a need to further streamline the process. On the flip side, the need to supervise and manage multiple sites and vendors is driving many firms to use automated project management and estimating software.
Finally, some firms are simply trying to recover from PR headaches. Poorly managed construction projects lead to accidents, budget bloats, economic drain on surrounding businesses, and ultimately bad press. With an ever-growing number of media outlets — not to mention social media — the pressure is on to complete projects in a timely manner.
Still, there’s a long way to go. The construction industry is still decades behind other industries that have greatly benefited from innovation. And to be fair, many new tools, such as smart glasses and 3-D printers, are still cost-prohibitive. Managers just don’t see the benefits outweighing the cost.
Which technologies should your firm choose?
If you’d like to bring in more projects on time and under budget, there are affordable solutions you can implement. Depending on the types of projects your firm does, virtual scans and 3-D printed models might be overkill. However, it’s safe to say that every construction project could benefit from better workflow management, progress tracking, estimating, and budgeting. These are essential tasks that are very time-consuming — and a single error can lead to costly delays.
You don’t have to allocate a lot of your firm’s budget to new technology. Instead, choose one or two priority areas you’d like to improve. For most firms, those are labor management and cost estimating. These two elements go hand in hand, as misplaced workers and forgotten expenses tend to feed into each other.
Try to break out of your comfort zone for your priority areas. By avoiding a complete overhaul of your systems and processes, you can reduce pushback and promote buy-in from your team. Then, monitor the new technology’s impact. The good news is that automated budgeting and project management solutions make it simple to generate reports and run scenarios. Your findings might surprise you!
Adoption of new technologies in the construction industry may be slow, but eventually, the benefits will outweigh the costs. Firms should evaluate where old-fashioned tools and techniques may be hurting their business. As more firms become first-adopters, overall interest will rise, and in time, most firms will find they need to embrace new technologies to become competitive.
In the meantime, construction firms can affordably automate and streamline their projects with workflow management and cost estimating software. If you’re interested, Costminer could be a great place to start. Our fast and easy to use on screen takeoff and estimating software helps construction managers accurately plan and track their budgets, prepare estimates, and get feature-rich estimating for a reasonable price. Feel free to start your free trial today, and take your next project to the next level.