Construction companies large and small that are not already on the technology bandwagon need to climb aboard as 2016 brings more work, longer backlogs and a continued shortage of skilled labor. Construction Executive assembled a panel of experts to identify technologies to keep contractors working smarter and efficiently in 2016 and beyond.

Drones
Just as drones are gaining popularity among consumers, Dan Conery, Newforma’s vice president of business development, predicts, “Drones will be used in construction for visual inspections of dangerous or difficult places for humans to reach, such as bridge undersides and curtain walls.”

Mark Liss, president of Explorer Software, agrees: “There are many applications, including collecting aerial images, maps, 2-D and 3-D models, and other valuable data.”

Wearable Technology and Robotics
“To ensure the health and safety of workers, wearable technologies will become more popular,” notes Conery. “Wearables can relay vital signs for people on remote or dangerous jobsites, alert supervisors if a diabetic’s blood sugar drops or heart rate accelerates, and enable injured workers in remote locations to signal for help.” Conery also predicts robotics will gain a foothold. “By robotics, think 3-D printing, with people or other machines feeding the bricks and mortar while a robot erects the wall.”

Steve Cowan, president of Jonas Construction Software, thinks using behavioral technology with wearable devices that track historical activities will increase productivity. “We expect more intelligence from technology and guidance in showing how to best perform work. People will expect their activities to be tracked and leveraged to work better and smarter.”

BYOD and Mobile Apps
BYOD—or Bring Your Own Device—is the norm on most construction projects. Cowan predicts a more individualized experience with BYOD 2.0—or Be Your Own Device. “As workers individualize technology and blend personal and work lives, they will pick their own technology and expect employers to accept their individual choices and devices. He envisions “Application Personal Interface,” a system in which each employee chooses software vendors at the individual level, rather than at the corporate level. “Every employee will be more productive because they will be using software that is more individualized to how they work,” Cowan says

That leads to the question of how multiple apps and software can work together efficiently. “The demand for mobile capabilities
continues to be high and is now an expectation of software,” says Fred Ode, CEO and chairman of Foundation Software. “The need and expectation for mobile applications to integrate with office software is increasing, and developers will be responding with more robust integration to give project managers the tools they need and office staff the data they need.”

“A recent study found that two-thirds of contractors use three or more software applications daily. But if data and documents are entered, stored and edited in multiple locations, it doesn’t help efficiency and accuracy. Software that keeps project information job-centered and organized in one place is going to become increasingly important,” Ode says.

Liss sees a high demand for information to be pushed to and from the jobsite in real time. “Faster, more durable mobile devices will lead to the continued adoption of mobile apps that allow users to capture and transmit information directly from the jobsite to the back office.”

There is no doubt that mobile platforms have changed the way people work. “Construction firms will look for an enterprise mobility space with intuitive interfaces providing access to corporate data and files in real time or offline backed with full enterprise access management,” says Oliver Ritchie, vice president of product strategy for CMiC Global. “Siloed content is no longer acceptable, so the broader eco-system of partners, customers and clients will be looking for more in their enterprise resource planning (ERP) mobile solutions for 2016.”

Cathy Terwilliger, COINS’ marketing director, sees a need for digitalization to deliver content to users wherever and whenever they need it, along with supporting offsite manufacturing and reducing waste. “Software, applications and processes will be designed to fit into the business itself, considering the information, the device and the user.”

Jerry McSorley, owner of Eye Trax Inc., says the twist is that more contractors use mobile applications to monitor construction sites remotely with wireless camera and mobile app technology. “Construction management software will integrate with jobsite surveillance cameras and pictures captured by a project manager’s mobile phone to create the ultimate software application. Clients, construction managers and jobsite superintendents will be able to view and discuss details of their projects from one common location.”

Jim Dawkins, U.S. channel manager for Elecosoft Asta, believes “project management tools will be adopted by more small- to medium-sized general contractors and subcontractors. As the tools become easier to learn, faster to deploy and, in some cases, less expensive, smaller contractors will realize the benefits. Smarter resource loading, such as knowing when and how many electricians are needed, will help construction managers keep projects on track.”

Consolidation and Collaboration
Brad Barth, chief product officer for InEight, sees the need for continued technology vendor consolidation. “As capital projects get more complicated, demand for integrated visual platforms that span the entire project life cycle increases. Project owners and contractors demand solutions that span across the life cycle, connect the various project stakeholders and integrate with multiple systems.”

