Construction is not known for groundbreaking technology use, but with an unrelenting labor shortage, increased building activity and record investment in con-tech companies, the stage is set for broader digitization in the industry, said Triax Technologies President and CEO Pete Schermerhorn in a recent webinar.
As construction technology progresses beyond apps and software programs, and jobsites — which traditionally haven’t been compatible with Wi-Fi setups — are increasingly outfitted with networks, the internet of things, in particular, is poised to improve construction safety and jobsite visibility in a big way, he said.
Will it help my team?
When looking to implement internet of things technologies such as wearables and other products, Gilbane Building Co. (ranked 12th on Engineering News-Record’s 2018 Top 400 Contractors list by revenue) sets out a pretty straightforward strategy to evaluate whether the technology will allow for fundamental improvements.
“The first thing we do is gather the stakeholders and [plan] what we need today,” said Jason Pelkey, senior vice president and CIO. “It’s often answering that question of, ‘what problem are we trying to solve?’ ” and in the case of IoT technology, “‘how does all this increasing connectivity of things, people and machines impact the business and change the way we do work?’”
Will it help us beat the competition?
Second, the contractor looks for indications that implementing a technology would result in long-term returns and competitive advantage. According to Pelkey, being able to collect and analyze a new pool of data is one way the company can get a leg up. “Think about how you can leverage data in different and multiple ways,” he said, and about the capabilities that the technology could, but does not yet offer.
Gilbane’s final step is focusing on “continuous improvement” by leveraging lessons learned from pilots through to full-scale implementation, Pelkey said. One such lesson may be finding out that an adjustment to existing processes is needed, said Kaushal Diwan, national director of innovation at DPR Construction, which is 15th on ENR’s ranking. One of the best bets for working through this is “enabling and empowering your employees” to innovate and problem-solve, he said, because the chance of success is highest with strategy and engagement up and down the chain.
What's beyond the marketing materials?
“Make sure the vendor you’re dealing with understands construction,” Diwan added, because with more than 2,300 vendors in the market, there’s a considerable chance of coming across companies with little background in the industry. By asking what a technology does beyond the marketing materials, contractors are protecting themselves from vendors that are missing the mark and simply reselling your vision to you, Pelkey noted.
When these relationships are done right, vendors can refine their solutions in ways that can benefit the industry as a whole, according to Schermerhorn. “Our job as vendors is made all the more easy if you the customer continue to identify your key business problems, communicate that to the tech industry, and help us work together to drive real innovation and put real processes in place that’ll allow you access [to] and flow of data,” he said.