Connected Construction: Leveraging the Cloud to Change How Contractors Work

Connected solutions empower contractors to work smarter with intuitive tools that simplify complex data and processes, so they can adapt, innovate and scale their businesses for long-term success.
By Matt Harris
November 3, 2021

It’s the dawn of a new era in the construction industry. As technologies have evolved, many contractors have digitized and streamlined their organizations to overcome both traditional and new operational challenges. This new breed of connected construction is transforming how the construction industry works.

Connected, real-time data is driving contractors’ business and operational decisions today—powered by cloud-based workflows, mobile applications and analytical and forecasting tools that bring together entire project teams in truly collaborative workspaces.

Gone are the days of having to rely on manual information gathering processes, disconnected software solutions and other legacy practices that have bogged so many contractors down. Today, contractors can operate like much of the rest of the global economy—in the cloud, leveraging real-time tools and workflows to boost productivity, better analyze data and optimize work, provide more accurate pictures of their financial health and boost traditionally razor-thin profit margins.

Today’s connected construction solutions empower contractors to work smarter rather than harder, providing intuitive tools that virtually any construction professional can use to make sense of complex data and processes any time and place their work occurs. These technologies are the fuel allowing contractors to adapt and innovate, and scale their businesses for long-term success.

The construction industry is seeing a shift for new projects regarding the number of projects and the size in terms of dollars. The chart below, culled from Trimble Viewpoint’s Quarterly Construction Metrics Index,1 notes this downward shift after the pandemic. This is in line with the Census Bureau’s own data on construction spending trends. This means that managing project costs is more important than ever since project bids are more competitive.

Whether it's readying for complex, demanding federally-funded projects or overcoming ongoing labor shortage challenges and economic downturns, the benefits of a connected cloud construction platform are clear.

Everything Starts (and Ends) with Data

What is connected construction? It all revolves around data.

While labor, equipment and materials are the basic elements needed for any construction process, it’s information that dictates how projects come together and fuels effective construction management workflows. The problem is that construction has typically been an enterprise where different sets of data, siloed teams, disjointed processes and disconnected systems have long ruled the day.

One set of data might be used to design a project. Another set might be used to translate those designs into workable construction plans or phases. Once construction starts, project managers and operations teams might collect and disperse their own sets of data, while accounting teams spend hours poring over that same data and make it make sense in their own terms to meet financial needs or keep billing cycles going.

Executives or owners, meanwhile, may require an entirely different set of data to get snapshots of project progress or their company’s financial health. For decades, contractors have gotten by with these disconnected data processes. Yet the data they wind up working with is often days, weeks or even months old, inaccurate, and hard to analyze in a manner that could provide actionable insights for current and future projects.

With the mountains of data that construction projects produce, think about how valuable it would be if that data was uniform, interconnected across the lifecycle of projects, easily accessible and relevant to all project stakeholders in real time. Accurate, timely, standardized data is the magic formula that can unlock true construction collaboration, workflow automations and new innovations.

With cloud-based technologies, that dream of a connected construction environment is now a reality. Today, connected cloud platforms that power workflows from a single set of connected data are bringing teams together in shared workspaces and consistently using the same workflows.

The once cumbersome challenge of collecting and inputting data from the field is now being powered by intuitive, connected mobile applications and web-enabled data portals. Sharing of data is now streamlined through automated workflows. Advanced analytic and business intelligence tools help construction professionals break down, sort and study data quickly and in new ways they never imagined possible before. And data-driven contractors are now armed with the instant construction intelligence they need to make the best decisions for their project and their bottom lines.

More importantly, different stakeholders can still work with standardized data in ways that make sense to them, with tools that put data segments into the formats they need to understand and act on data appropriately. This means executives can access real-time dashboards and get an up-to-the-minute look at projects as they’re happening.

