It’s no secret that construction site technologies have come a long way in recent years. While clipboards, paper forms and desktop software haven’t gone the way of the dinosaurs, the ‘sign, scan and send’ glory days are over. We’ll bet more than a few site managers are happy to say goodbye to completing, checking and filing paper forms each week.
For construction companies that haven’t yet embraced technology, it can be difficult to know how to respond. Why should I change? When is the right time to make the leap?
In our last article, we shared tips for choosing the right software for your business. This time, we’ll look at the key factors driving technology adoption in construction, and why forward-thinking companies are taking action now.
Smartphones go mainstream
News articles and analysts often call out the construction industry for its lack of innovation. They argue that technology spending is low compared to other industries (around one to two percent of revenue, depending on the survey).
We say this criticism is unfair. Most construction companies haven’t had the opportunity to harness technology’s full potential until recently. In the days before smartphones, a construction company had limited opportunities to seek efficiencies through technology. Where could you improve productivity on site if devices needed to be plugged in all the time?
The evolution of mobile technologies on construction sites tracks a similar path to drills. Years ago, hand drills were the only option. They got the job done but were inefficient. Then electric drills came along, and while they were efficient, they were not mobile. Finally, manufacturers combined the efficiency and mobility of hand and electric drills into one, and the cordless drill was born.
In the same way, construction sites have moved from paper (inefficient) to desktop computers (not mobile) to smartphones (best of both). This has, in turn, opened up new technological possibilities. Whereas teams once had no choice but to deal with the administrative headaches that come with using a paper sign-on book, for example, they can now use their smartphones to streamline the process.
Unlike desk-bound predecessors, mobile construction technologies are reliable, cost-effective and scalable. With smartphones available in team members’ pockets and minimal hardware needed to get started, it’s easy to see why some of Australia’s leading construction companies have kicked off their technological journeys with mobile apps.
Construction as a people-centric industry
While it’s true that the construction industry will benefit from developments in artificial intelligence and 3D printing, we’re still some time away from robots replacing people on work sites. Until technology evolves to handle the complexities of a construction project without human input, people will continue to play a key function in project delivery. It’s unavoidable.
So what are construction companies doing to stay profitable while continuing to operate in a people-centric industry? Instead of solving problems by hiring more people, they’re harnessing technology to make individual team members more productive. For example, by automatically feeding data into digital site diaries, a foreman has more time for focusing on what needs to be done next and making informed decisions. Or, by streamlining processes across all projects, a company can allocate their valuable site teams more effectively. This approach ensures all team members are working to the best of their ability, giving them more time for high-value tasks – not paperwork.
In addition, when everyone on a work site is connected through mobile devices, back-of-house productivity improves as a result of real-time information.
A smarter approach to business risk management
Which do you consider to be riskier? Hiring employees to support business growth, or implementing a new technology? If you answered option two, you’re probably in the majority – but you may also be approaching it the wrong way.
Here’s why: as a construction business grows, it brings on extra staff. Paying more salaries is fine when demand is strong. But it leaves the business vulnerable to economic events. In a bad enough downturn, any company that relies on headcount for growth may restructure or even close down. With labour costs making up most of its cost base, its ability to weather economic storms is limited.
On the other hand, a company that supports growth with people and technology may be better prepared for volatile times. By streamlining processes, reducing administrative workloads and optimising resource utilisation, the company can operate at the speed and scale of its competitors, but with more focused staff. In fact, some construction companies have worked out that if they optimise simple processes with technology, they’ll save 12 percent of a full-time equivalent (FTE) on every project. We’ll share some of their stories in future articles.
Challenging limiting beliefs
It’s true that some people will always prefer pencils and paper over smartphones or tablets. But, despite the enduring stereotypes, most tradespeople will embrace new technologies if the value proposition is clear.
Think about it: construction workers – whether they like technology or not – are natural problem solvers. They are constantly developing practical solutions to daily problems. We’ve all heard stories of teams lighting up work sites with the high beams on their trucks when lights fail during night works, or even, to our surprise, using their initiative to integrate their PA system into an application like SignOnSite to amplify the evacuation siren. It makes sense, then, for construction workers to see technology as just another problem-solving tool. When a technology is simple to use and delivers real benefits (i.e. makes tasks easier and faster), teams will champion the product. For this reason, companies that delay investing in new technologies for fear of poor adoption may find themselves at a disadvantage.
From digital attendance to 3D modelling, construction technologies are becoming more advanced. Firms embracing these technologies have already gained a competitive edge through reduced risk, more efficient processes and smarter resourcing.
For most companies, it’s no longer a question of if you should adopt new technologies. It’s a question of when. And if not today, then when are you going to take the plunge?
- Now is the time to adopt new technologies that deliver long-term benefits – understanding drivers for change can make the transition easier
- Smartphones have opened up new opportunities to realise productivity gains
- Technology should not replace people – instead it should support team members to work more effectively