Construction software company PlanGrid and management consulting firm FMI Corp. teamed up earlier this year to survey almost 600 construction leaders across the U.S., Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Among the most striking findings in the report, “Construction Disconnected: Rethinking the management of project data and mobile collaboration to reduce costs and improve schedules,” was that the average time that U.S. construction professionals spend on rework, conflict resolution and looking for project data is costing the industry more than $177 billion annually.
Pete Schott, senior product marketing manager for PlanGrid, and Jay Snyder, tech practice leader at FMI, discussed in a webinar last week some additional survey findings which shed light on contractors’ technology investment priorities.
More than half (58%) of respondents indicated they use technology and construction-specific software to gain better access to project data and information, while 57% said they use it to improve productivity and 56% to improve accuracy of project data. (Percentages total more than 100% because companies could select more than one reason.)
When considering what tech to use, companies indicated return on investment and ease of use and implementation are among the top things to look at.
“When you’re talking about tech in a business where there isn’t a lot of loose change,” said Snyder, “the conversation around ROI is the most important consideration.” He provided a few steps contractors can take to make sure technology gains outweigh associated costs.
To measure ROI, Snyder said, companies should first establish a business objective then a baseline for assessing the current situation, by reviewing practices, policy, procedure, tools and tech. Measuring those could involve time studies on certain tasks or a review of metrics like project performance.
Next, companies should allow for a trial period of a technology to measure incremental improvement, according to Snyder. At this time, they can compare the prior state to the current state and quantify the potential benefits and savings, if any, that would result if the technology was fully adopted.
Important as ROI is, however, it isn’t precise. “There are assumptions you have to make about what the improvement might be to a process once something is fully embraced,” Snyder said.
Another consideration for adopting tech? Talent. “Don’t underestimate technology as a way to recruit and retain top talent,” said Snyder. “The majority of today’s workforce expects to use technology in their professional lives as well as, and as embedded, as it is in their personal life.” The tipping point for a potential employee deciding between multiple companies very well could be which company has most effectively ingrained technology in its business.
Schott said he was “pleasantly surprised” that, when looking at what’s important when investing in construction technology, the needs of field staff topped the list, followed by the needs of office staff. At the bottom of the list, however, was “receiving feedback from potential users,” which Schott called “troubling.”
Snyder heavily advocated for establishing a tech steering committee when researching what tech to invest in. “It can be a very large investment and carry a big expense if not done right,” he cautioned. The steering committee should include employees representing each of the key functions across the company, he said, who will “act as internal champions and the voice of the people to ensure tech improves work for given functions.”
“They’ll also motivate and get buy-in from their peers,” Snyder added.
Purchasing mobile devices isn’t enough
Another survey finding was that 75% of general and specialty contractors provide mobile devices to project managers and field supervisors, yet only 18% of companies consistently use apps to access project data and collaborate with project stakeholders.
“We know field-friendly and mobile-first is critical in the industry,” said Snyder, “but buyers of technology need to ensure they have developed the infrastructure in the field to allow mobile tech to be leveraged. This includes things like mobile devices being accessible to the field, making sure there is connectivity whether through Wi-Fi or LTE and ensuring the tech being procured is compatible with already-existing tech.”
Snyder referenced the phrase “You have to slow down to go fast” when talking about efficiency curves during the tech adoption process.
“Get organized in your approach to make meaningful progress to avoid haphazard decisions and eliminate the reactive approach humans are predisposed to,” he said. An organized approach includes careful analysis of existing technology to identify gaps and redundancies, according to Snyder, as well as opportunities for interoperability and integration.
“You might have a solution already in your own technology you’re just not leveraging,” he said.