Technology’s small share of the annual budget and the shortage of staff to help move it forward are among the top challenges general contractors face when it comes to technology adoption, according to the JBKnowledge 2018 ConTech Report.
Given exclusive access to preliminary results ahead of the survey's official rollout this winter, Construction Dive analyzed general contractors’ responses to see whether progress is being made on the tech adoption front, which obstacles remain and what opportunities lie ahead.
Out of 786 GC respondents, 41.5% indicated a lack of staff that can support new technology limits their companies' ability to try and adopt technologies. Budget was the second-most selected limitation, noted by 40.7% of participants, while a 33.2% share said hesitant management stands in the way. (Respondents could select multiple options).
Note: All survey data cited below comes from respondents who categorize their company as a general contractor. The number of individuals who replied to each prompt varies slightly throughout the survey. Previous reports can be found here.
An overwhelming market
Nearly 18% of respondents said their company is limited by the maturity (presumably, the lack thereof) of technology on the market.
McKinsey measured $10 billion of investment in con-tech firms between 2011 and 2017 while a recent JLL report noted an additional $1 billion of investment in con-tech startups just in the first half of this year. The natural result of this is that half-baked software solutions are in the mix of 2,000-plus startups, according to Christian Burger, president at Burger Consulting Group.
Contractors could be thrown by well-marketed products that appear “baked, fully tested, deployed” when they’re really in an early stage, he told Construction Dive last month. Alternatively, companies that recognize this risk may steer clear of the market altogether until some natural sifting occurs.
More than a third of respondents (35.4%) said their company has two to five people on staff who research and implement new technologies full time, which suggests that some companies aren’t shying away from investing in employees who can help digitize business workflows and drive data collection. The second-most-selected reply to this prompt, however, was none, with 27.1% of participants responding that no one at their company occupies this role.
Enabling innovation and digitization
Although 49% of respondents said their company has a technology research and development budget, 51% said their company does not. Some of the opinions expressed as to why tech R&D was left out include that:
- It is unimportant.
- It is important but not a priority for management.
- Individual employees tend to pitch ideas to management.
- The processes to launch tech are still new or developing.
With regard to technology use, all GC respondents said their firm use multiple software applications across workflows, but nearly a quarter said there are no integrations across their platforms. In addition:
- About 53% said employees have to manually transfer data across applications.
- Roughly 47% said they transfer data via spreadsheets.
- Nearly 28% transfer data via custom-built integrations.
The two top workflows for which companies use mobile applications, according to the survey, are daily reporting and photo/video, named by 62.6% and 63.3% of respondents, respectively. Almost all respondents — 92.2% — use smartphones on the jobsite and 65.4% use tablets, with the potential to access such applications for their work.
Drones are taking off from many jobsites, the survey found, with about 57% of respondents reporting their firms use drone technology. Meanwhile, some contractors continue to shy away from BIM, with 28% of respondents said their company does not bid on projects involving the modeling technology.
The top function for which BIM is being used is coordination and clash detection (59%), followed by project visualization, project planning and virtual mockups. Slightly more than half (52.4%) said that the general contractor takes the lead on BIM on their projects while just over 21% said this falls in the architect’s court.
As for technologies that hold promise for the industry but haven’t become commonplace yet, respondents are most excited about augmented, virtual and mixed reality, with about 32% of respondents saying they believe they will provide their firm a strategic advantage. Roughly 32% selected prefabrication, followed by jobsite sensors, robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence.