Going Digital

 TRIAX 01Construction enters the digital age with no signs of slowing down.   

By Chad Hollingsworth 

After decades of lagging digitization, the construction industry has entered a bold new era. Four forces – a skilled labor shortage, changing workforce demographics, increased demand, and an infusion of investment and innovative technologies –are driving its digital transformation. This newfound digitization will continue to change the image of the jobsite as we know it, helping to make it safer and more productive to meet the growing infrastructure needs of the future. 

Below is an examination of each of these market forces and the role they can play in construction’s continued growth. 

Workers Continue to Hold the Key 

The construction industry faces a unique mix of challenges and opportunities as contractors learn to do more with less manpower. The much-publicized labor shortage shows no signs of slowing down with 80 percent of contractors reporting difficulty filling hourly craft positions, up 10 percent from 2017. Despite this, the current and future outlook of the construction industry looks strong, with executives anticipating significant growth over the next several years, and Q3 2018 contractor backlogs hitting the highest level since the USG Corporation + U.S. Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index’s (CCI)  was started. 

As an experienced workforce retires, companies need to find creative ways to attract a new generation of workers who have traditionally been reluctant to join the industry. Simultaneously, as technology changes the face of construction sites, and the daily processes and tasks it takes to operate a project, the skill sets required to be successful are evolving. With the growing prevalence of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, firms are collecting data that they never had access to before, opening up a whole new level of data-specific job opportunities.

To meet demand, construction companies need to expand technical skills among current employees as well as hire new individuals with technical expertise. For existing employees, this could be as simple as pairing tech-savvy individuals at the company with those less comfortable with it - an “innovation apprenticeship”– or offering solution-specific training as part of implementation and roll-out. Increasingly, companies should invest in professional development programs that offer existing employees a chance to acquire new skills and take a lead role in construction’s data-driven future. 

Forward-looking contractors are creating these new data-specific positions and reaching out to attract and recruit traditionally non-construction individuals who have experience bringing innovation to under-digitized industries.  In February 2018, for example, Suffolk hired its first chief data officer as part of its strategy to leverage technology and big data to improve productivity and profitability. These new positions provide an exciting opportunity for individuals to join one of the last digital frontiers and shape how data and advanced analytics will be used for years to come. 

As an added benefit, these newcomers also bring a fresh perspective, and healthy challenge to the status quo, in an industry that has been doing things the same way for decades. 

Taking a More Strategic Approach 

Advanced jobsite technologies are becoming available at the right time, coinciding with tremendous market need and investment. Ten billion dollars has been invested in construction technology from 2011 through early 2017 according to McKinsey, and 2018 investment has already reached $1.38 billion, according to CB Insights. This investment is not only accelerating digital adoption by enabling start-ups and emerging companies to develop scalable, construction-specific technologies, but it is also prompting established companies to partner with these firms to create greater value for their customers. 

Yet, while the industry has reached a digital inflection point, it now means that construction firms have to find a way to cut through the clutter of offerings to select solutions that add value.

While just 12 months ago, companies, eager to gain a competitive advantage from innovation, were rushing to adopt the latest technologies, leading contractors today are taking a more measured approach. Amid construction’s tech boom, it’s more important than ever that companies define and understand key business challenges and apply resources to solve them. This requires an upfront commitment to bring together different stakeholders to set common, quantifiable goals. Contractors should test solutions in the office and real world to ensure that the right analytical resources and processes are in place to leverage new insights on – and across – project sites.  In addition, top construction contractors understand it’s as important to establish buy-in from users in the field as executives in the corporate office. Having a process in place to solicit and incorporate end-user feedback, including the ease or difficulty of use and quality of training and support, can go a long way toward system acceptance and use.

Construction has entered the digital age, and there has never been a more exciting time to be involved in the industry. Whether driven by necessity to meet worker shortages and attract the next generation, or because of the availability of innovative technologies that for the first time are being deployed on the jobsite, digitization is moving full steam ahead. In order to capitalize on this opportunity, however, construction companies need to dedicate resources, staff, time and budget to innovation. By evaluating current business practices, identifying key challenges,  creating a solid framework for approaching technology, and investing in people and processes first and foremost, organizations are better equipped to stay agile and competitive in today’s fast-moving marketplace. 

As chief partnership officer and founder of Triax Technologies, Chad Hollingsworth is responsible for leading the company’s growth opportunities and bringing the benefits of the company’s IoT-based solutions to new markets.

 

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