Bassem Hamdy, Procore’s executive vice president of marketing and enterprise strategy, wants walls between internal and external stakeholders to not just be broken down, but to disappear. “Processes, data, communication and collaboration will flow across teams to ensure a 360-degree view of projects versus a myopic understanding of departmental objectives. This will help streamline company processes, enabling companies to build better and faster.”

At the same time, owners will demand more transparency from contractors to stem the tide of project overruns. According to Barth, “Owners will accelerate the movement toward shared risk scenarios with full visibility into estimating assumptions and jobsite activity at a much more detailed level, driving the need for systems that can facilitate cross-stakeholder collaboration.”

Ryan Driscoll, marketing director for GPS Insight, thinks construction businesses will realize the value in having different applications talk to each other “through APIs, map overlays, data connections or data dumps to customize the way businesses digest their data. There are efficiencies to sharing data with third-party partners, such as aggregate haulers or equipment rental companies sharing location data with construction customers for precise delivery schedules.”

Angelo Castelli, COO of On Center Software, foresees “full adoption of technology into the life cycle of construction companies. Construction jobsites seem poised and ready to adopt more collaborative workflows for the field’s everyday needs by utilizing software designed for takeoff, estimating, timecards, advanced simulations and field reports.”

Conery wants to see visual planning software on every jobsite in 2016 “because those technologies support the democratization of decision-making and unlock the potential of people by fostering collaboration. Democratization is not just the skills workers bring, but also the way they solve problems derived from life experiences. It’ll unlock solutions that a person or small group cannot. But such technologies only work on top of a culture of collaboration and democratic decision-making. Without that culture, the technologies are just bricks.”

Cloud Systems and Security
None of this is possible without the cloud. “Contractors are enjoying the benefits of working on the cloud, but so far are less likely to take their estimating and accounting there,” Ode says. “As cloud security advances, and contractors learn more about cloud solutions and security that keeps their data safe, there will be more conversation about best practices and protocols and better encryption technology.”

Ritchie concurs: “It’s evident that cloud deployment strategies are abundant, but users will realize that not all cloud solutions are equal. Choosing an ERP software provider means looking at a whole spectrum and whether the software has the capability to follow growth.”

Terwilliger also envisions increased cloud adoption. “With increasing amounts of data and access devices, companies will continue to look for ways to reduce onsite IT overhead. The cloud allows flexibility to adapt to changing business needs.”

Internet of Things
John Chaney, CEO of Dexter + Chaney, sees the Internet of Things (IoT) as a new source of construction data. “Until now, the Internet was a way to connect people to each other and to plans and documents. The emergence of IoT will help connect people directly to their actual work—to built-in-place structures and equipment and ultimately to the materials used. Benefits from better inventory control to more accurate percent complete reports will be realized through IoT.”

BIM
Barth foresees an accelerated worldwide adoption of BIM. “As technology vendors leverage BIM data throughout the project life cycle for things like visual estimating, more project owners will require BIM in the United States,” he says. “BIM will cross the threshold from a minority of projects to the majority of projects within the next three to five years.”

Dawkins adds, “Unlike the mandate-driven adoption in countries such as the United Kingdom, the focus is on project value in the United States. Owners see the value in paying for virtual design as contractors increasingly differentiate themselves with these offerings.”

Terwilliger predicts a convergence of BIM and ERP. “As information in modeling grows, the overlap of digital information stored in the ERP and the model is increasing. To maintain efficiency and reduce duplication, companies need to rethink process and how to manage the information, looking for systems that integrate the shared data.”

“Augmented reality (AR) technologies will become popular,” adds Liss, “as they can make BIM modeling more accessible to all users and help drive adoption of BIM. AR can show stakeholders a 3-D BIM model of a design in front of the actual site or on a 2-D set of plans.”

Business Intelligence/Big Data
Ritchie expects Business Intelligence (BI) to take center stage this year. “Business users see current BI methods as slow and inefficient, with the greatest challenges coming from integrating data across various data sources within the enterprise. In 2015, clients realized that finding, integrating and preparing data must occur before any actual BI content can be realized. In 2016, they will look for an integrated self-service solution that provides capability for business users to increase their BI agility and produce more relevant and actionable business insights.”

“The explosion in the sources of field data—from drones to mobile apps to augmented reality feedback—will have repercussions on the software platforms being developed and deployed for project and business management,” Chaney says. “Platforms that
better enable integration of data from multiple sources and multiple remote locations will serve up more relevant, timely intelligence to managers, enabling faster, better decision-making.”