Accounting, HR and payroll teams have all of the properly routed and formulated data they need at their fingertips to keep bills and employees paid and cash flows fluid. Project teams and subcontractors can work confidently knowing that everyone is working from the same page and are immediately alerted when changes are made. Owners, designers and architects can respond to change requests or issues quickly and better understand how they’ll impact the finished product.

This is the essence of a connected construction environment.

How Do Contractors Get There?

The good news is that these connected construction solutions already exist and are continually being improved upon to help contractors scale future work and open up new opportunities. The bad news is that many contractors are still operating with legacy processes—convinced a digital and data transformation is too costly, too time consuming or too confusing to carry out. Many also worry about the security of critical business data in a shared cloud environment.

The truth is the benefits of a connected, cloud construction platform far outweigh any remaining reservations at this point. With regard to costs, when all of the different software systems, on-premise servers, maintenance overhead, labor overhead and more are added up, a single connected, cloud solution that includes accounting, project management, collaborative document management, equipment and material management, human capital management and more can likely be had for a quarter of the costs of the systems and processes contractors are paying for now.

Yes, implementing a whole new system of working can take time and effort, but more and more of today’s connected cloud vendors are doing the bulk of the implementation work and new tools and innovations are making it easier to scale technologies with minimal downtimes to business processes.

Contractors’ legacy systems are also much more vulnerable to data breaches than connected cloud solutions. Cyber criminals find it much easier to exploit data and hold companies hostage through ransomware by finding back doors into their on-premise systems. Cloud-based systems tend to deploy the most up-to-date data security protections and firewalls, significantly reducing the threat of data breaches. And should one occur, cloud data and workflows are more consistently backed up than legacy systems, meaning contractors can ensure business continuity.

Which leaves confusion—specifically among those hesitant to technology change—as the last bastion of reasoning against modernization.

It’s Time to Deliver a Technology Culture Change

While “adapt or die” may be a blunt, statement, that reality was on full display as the COVID-19 pandemic took over the globe. Put to the test, technology showed just how important a role it could play in transforming how everyone works, plays and lives.

In a “better normal” of working remotely, cloud solutions and digitally-connected workforces are not just means to get by, they have opened up whole new channels of collaboration and productivity. But it’s not just a pandemic driving change, it’s the benefits of modern technologies themselves and the people that use them pushing the accelerator.

In construction, project owners are demanding real-time data and dashboards to better track their investments, forecast future financials and better inform business decisions. This will become even more true with the federally-funded infrastructure and construction projects expected to come down the pipe, as government agencies and political leaders hawkishly account for every dime spent.

Contractors bidding on these lucrative projects won’t be able to pass muster if they’re not in the cloud or using disconnected legacy systems and processes. In this data-on-demand world, few, if any, owners or government agencies will wait weeks for only semi-accurate reports and financials.

Younger, more tech-savvy professionals are also driving the move to the cloud—both inside and outside the construction organization. Inside, these professionals are promoting change through technology advocacy. Meanwhile contractors, already strapped by an ongoing labor shortage, are realizing few professionals under 40 years of age are even remotely interested in construction careers that don’t include the latest technologies as part of their specific roles or career paths.

Even contractors that have long resisted the cloud and new technologies are now coming around, realizing the need to pivot to keep their business afloat. Yet, many do not know where to start their connected construction journeys. This ebook, The AEC Professional’s Essential Guide to Connected Construction, is a great place to start.

It begins with a commitment to connected construction and a plan to scale construction operations, as part of a larger connected data and information strategy. Thankfully, there are cloud construction technology vendors attuned to this connected construction vision and actively partnering with contractors to apply the right solutions to open up their data and connect workflows.

Once connected, there is no looking back.

by Matt Harris
Matt Harris is Vice President and General Manager at Portland-Ore.-based Trimble Viewpoint, a construction management division of industrial technology company Trimble. He is responsible for Trimble Viewpoint’s overall business, including its long-range strategy and execution while leading a global team who is passionate about making a difference with construction technology.

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