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At the end of Q1, the construction industry is on track to make 2018 the year of digital disruption, which will shape the way it builds for years to come. There has been palpable buzz about innovation at industry events, surging investment in construction technologies and a strong commitment from general contractors to raise the bar on safety and productivity.

The industry has come a long way. According to a 2015 McKinsey Global Institute report, construction was ranked as one of the least digitized U.S. industries, which can be evidenced in the industry’s historically low productivity and profitability measures as well as its ongoing safety challenges. But the momentum is rapidly shifting. Across the industry, the conversation has evolved from “We need to embrace cutting-edge technology” to “What are the best solutions for my needs and how can they be fully leveraged?” Industry stakeholders have embraced digital blueprints and other project management software tools, and contractors are looking to expand their impact with internet of things (IoT)-enabled solutions like wearables, sensors and drones. With these advancements, contractors are able to automatically capture key data for the first time.

Data, Investment and the Next Generation

As jobsite technology matures and adoption increases, contractors are seeing the demystification of big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning. In reality, project sites have been collecting “data” – contracts, change orders, certifications, time and attendance – for hundreds of years, albeit inefficiently and unreliably. IoT-enabled solutions are automating, aggregating and organizing this data so that it can be shared, analyzed and implemented across architects, owners, contractors, trades and insurers.

Along with this interest in new technologies, there has been substantial investment pouring into the industry recently. According to CB Insights, more than $735 million in disclosed funding was invested in construction tech companies in 2017, and solutions providers are using this opportunity to create industry-specific solutions that add value in the unpredictable, chaotic construction environment. The solutions that are intuitive, scalable and effective are driving buy-in and compliance.

Interestingly, another factor contributing to this digitization is the need to attract the next generation of workers. Amidst a skilled labor shortage and growing demand, the industry has been forced to change the way it attracts and educates, communicates benefits and approaches existing and future projects. Construction’s next generation grew up with smart devices, real-time communication and a wealth of valuable information at their fingertips, and it is encouraging to hear their insights on jobsite technologies and the future of the industry. These younger workers are leaning into the power of construction technology, and they are driving their professors as well as future employers and co-workers to do so as well. In addition to building the labor pipeline, construction needs to be re-made into a technology-forward and data-driven profession in order to attract this next generation to the field.

The Smarter Jobsite

All of these factors have contributed to the expansion of the construction tech (ConTech) ecosystem. Emerging data collection points – enabled by IoT solutions including sensors, wearables and drones – are creating an influx of previously cost- or time-prohibitive data. With wearables, project teams are able to streamline time and attendance, identify real-time worker location, monitor worker health and safety, and have the tools they need for hazard reporting and site safety. Sensors are collecting environmental data, such as temperature and humidity, to better protect the workforce and ensure structural integrity, and the devices are also being used to track equipment, machine and tool location and utilization across jobsites. In addition, drones are documenting sites, surveying hazards and recording progress like never before, enabling more robust, visual models and progress evaluations.

In short, the first digitally connected jobsite, which is able to collect data on resources and how they’re interacting – remotely and at scale – is here. And this is just the beginning. In the future, this data will be increasingly integrated – and displayed – in one central searchable, actionable fashion in order to provide the greatest insights. When real-time workforce, equipment and hazard data can be overlaid on living three-dimensional models and easily shared via the cloud, unprecedented efficiencies, safety benefits and cost savings will be unlocked.

To make this vision a reality, industry stakeholders and solutions providers must come together to develop the new ecosystem. When equipment companies join forces with wearable safety devices, tool manufacturers, insurers and project management solution providers, new insights, process improvements and sources of profitability will be realized. It is these improvements to safety and productivity that will ensure construction’s smarter, brighter future.

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