With looming worker shortages and a considerable productivity gap, fresh eyes are being turned toward the opportunities presented by construction technology.
Yet despite the move toward embracing a digital future, challenges still persist. A brand new Dodge Data & Analytics study that explored tech trends in the construction industry found that the biggest hurdle to adopting cost management technologies is worries over field worker acceptance. According to Construction Dive, 61% of North American contractors surveyed cited this as a top-three obstacle, with 51% saying they worried about new mobile applications for managing field operations.
According to Steve Jones, senior director of industry insights at Dodge, companies that are more open-minded to the idea of integrating such mobile, data-driven tools will be at a competitive advantage.
“Those firms that have adopted and embraced these technologies will be more and more successful as a result."
“Those firms that have adopted and embraced these technologies … [will] be more and more successful as a result, and it’s going to be more difficult for firms that are reluctant to get involved to compete with them,” he told Construction Dive.
Construction projects typically involved the coming together of multiple companies across disciplines, each with their own bottom line to worry about. A challenge in widespread adoption of technology in the industry has been disparate, outdated systems used by different companies. Bringing together systems in a unified, standardized fashion bridges that gap and enhances collaboration, a process the industry is still in the early days of wrapping its head around.
A considerable lack of IT spending and dedicated staff embedded in construction companies is another obstacle to overcome in tech adoption, and it comes at a time when new technologies like BIM, big data analytics, augmented reality, cloud computing and artificial intelligence are becoming ubiquitous. So far, most construction companies have devoted limited resources to bolstering their IT departments, leaving them without a champion to encourage use of more technology and without an expert to keep the systems humming. According to ForConstructionPros, more than half of U.S. contractors spend less than 2% of corporate revenue on IT.
The lack of a “digital core” in companies also makes it more difficult to properly explain and demonstrate the benefits and ROI of technology spend. In order for that conversation to happen, someone passionate about technology has to have a voice within the organization. Placing IT experts in a construction company also can help identify which workers are most comfortable with new methods and who needs retraining to get everyone on board. Cost is always a concern when it comes to overhauling a business, and effectively communicating how reliably and in some cases quickly an upfront investment in technology will yield dividends can help mitigate that concern. It’s hard to argue with numbers.
The cultural attitude in the industry around technology has proven to be another sticking point.
The cultural attitude in the industry around technology has proven to be another sticking point. The industry has, for some time, maintained a perhaps overly cautious attitude when it comes to technological adoption. This lingering in the past creates a self-perpetuating cycle of sorts where workers and managers are reluctant to put forth the effort required to digitally transform.
According to a KPMG survey, many construction companies are playing it perhaps too safe when it comes to adopting new technologies, opting for a “wait and see” approach and watching what their competitors are doing before dipping their toes in. This attitude puts the companies on the sidelines behind competitors from the outset, who gain a first-mover advantage by taking that first step.
There have been many steps forward toward the industry’s adoption of technology, but construction still lags behind many overlapping industries. This has resulted in the dreaded efficiency gap construction has experienced. Over time, partly with a generational shift, partly when the benefits become too obvious to ignore, the forces built up in opposition to embracing technology will continue to erode.