Editorial: Technological change is a daunting challenge for contractors
Many of today’s top construction companies started out as family businesses a generation ago. Built on quality craftsmanship, loyalty and a firm handshake, our grandfathers certainly weren’t losing sleep over such bizarre sounding things as “open rates,” “tweets” or “software glitches.”
As ludicrous as these terms might have seemed in the past, technology is now making the difference between success and failure for many contractors.
Ongoing technological change is a daunting challenge for every contractor. “I’m sure we have the largest internal technology group (in the industry) working on this stuff, and we can’t keep up,” says Paul Douglas, president and CEO of PCL. “The opportunities out there are endless. The demands from both internal and external clients are huge. I can’t imagine how some of the smaller contractors are keeping up with it.” (Check out Jim Barnes’ Top Contractors report on page 17).
Beyond the physical technology, such as machine control, hardware and hand-held devices, the company website is increasingly important. On-Site’s software guru, Jacob Stoller, points out that “contractors have been slow to jump on the digital bandwagon, to the extent that the typical construction website, looks like…well, a construction site.” The good news, however, is that website technology has been simplified over the years, and is now easier and less costly to construct. (For tips on constructing a stronger web presence, check out his column on page 50).
Although managing websites, software and servers is not always fun, there are some significant benefits to having all those digital files. That data is a gold mine for managing future projects. Through technology the world has managed to capture 2.8 zettabytes of data. Not all of that information is construction related, but a good chunk of it is. The goal is to harness this data and turn it into intelligence that can help contractors understand things such as: which project delivery models work best, or which asset type has the best track record.
“Big Data applied to construction and asset management industries could significantly improve certainty around project delivery and project operations,” says risk consultant David Bowcott. (Big Data is coming to construction risk management, pg. 52).
Quality craftsmanship, loyalty and a firm handshake still mean a lot in this industry. That will never change. However, there are a multitude of new tools and technologies available to help contractors grow their businesses and improve efficiencies. The trick is figuring out which technologies are true innovations, and which ones are nothing more than smoke and mirrors.