He continues, “Big Data has a role to play in the industry for high-volume, highly complex projects. However, look for improvement in the utility of BI across the spectrum of company and project sizes. The traditional static reporting of software systems will be replaced by flexible, user-definable reports that can be used to start a flow of work in an organization. All data, from small to big, will become more valuable.”

Ode feels that the only impractical construction technologies hitting the mainstream today are the ones a company isn’t prepared to implement. “Mobile, cloud, BIM and drones are each right for the right contractors that have the systems, processes and people in place to get the most out of what they offer. Whether technology is augmented reality, a backhoe or a hammer, it is ultimately just an extension. Someone with no aim probably shouldn’t own a hammer. But a contractor that has a healthy business and the right tools stands to benefit a lot from what’s being made available today.”

Welcome to the Jobsite in 2030
Fast forward 14 years: The global population is 8.5 billion, an increase of 1.15 billion since 2015, according to the Population Institute. The U.S. Census Bureau reports the U.S. population, at 359 million, has increased 11 percent since 2015. To accommodate the demand for construction on Earth and in space, drones, robots and 3-D printers are more common than hammers.

Design, engineering and construction, along with building life cycles, are totally integrated and seamless thanks to visual collaboration software.

The construction workforce is predominately skilled IT workers who work with cloud-based collaboration software to monitor projects instantly, to operate all construction equipment remotely and to program 3-D printers. The few laborers on the job use exoskeletons that enable them to perform difficult tasks easily and safely. Thoth Technologies, BlueOrigin and SpaceX have made space tourism a reality, and contractors are bidding to construct space “hotels.”

Castelli foresees an increase in 3-D printing technology, an uptick in the use of robotics onsite, and use of drones to deliver and transport materials around the site, making a huge difference in how quickly buildings are constructed and how worker safety is improved.

Conery predicts buildings will be self-assembled or printed. “Construction will be marked by high automation and repeatable high quality. As a result, the demand for unskilled labor will decline and the demand for skilled labor will rise. Workers need to know how to run the machines.”

“There will be fewer people on the physical jobsite,” Liss says, “with the bonus of a reduction of workplace accidents and safety issues onsite. Drone technology will capture aerial images and provide daily reports on project status. Augmented reality will allow for better collaboration and communication among stakeholders. A project manager will view an overlay of a BIM model on top of as-built construction, recording the AR walkthrough and requesting clarification as issues arise.”

Cowan envisions that workers will supervise projects from a distance while robots perform the work. “The construction site, and even technician vehicles, will all have 3-D printers. As every activity and action is tracked, contractors will leverage big data to completely enhance productivity, efficiency and collaboration.”

Barth says technologies such as drones, laser scanning and augmented reality will become the norm. “More automation will be possible as a result of fully realized models of not only the building or the bridge, but the jobsite itself. The context provided by these models, combined with readily available GPS data, will enable the construction process to be performed at least semi-autonomously, resulting in projects being completed faster and safer than ever.

“The demand from owners to utilize these technologies, and the large investments required to embrace them, will accelerate the pace of contractor consolidation with an eye toward global expansion,” Barth says.

Hamdy foresees a more efficient jobsite with data, materials and labor delivered just in time. “Wearables and mobile technology will drive these improvements. Offsite development will result in faster building times, enabling entire parts of the project to show up when needed. Ultimately, construction companies will have complete interoperability, regardless of the systems people are using,” he says.

Ode sees complete integration between field and office, thanks to robust mobile technology and geotagging through devices such as laptops and wearables that send and receive jobsite data faster than it takes to find a number in a contact list. “With built in approval and collaboration features, and broad integration across different developers, the only thing paper will be used for on the jobsite will be wrapping sandwiches for lunch.”

Chaney puts it all in perspective: “Six years ago, the iPad wasn’t on the market. Now, construction project managers carry all their plans, specs and software tools on their sixth-generation tablets. Going on record about what to expect in 14 years is a shot in the dark, but the trajectory seems to be defined by intelligence, accessibility and standardization. Artificial intelligence will seem hardly artificial as every project incorporates deep learning machines at all stages, from design to facility management. Data from virtually any source will be available from virtually any location, and nearly everything will be a source of data. Behind the scenes, construction processes will be dramatically optimized through a more universal standardization of everything from data structures to modular sub-structures.”


Marla McIntyre is editor of Construction Executive’s “Tech Trends” and “Risk Management” eNewsletters. For more information, email mmcintyre@magazinexperts.com.