How do you see technology disrupting the construction industry, for better or worse?

Sarah Hodges
Director, Construction Business Line
Autodesk, Inc.
Boston

The biggest benefit technology provides is unlocking paper-trapped information. The Boston Consulting Group reported that full-scale digitalization in nonresidential construction will lead to annual global cost savings of up to $1.2 trillion in the engineering and construction phases. Think about the impact that kind of savings could have on our industry—one that has been plagued by low margins and high risk for far too long.

With the amount of data being generated through BIM, new opportunities are emerging for contractors to lower risk and improve margins. Often contractors think of BIM as technology for architects or bigger companies and overlook the incredible returns for small to medium-size construction firms. Technology levels the playing field and gives everyone the access to the data they need to make better decisions. 

Our most successful customers are capturing, sharing, and analyzing the data found in a digital model to search for patterns across their projects. They are identifying inefficiencies in their processes and addressing workflow bottlenecks. 

Michael Ahern
Assistant Vice President and Industry Leader, Construction, Underwriting
CNA
Chicago

The most interesting technological advancement has been the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulation of drones for commercial usage. The FAA estimates 7,500 small commercial drones will be in use by 2018. A good percentage of those drones will be utilized on construction sites—from preconstruction planning to daily management of the worksite. For instance, the technology has been used to provide a live video feed to assure all workers are properly utilizing fall prevention equipment.

The flight of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) can be controlled remotely from an operator located on the ground, or by an on-board computer. Drones also can help automate site surveys, inspections (e.g., roofs and bridges) and material
mapping. The new capabilities that drones provide, such as geofences (virtual barriers) and 3-D models, can potentially plot the course of unmanned onsite machinery. When used responsibility, we are seeing invaluable contributions to cost, efficiencies and safety on the jobsite.

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Helge Jacobsen
Vice President, Operational Excellence
United Rentals
Stamford, Conn.

Many of the innovations from the consumer space are being tested in construction applications: virtual reality, autonomy, machine learning and others. Ultimately, this will mean change for the better, but only companies that embrace positive disruption will benefit.

We see a huge value in innovations that can enhance the way construction is done. The key is to identify an elusive value and then build capabilities that capture and analyze data from a new vantage point. We’ve adopted a culture of rapidly piloting new technologies to crystalize where the value lies and where it does not.

Drones are a good example. We’ve offered drone services for more than a year now. We make it easy for our customers to use drones to capture data and to analyze the image data so it can support better decision-making. Data only makes sense when the analytics lead to better and safer operations, personnel or profit and loss—and the means to get there are always changing. Our mantra is that anything is possible if you’re willing to change, adapt and adopt.

Norbert Orth
Chief Transformation Officer
Viewpoint
Seattle

Of all the changes in the technology landscape today, the increase in the amount and accessibility of data is arguably having the biggest impact on our industry. Information from jobsites can now be delivered in real time, in previously unheard of detail. And the sources of this data continue to grow—from drones to phones to augmented reality systems.

Like any change, this explosion of information has the potential to help or hurt. Having so much more information at hand is indeed a disruption to the status quo of construction operations. Contractors can easily find themselves drowning in a sea of data. Or, with the right tools, they can use this change as an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage.

The challenge is to start with large sets of constantly changing data and turn them into actionable business intelligence. The solution requires contractors to adopt data-driven business decision-making across their organizations. Then invest in the information technologies that help them categorize, correlate, analyze, and act on this data based on business rules.

Nathaniel Peniston
Vice President
Fringe Benefit Group
Austin, Texas

We expect a continuation of the migration from traditional in-person open enrollment meetings to electronically enabled (internet and call center) year-round employee engagement strategies. 

The construction industry has been reticent to adopt electronic enrollment because of high costs, lengthy implementation timelines and overall complexity. However, innovative firms are moving toward integrated approaches that encompass the full suite of health and retirement benefits with features such as “single sign-on” (one username and password) and mobile-friendly interfaces. 

In essence, employees are looking for the complexities of retirement and medical plans to be simplified and user-friendly.

According to The Hastings Center, nearly half of annual health care cost increases are now attributable to new technologies. 

As patients become aware of provider price and efficacy, the power of free market competition will empower personal choice to reduce ineffective and redundant care. 

Gretchen Fri
Director of Safety Communications
Tradesmen International
Macedonia, Ohio

With roughly 10,000 of our skilled craft professionals working on client jobsites across the country, disruptions in data gathering and communications technology play a positive role in building a culture of safety and helping to keep our, and our clients’, employees safe. 

Collecting and managing data may not be as cool to talk about as drones or wearable technology, but it is an important tool we use to enhance safety communications. Data is gathered that can be sliced and diced to provide daily insight. This insight is used to craft timely and relevant safety messages with an end goal of promoting safe behavior. 

Data collection also allows us to accurately audit, assign and track safety training. 

Handheld communications devices and app-based tools provide an additional safety touchpoint and allow for increased worker awareness and compliance. 

We need to embrace the disruption and use its benefits to reduce the number of accidents by influencing behavior and promoting a positive safety culture.